For those who followed the 1990s children’s book and cartoon series The Magic School Bus, it seemed way ahead of its time. It featured the extravagant adventures of a class of wide-eyed students, led by a quirky teacher. They visit outer space, a swamp, and even shrink down to enter the human body.

Today, we’re already seeing schools offering virtual field trips to their students (minus shrinking the entire class), thanks to the flexible power of cloud computing. The current Covid-19 pandemic has seen schools pivot to online lessons so that students can continue learning wherever they are, ensuring that students are not left behind even during the lockdown period. Cloud computing delivers much faster processing times, and learners are able to connect with one another quickly and easily.

Will this mean our children will soon be collaborating with students in other countries to complete group work? Or that they can one day take national exams from their living rooms? Let’s explore the possibilities.

Virtual learning

You’ve heard about virtual classrooms – through which students learn, discuss and collaborate, through an online platform – but probably not much about virtual field trips.

Arizona State University in the US has taken online learning to another level. Students can experience virtual trips such as visiting a rainforest in Central America, or they can travel back in time to see how early Mexican civilisations lived. They can even learn about underwater microorganisms by diving deep into Australia’s tranquil bays.

The university has partnered with MIT, NASA, and six other institutions to develop the virtual content. The website, launched just as schools around the world were shifting to e-learning, is free for all to access.

Within Southeast Asia, Malaysia’s Ministry of Human Resources is looking into using Virtual Reality (VR) for employee training as part of the Skills 2.0 campaign to help citizens maintain awareness of technological advances. Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), for example, has adopted a flipped classroom, 3D modelling content, and high quality Virtual Reality Devices (VIVE and Oculus Rift), to innovate a new learning experience. TM ONE, Telekom Malaysia Berhad’s (TM) enterprise and public sector business solutions arm, supports UTP’s efforts by providing the virtual content, as well as an Experience Centre that enables students to experience immersive learning through virtual simulation.

“With cloud services, we are set to transform the way students experience learning,” said Iskandar Iskak, Head of Education Vertical at TM ONE. “Through VR, it is possible for students not only to get into virtual spaces, but machines, or even travel through time into the past or the future. By doing this, we are not only stimulating interest among students, but also accommodating different styles of learning to maximise learning potential.”

VR is set to become a common teaching method in the near future. Running VR on the cloud instead of within a computer enjoys faster processing times, which means the system is able to interact in real time with a student’s activity, and videos can be streamed with minimal lag time. As a result, students benefit from a more deeply interactive and immersive experience.

Deeper collaboration between students and teachers

Educators agree on the importance of group work in teaching soft skills such as communication and time management, and project-based assignments have become common in schools. But could future schools group together students of different classes, schools or even countries?

Perhaps the next step in group projects will be for students to collaborate with peers of different cultural backgrounds, perspectives and working styles. This will allow them to sharpen and enrich each other’s worldview.

In addition, there is room for more collaboration between teachers. Cloud services allow teachers to more fluidly share lesson plans, and feedback with one another, even with their peers in other schools and countries. New teachers can instantly refer to existing lesson plans to help kickstart their roles.

Cloud will also enhance communication between students and teachers. Teachers will be able to give instant feedback, providing students with guidance at every step of their learning journey.

Smoother, data-driven operations

A university stores and produces massive amounts of data in its operations: student records, financial statements, as well as the troves of research generated by professors. This demands strong infrastructure to effectively manage data flows, and the cloud fulfills a fundamental role. The pliable and infinitely customisable types of cloud solutions – subscription-based, flexibility to ramp-up/down, and so forth – will help meet the particular demands of any university’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

“We leveraged cloud to enable Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA) in embarking on a digital manuscripts system and an on-demand storage for its library – allowing 35,000 digital manuscripts files to be made available securely and on-demand by its students and researchers,” cited Iskandar about another Malaysian university that TM ONE is working with.

“It is an exciting project for us, because UniSZA is the first university in Malaysia to establish a digital manuscript facility of globally sourced Islamic and Malay manuscripts on the cloud. There are great opportunities that lie ahead. Imagine going back to golden age of Islamic civilisation or the Malay sultanates, via virtual reality, powered by cloud!” he added.

As the cloud enables rapid date processing data, schools will benefit from using data analytics to improve operations. For example, The Singapore Management University uses data to manage teaching staff, and reduce energy consumption. By using cloud, this data will be processed much faster than an inhouse server. It also allows more reliable website performance especially during high traffic scenarios such as student application or even online examination period.

In addition to enhancing teaching and student interactivity, employing cloud will improve a university’s research capability and productivity, which helps to boost its academic rankings. On top of that, education institutions can flexibly choose the type of services suitable for them, and there’s no need for them to maintain extraneous expensive inhouse IT infrastructure.

“Our recently launched Cloud Alpha platform opens up opportunities for schools and universities to dynamically transform their teaching efficacy and operational performance,” said Iskandar. Another solution that is enabled by Cloud Alpha for the education sector is the Predictive Analytics Screening Solution or ONE PASS – a smart, contactless health screening and monitoring solution equipped with a Visitor Management System (VMS) and thermal cameras which has been deployed in several schools nationwide. ONE PASS allows real-time temperature updates at an accuracy to within +/- 0.3 degree Celsius for up to 100 persons a minute within the range of between one to three meters.

“As we move into the recovery phase of Covid-19, we are helping schools to ensure the health and safety of students and teachers. The health authorities require everyone to declare their health status each time they enter a premise. A manual system wastes a lot of time especially in schools when valuable time will be taken away from learning and teaching. ONE PASS enables school administrators to scan students’ temperatures without contact in a fast and accurate manner,” Iskandar concluded.

All schools and indeed all educational institutions face a bright future. Cloud services will both transform and unlock vast potentialities to enrich the way we learn by bringing different worlds of immersive experience into the classroom for students to enjoy, absorb, and share.