AWS Public Sector Blog

Shifting mindsets: K12 education in the cloud

student with backpack; Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

K12 educational organizations are modernizing their institutions by providing secure anywhere, anytime access to learning for students. Whether a district or school is a cloud veteran or forging new ground, the cloud is helping break down barriers to opportunity, like the ability to access applications through any device. By using the cloud, many K12 institutions—including schools, districts, educational service agencies, and state education agencies—are having breakthroughs in educational models and student engagement.

K12 schools need to be flexible and dynamic given the wide range of needs and educational abilities—both in age and skill—of its students. Many students and their families rely on their schools and districts for fundamental services, such as food and emotional support, while also having limited resources at home, from lack of internet to lack of hardware. With schools moving to remote learning, educational institutions are innovating to enable students to access virtual classrooms, supporting teachers in their shift to virtual education, and finding solutions that provide access to counseling for their communities.

To help prepare for whatever the next school year entails, schools and districts are turning to the cloud, using solutions for application streaming, communication, security, and more.

Virtual computer lab spaces to support distance learning

Virtual computers labs are a secure and cost-effective way to provide students with virtual access to the software applications they need to learn, no matter where or when. One solution that makes this possible is Amazon AppStream 2.0, a fully managed application streaming service that allows students to access these applications on almost any device, whether on their high school campus or from their homes.

John Stile, supervisor for network and user support at Council Bluffs Community School District was part of the decision to implement this solution in his district. “We started using Amazon AppStream 2.0 so that students could access applications without the extra cost [of building traditional computer labs] to our district,” said John. “Not to mention that the tools inside of Amazon AppStream 2.0 allow us to know when we need to scale, providing further cost savings.” Hear more from Stile in his fireside chat on distance learning for K12 education.

When setting up virtual space for students to help them remain productive and connected while learning remotely, there are a few things to consider. This includes the role the computer lab space will play, what software applications students will want to access, and how many users are expected.

Cloud-based contact centers for community support

Fasciliating effective communication between administrative staff, teachers, parents, and students is imperative for schools and districts to thrive, particularly when remote working, teaching, and learning is in effect. Cloud-based contact centers are helping schools answer student and staff questions at any time, whether late at night or during a surge in demand. Amazon Connect is a low-cost, omnichannel cloud solution for IT helpdesks, registration, communication offices, counseling hotlines, and other departments that need to provide inbound and outbound support.

For example, finding that their community was in need of support in a time of unprecedented school closings, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which serves almost 700,000 students, needed to move fast. With AWS, LAUSD was able to stand up call centers using Amazon Connect within a matter of days. These call centers are used for the school district to field IT questions, provide remote support, and enable staff to answer calls. They also opened an additional mental health hotline for those in need of help to manage fear, anxiety, and other challenges.

“Back in March we had to make the tough decision to put safety first and close our campuses. We put together a COVID-19 help hotline, and that’s really where AWS stepped in and helped establish a cloud-based contact center for Los Angeles Unified,” says Dr. David Baca, Chief of Schools of LAUSD. “Our hotlines are averaging about 1,000 calls per day. Our mental health hotline has 20-25 clinicians and three administrators who staff the hotline each day, 6:00AM to 6:00PM…Our clinicians try to get callers to verbalize their feelings and provide some coping strategies.”

Since the establishment of these call centers, agents have handled over 40,000 incoming calls, allowing LAUSD to provide a sense of continuity to their students, staff, and their families. Tune in to the Mission critical cloud: Remote education episode of the AWS Fix This podcast to hear more about how LAUSD is supporting their community as well as innovating for their district, including their launch of the Future Ready Certification.

Virtual desktops for remote work

By using tools to provide consistent applications on every virtualized desktop, educational institutions of all kinds are reducing variable costs, removing capital expenditures, and achieving mission objectives. To deliver personal cloud desktops to support remote work scenarios, schools are using secure desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) solutions, like Amazon Workspaces, a managed, secure DaaS solution that can provision either Windows or Linux desktops in just a few minutes, and quickly scale to provide thousands of desktops to users, anywhere. Educational organizations can save up to 14% per month on Amazon WorkSpaces by leveraging license discounts from Microsoft for Qualified Education Users.

“Our students have access from their iPads, in the classroom, at a reasonable cost…we use every moment of class time to teach, rather than focusing on setting up technology,” said Fraser Speirs, head of IT at Cedars School of Excellence, a secondary school in the United Kingdom, and AWS customer.

Increased security and data privacy

With the move to remote learning, school districts around the world are facing even greater focus on maintaining and ensuring data privacy and cybersecurity, especially as most students are minors. The cloud helps enable greater security, allowing schools to take advantage of economies of scale, comprehensive security and compliance controls, and the highest security standards and expertise. The AWS Cloud is built to meet the requirements of the most security-sensitive schools and districts.

Dr. Andy Wolfenbarger, supervisor of student data and information security at Prince William County Public Schools said, “We did not have concerns about going to AWS. Actually, we felt that there was an improvement in security with AWS as compared to our on-premises infrastructure, both physically and technologically.”

To learn more about why student and school information can be safer in the cloud rather than with an on-premises solution, check out the “Data Security in the Cloud: Myth vs. Reality” whitepaper written by the Center for Digital Education.

Check out more on end user computing on AWS, cloud computing for education, as well as customer success stories for Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon AppStream 2.0. Also learn more about Amazon Connect, and take a look at some customer success stories on building cloud-based contact centers. Learn more about how K12 agencies are using the cloud in our Initiate eLearning hub.

Chad A. Stevens, Ph.D

Chad A. Stevens, Ph.D

Chad A. Stevens, Ph.D., has dedicated his career to improving education outcomes for all students, and he continues to do so at Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the leader for K12 education. Prior to AWS, Dr. Stevens held leadership positions focused on education strategy at CDW-G and Dell. A majority of his career was spent with the Clear Creek Independent School District (Texas). Clear Creek serves more than 42,000 students in suburban Houston and encompasses the Johnson Space Center. Dr. Stevens had a 14-year career as classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of instructional technology, and chief technology officer. His work was featured in The Principal's Guide to Curriculum Leadership, and he maintains Superintendent Certification in Texas and AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification.

Neysha Bauer

Neysha Bauer

Neysha Bauer is the marketing manager for K12 education at Amazon Web Services (AWS) worldwide public sector. She loves learning about the ways that K12 education customers are innovating in the cloud for their students, and finding the best way to share these stories so others can learn from their challenges and achievements.