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Opinion: Making Cloud Environments Work for Education

The tide shifting toward remote work and learning seems unlikely to turn back, but fret not: properly deployed and administered cloud environments can help students and staff be safe and productive from home.

Cloud storage for downloading an isometric. A digital service or application with data transmission. Network computing technologies. Futuristic Server. Digital space. Data storage. Vector illustration
In higher education and K-12, there probably has never been a more crucial time to ensure your teaching and learning environments are safe and secure, while at the same time maintaining a high degree of engagement. The safety and security of your environment can affect the physical, psychological and emotional state of faculty, staff and students who work and interact with each other. Creating ideal educational environments requires the proper selection and implementation of technology, particularly when considering appropriate cloud-related options.

Today there are six main factors which affect our ability to create safe and secure learning environments, including:
  • the pandemic
  • workforce monitoring and management
  • space occupancy monitoring and utilization
  • cloud management of devices, data and networks
  • cybersecurity
  • robust emergency management and notification


Certainly, in the past several years, the pandemic dramatically reshaped our work landscape. Since employees successfully transitioned to a remote environment, today a substantial number of them want to work remotely. While not all jobs are conducive to remote work, many positions in higher education and technology fields can be done effectively or efficiently while working from home.

In fact, a 2021 survey from the staffing firm Robert Half found that nearly one third of people working from home said they would look for a new job if required to return to the office. Another survey of 1,000 U.S. hiring managers by the freelancing firm Upwork projected that nearly 28 percent of Americans will be working remotely by the year 2026. Hiring and retaining staff may become much more difficult. However, providing an effective cloud-managed environment could help ensure the necessary access and resources for remote work.


Another area of need is our ability to monitor our workforce with appropriate management, particularly in a remote environment. This is where cloud-enabled technologies can help. Cloud technology can help track both remote and on-site environments. It would also provide the ability to track the travel time and location of employees on a campus, city, or even in a different country. It could also be used to mitigate employee risks, monitor potential invalid compensation claims, and help to prevent fraud.


In both education and corporate environments, cloud technologies can effectively monitor space and occupancy utilization. Sophisticated applications can remotely monitor people to ensure safety and maximize space and availability in areas such as libraries or labs. Facility monitoring of buildings and rooms can be time-tailored for cleaning or for the decontamination of environments based on occupancy or immediate need.

The National Center for Educational Statistics and the Institute of Educational Sciences have been tracking institutional safety and security measures used in U.S. public schools. Their surveys have shown that from 2009-2020, over 90 percent of schools determined controlled access to buildings during school hours was most important. The use of security cameras to monitor schools jumped from 61 percent in 2009-2010 to over 90 percent by 2019-2020. Certainly, the need for cloud-related control of these devices is accelerating.

The use of surveillance cameras is a crucial component to ensure safe and secure teaching and learning spaces. It is important to migrate analog cameras to digital, ensure you have the proper level of resolution, and remotely control your entire camera network. Automated cloud management of the recordings and their safe and secure storage is essential. Cloud-managed technologies of all appropriate institutional devices, data and the network are all part of the safe and secure ecosystem.

A screenshot of the feed from Cisco-Meraki cloud-managed cameras.
A screenshot of Cisco-Meraki cloud-managed cameras.


As networks continue to grow and evolve, coupled with the continued proliferations of IoT, cloud-related management of devices becomes crucial in education and is typically provided as a software-as-a-service model. This includes your underlying infrastructure, servers and storage. Using cloud-managed technology ensures anytime-anywhere access to operational resources and processing within established standards.

As Sean Michael Kerner wrote in TechTarget, “Cloud-based network management reduces the burden on an organization to set up and maintain its own on-premises network management deployment. Cloud-based network management also offers potentially improved reliability, as it is provisioned and maintained on a network other than the network that it is monitoring.”


Cyber threat protections in a cloud-based system have a variety of important advantages, namely the ability to provide 24/7 proactive cybersecurity MDR (monitoring, detection and response). This can be scaled to match your specific needs based upon resources and staffing. Additionally, data held in the cloud can be less subject to employee theft. Cloud providers survive on redundancy. Protecting your network and data against growing security threats while optimizing learning is essential in any environment.


Cloud technology can provide robust systems which can include visitor management systems, remote entry control, intruder alerts, and management of metal detectors and X-ray machines, ensuring you have appropriate emergency management and notifications.

Joey Lemonier III, a sales manager at Cisco-Meraki, said in a recent webinar, “while traditional networks were not managed in the cloud, today they can be more effective in leveraging our technology.” One innovative area to keep environments secure and safe is the use of smart cameras. Lemonier said, “We are giving people visibility of what people are doing on the network during school hours and shaping traffic at the Wi-Fi level.” For example, in a K-12 environment, students can be directed to only use the appropriate application for a teaching lesson without being distracted to a computer game.

Today smart cameras can store and process data internally, which eliminates complex separate storage, servers and analytics. Lemonier said, “We can understand how people move through spaces, use sensors to know when people are in a doored area, how students move through campus and even train cameras to track license plates, if people are wearing COVID masks, or to recognize firearms.”

A screenshot of a Cisco-Meraki cloud-managed dashboard.
A screenshot of a Cisco-Meraki cloud-managed dashboard.
The Cisco-Meraki dashboard illustrates the potential of cloud technologies to make learning environments safer and more secure. The dashboard provides options to track institutional devices, people, wireless access, sensors and cameras. You may also monitor environments through heat-mapping sensors. In the camera area in the cloud application, you can determine a location, time and date and precisely scroll to monitor or review discrete events anytime, anywhere worldwide.

Schools, colleges and universities today must constantly look for ways to lower operational costs and become more efficient to maintain safe and secure teaching and learning environments. Cloud-managed systems can provide the necessary technology to reduce the complexity of your IT infrastructure and systems, more effectively manage remote environments, and provide a wealth of anytime-anywhere data.
Jim Jorstad is Senior Fellow for the Center for Digital Education and the Center for Digital Government. He is a retired emeritus interim CIO and Cyber Security Designee for the Chancellor’s Office at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He served in leadership roles as director of IT client services, academic technologies and media services, providing services to over 1,500 staff and 10,000 students. Jim has experience in IT operations, teaching and learning, and social media strategy. His work has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Forbes and NPR, and he is a recipient of the 2013 CNN iReport Spirit Award. Jim is an EDUCAUSE Leading Change Fellow and was chosen as one of the Top 30 Media Producers in the U.S.