The Inside Scoop on Free School & Online Education

Posted by on Aug 22, 2013

Schools are ushering in the digital future as more and more colleges and universities turn to cloud computing and storage for online education opportunities. From free online Ivy League courses to continuing education programs for IT professionals that need to stay current on the latest innovations, the cloud enables convenient and cheap learning from home or on the go. Unfortunately, as schools turn to the cloud in large numbers, hackers have followed, eager to exploit security gaps along with sensitive student records. Colleges and universities looking to expand online course offerings should first ensure that student and school data is kept safe and private. The best way to ensure data security is through secure cloud services that offer full privacy and user anonymity.

Learning in the Cloud

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One of the fastest growing areas for investment and educational development is in the cloud. Technology companies seeking to expand into the education sector should seek out opportunities in the cloud. From Chromebooks and Google Drives to MOOCs (massive open online courses), the cloud offers online education for all ages and levels. Young students can reinforce classwork through online modules while gaining real-time feedback from instructors while college students can take advantage of flexible online classes that can be taken from anywhere. IT professionals, senior managers, and C-level executives have a wide range of online educational opportunities to tap, for continued learning and career growth. These tech-oriented programs tap some of the brightest business and technological minds in the world. For instance, Stanford University’s CS309A course features CEO speakers like Godrey Sulliva of Splunk, Aaron Levie of Box.net, and Dr. Timothy Chou of Oracle. Other online offerings like Open Yale and Coursera feature free online courses from all over the world that are offered to anyone for enrichment and lifelong education.

State of Online Education

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The first official MOOC (massive open online course), was offered by the University of Manitoba, as the 2008 “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” course. The class had 25 students from the University and 2,300 students connecting from all around the world. Today, popular MOOCs can draw student populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands. One instance of the rise of MOOCs can be found in Stanford’s Dr. Sebastian Thrun, whose Fall 2011 computer science course, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”, drew a class size of more than 160,000 students. While MOOCs still have a long way to go before replacing traditional in-class educational models, the continued rise of participating reputable institutions like Stanford and Yale indicate that MOOCs are a dominant force driving the turn to the cloud.

Online Education By the Numbers

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For one, most MOOC students approach online education for far different reasons than the typical undergraduate trying to complete a degree. The majority of MOOC students are older professionals that already carry advanced degrees pertinent to their field. The free and convenient courses attract these curious thinkers that seek to learn a new skill or gain a basic understanding of a new subject. This shows that MOOCs don’t necessarily provide a threat to traditional education and are more of an educational supplement for lifelong learning. According to Bryon Deeter at Bessemer Venture Partners, these courses “will co-exist with a lot of core educational institutions…One of the big hopes of MOOCs is that they could democratize education and bring the costs of advanced degrees down. That’s exciting and totally unproven.” While the future place of MOOCs is yet to be determined, online education is here to stay. In an age of hacking and cyber-espionage, protecting student and school records online should be a priority for any college looking to switch to the cloud.

Protecting Student Data in the Cloud

For many universities, finding a truly protected third party cloud service can be a challenge as many “secure” services on the market have security gaps that leave college data and student records wide open to third party attacks, leaks, or hacking. One cloud storage and sync service that sets itself apart from the rest of the market is SpiderOak Blue. This service provides colleges with fully private cloud storage and syncing, featuring all of the benefits of the cloud along with 100% data privacy. SpiderOak Blue is available with onsite deployment and private servers or outsourced deployment through a private and secured public cloud server, so that schools of all sorts and sizes can tailor the service to fit their needs.

SpiderOak protects sensitive school data with 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Authorized accounts and network devices can store and sync sensitive data with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of user passwords or data. And all plaintext encryption keys are exclusively stored on approved devices because SpiderOak never hosts any plaintext data. This way, even if programs like NSA’s PRISM continue to stand unchallenged, students can rest easy knowing that their records are truly protected and colleges can gain diehard loyalty by publically securing student information. SpiderOak Blue’s cross-platform private cloud services are available for colleges and universities on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices, allowing for full flexibility and enabling mobile learning.

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