The cloud and the changing face of college life

While universities across the globe struggle to effectively integrate the cloud into their classrooms, one Canadian university is diving in headfirst. Administrative staff of the University of British Columbia see the future of education being irrevocably tethered to cloud technology, and they don’t intend to let their institution get left behind.

In a recent interview with the university’s UBC Reports outlet, high-ranking school officials discussed their plans to use cloud-based technology to shape UBC into a global university and indeed, to change the landscape of collegiate education altogether. University officials see a coming shift from physical classrooms to virtual ones, with students being able to remotely sit in on a lecture or participate in discussions via classroom software.

Increasing access while lowering costs

According to UBC officials, physical classrooms could become a thing of the past.

Easing the burden of classroom size restrictions would allow the university to provide education to a far greater number of potential students. According to the university’s vice president of finance, Pierre Ouillet, 30,000 qualified, prospective students are denied enrollment to UBC each year. The ability to provide such students with an online education over an in-classroom experience would help provide greater access to higher education.

Another aspect to consider regarding the usage of cloud solutions for college life would be the lower costs involved in a virtual education. Attending a four-year university is a notoriously expensive proposition, and the opportunity to drop room and board, travel, and textbook expenses could greatly improve college enrollment across the globe.

The logistics of cloud education
UBC has already taken strides to integrate the cloud into its teaching experience. The university recently joined with U.S.-based Coursera, with the goal of offering free non-credit courses to anyone who wishes to access them. The courses, taught by UBC faculty members, are expected to launch in the spring of 2013.

The key to a successful implementation of such policies would be maintaining a balance between the number of students being taught and the quality of their education. UBC officials insist the burden of teaching a rapidly growing student body would not diminish the level of education provided by the university.

“UBC will keep quality of education top and foremost,” said UBC Okanagan Provost, Wes Pue, “Innovation will be based solely on solid evidence and constant evaluation so as to provide the best education possible for all of our students.”

The future of the cloud
Hugh Brock, UBC Vancouver Associate-Provost went as far as predicting that the movement toward online degrees will eventually become so pervasive and enrollment opportunities so readily attainable that none but the finest institutions on the planet will remain, as students of the future opt for online enrollment with prestigious universities over less esteemed, local alternatives. According to Brock, “UBC’s real competition will be with the online degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Caltech.”

Will virtual classrooms define college life in the future? Are the UBC officials’ predictions of fewer universities with more students accessing courses accurate? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Matt Williams

A self-proclaimed ‘tech geek’, Matt has worked in technology for a decade and divides his time between blogging and working in IT. A huge New York Giants fan, when not watching football Matt gets his game on playing Call of Duty with his friends and other tech bloggers.