Security Issues Related to Cloud Applications in STEM Education

Security Issues Related to Cloud Applications in STEM Education

Yong Chen (Old Dominion University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5634-3.ch060
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Learning based on cloud computing, denoted as cloud learning (CL) in short, is a disruptive innovation and a current buzzword in education. It provides a learner-centered platform that benefits learners, instructors, and education providers. However, because it requires the Internet and is built on cloud computing, CL has inherent security issues. By analyzing the benefits and the security threats inherent in CL, this chapter aims to help CL stakeholders in STEM Education (namely cloud service providers, cloud content providers, and cloud users) to better understand the security issues inherent in CL from the perspectives of confidentiality, integrity, and availability. The discussions about the risks that CL stakeholders in STEM education incur as a result of prevailing security threats and system vulnerabilities will help those stakeholders to assess the cost effectiveness of security countermeasures.
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STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This conglomerate started as an educational focus to improve U.S. teenagers’ interests and accomplishments in math and science (Kim & Park, 2012). According to Terkowsky, Haertel, Bielski, and May (2013), three learning technologies are recognized clearly as supporting tools for STEM education: remote labs, personal learning environments, and portable devices. For example, scientific computational/visualization tools such as Matlab and Octave have been adopted widely in STEM education (Judd & Graves, 2012). However, limitations in educational institutions’ information and communication technology infrastructures, security concerns, and web technology issues have prevented online labs from being utilized by STEM teachers (Gillet, De Jong, Sotirou, & Salzmann, 2013). Furthermore, the computing capabilities of portable devices hinder the further development of STEM education.

Cloud computing is “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction” (Mell & Grance, 2011:p2). It uses machines in large data centers to deliver services in a scalable manner (Wyld, 2009; Paquette, Jaeger, & Wilson, 2010). It is a disruptive convergence of the development of computing power and data transmission and the use of the Internet and mobile communication (Castells, 2001). As a new supplement, consumption, and delivery model for information technology, cloud computing involves the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources over the Internet (Knorr & Gruman, 2009). It aims to provide flexible services, scalable computing applications, storage, and platforms in a transparent manner (Sun, Chang, Sun, & Wang, 2011). Recently, because of advances in virtualization (Staff, 2012), distributed computing with server clusters (Barroso, Dean, & Holzle, 2003), and the availability of broadband Internet access (Atayero & Feyisetan, 2011), cloud computing has been developing at an amazing pace (Zhou, Zhang, Xie, Qian, & Zhou, 2010) and has attracted significant attention in diverse realms, such as academia, industry, the government, and the military. Specifically, this new computing model provides potential benefits for online learning because cloud computing can reduce the costs of setting up and maintaining servers and networks for online learning providers, can improve their infrastructures’ flexibility and scalability, can provide instructors and students flexible and on-demand services (He, Cernusca, & Abdous, 2011), and can provide dependable data storage and data sharing (Chandran & Kempegowda, 2010). Furthermore, Bai, Shen, Chen, and Zhuo (2011) point out that cloud computing can help instructors pay more attention to improving their teaching and can help learners to concentrate on building and enhancing their intelligence.

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