I’m noticing a growing trend in international schools to shift as much of the institution’s computing as possible to 3rd-party servers. The most popular seems to be Google servers – for example, GMail and Google Docs. My school director forwarded yet another instance of a school in South America doing this and below is my response:
Using a 3rd-party’s online services to do your computing is often referred to as Cloud Computing.
What is often not considered is that when an organization or individual uses such services, the user’s data goes into the hands of the party providing the service. This means that privacy is forfeited in exchange for the convenience of the service. In some cases this may not be a problem at all (e.g. a blog, microblog, or bookmarks are often a public venture and not a matter of privacy) but in other cases it can be irresponsible. What a school needs to decide is what information they consider private and what information is OK for outsiders to have a copy of.
I would always suggest that staff email be kept as local as possible. I would also suggest that most documents be kept as local as possible. And in regard to online classwork and assessments, that too I would suggest a school keep as local as possible. I don’t see “FREE” and the convenience of these services as incentive enough to put copies of our staff email, school documents, and student work in the hands of a 3rd party. Frankly, I think staff/student email, documents, grades/transcripts, and class work are generally a private matter and schools using Cloud Computing to do such work should reconsider that choice.