The SmartClass language teaching platform offers both school-hosted and cloud-hosted system configurations. This article looks at why cloud-hosting is becoming more popular.
Authored by: Fabian Klein
Date of Creation: 2020-06-08
Last Update: 2023-02-16
The Enhanced Network Security of Cloud-Hosting
Fifteen years ago, when schools were working with traditional language labs, it made perfect sense to host the SmartClass central database on a local school server. After all, the lab was used to support local language classes, and there was no need to extend access to the database outside of the school.
However, SmartClass comprises two distinct applications: The SC LIVE app enables teachers to orchestrate assignments and manage communications in a lab environment. The SC HUB app enables teachers to build and assign self-access activities, that can be worked on outside of normal lab hours, by their students.
The next logical progression was to empower students to have access to SC HUB self-study activities outside of school. And so, Robotel introduced a remote access module, the SmartClass WEB Manager - more commonly known as Homework, that supports access to school-hosted databases (by both students and teachers) from outside of the school's Local Area Network (LAN).
Teachers loved Homework. IT Managers hated Homework.
The IT argument with Homework was the issue of giving outside Internet access to the school's local area network. This raises red flags regarding network security at a time when hackers and software malware are running rampant.
Cloud-hosting resolved this issue by relocating the SmartClass database to a secure Internet server outside of the school. By locating the database outside of the school's local area network, there is no need to provide external access to the LAN. Instead, all teacher and student access are to the cloud. (Robotel uses reputable Google servers to host client databases.)
IT Managers love Cloud-Hosting.
As discussed above, one of the primary benefits of cloud-hosting is improved Local Area Network security in situations where remote access to self-study assignments is required.
Six months ago, some might have argued that this is a theoretical argument - but as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, the need for remote access in a language learning/teaching environment is now pretty much universal.
The Shared Central Database Philosophy
When the SmartClass project was initially launched, one of the tenets we established was to use a single central database to host all teacher, student, course and class information. Even if a school had multiple labs. Even if there was a mix of local and homework assignments. Everything that an administrator, a teacher or a student might need is all organized in one easy-to-navigate location.
A growing number of school districts are deploying SmartClass technology across multiple schools within the district. With cloud-hosting, the central database can easily be shared by all schools.
In situations where ESL teachers or Chinese language teachers split their time between two or more schools, this gives them access to all their class materials from any location.
This cloud-hosted central database philosophy also makes it much easier for teachers at different schools within the district to collaborate on activity preparation and share their work with colleagues.
More Robust Communications
When Robotel introduced support for cloud-hosted databases, we recognized that we had to make allowances for more sporadic data transfers over the WAN (Wide Area Network) compared to the LAN (Local Area Network). To compensate for the "vagaries of the Internet", we implemented a more robust protocol for network communications that would maintain a local copy of all data until it was confirmed that the transfer had been completed.
The new communications scheme worked so well, that some of our clients - especially those using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) between multiple buildings - wanted to upgrade to the more robust data transfer protocol using what we call a "local cloud" configuration.
Immunity to Local System Changes
Modern language teaching platforms like SmartClass use sophisticated teaching applications that communicate over a network, and use school-supplied resources such as servers and workstations. So the system is a combination of the software, the network, the servers and the workstations.
One might think that this environment is relatively static, but the reality is that LANs and servers and workstations have many moving parts, and are in an almost constant state of flux.
Frequently, our technical support group will receive a Monday-morning phone call from a Spanish teacher or a French teacher at one of our client schools, reporting "Your software stopped working!" In reality, it was not the software that stopped working, but the rather the system.
More often than not, an upgrade was done to the network or to a server over the weekend, and the upgrade prevented the language platform from being used properly.
Cloud-hosting helps to mitigate against this type of problem, as most (although not all) local changes, have no impact on Internet access to a cloud-hosted database.
Cost-Effective Support Services
Most of think about "cost" as the capital cost of acquiring an asset like a server. But school administrators can confirm that this capital cost is just the tip of the iceberg. Servers need electrical service. Servers need electricity. Servers may need battery back-up. Servers need to be integrated into the LAN environment. Servers need software updates. Servers need routine maintenance. Servers need on-staff experts having a detailed knowledge of networking.
One of the driving forces behind the migration to cloud-hosting services is the cost saving potential that can be realized by using the service rather than buying the assets and integrating the support infrastructure in-house.
Just as we are seeing a trend toward subscription-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, so too are we seeing subscription-based Cloud-Hosting services growing rapidly.
In a language learning / teaching environment, the main reasons for this are summarized below:
- Enhanced Network Security - If you need to support remote access to the central database of your language platform, cloud-hosting eliminates the need for opening up outside access to your local area network. All users connect to the cloud rather than to a school-hosted server.
- Shared Central Database - In situations where a school district needs to have teachers from multiple schools working from the same database to enhanced collaboration, sharing with colleagues, and roving teachers, a single cloud-hosted shared central database significantly simplifies these tasks.
- More Robust Communications - The communications protocols used for WAN based data transfers (compared to LAN based data transfers) have been made more robust, by maintaining a local file copy until the data transfer is confirmed at the remote site.
- Immunity to Local System Changes - Today's language teaching systems comprise not only the language software, but also the school's LAN, server(s) and workstations. Changes to the local infrastructure can prevent the system from functioning properly. Cloud-hosting minimizes the degree to which local changes impact the overall system.
- Cost-Effective Support Services - Many schools are finding that outsourcing server resources using cloud-hosting is much more cost effective than acquiring internal servers, integrating the required infrastructure changes and adding IT staff for support.
We still see a mix of school-hosted and cloud-hosted new installations, but cloud hosting is growing in leaps and bounds.
Contact us if you would like more information.