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ASU course encourages high school students to get their heads in the cloud

ASU students serve as teaching fellows for the cloud computing course

ASU students, faculty and staff drive the Cloud Foundations course for high schoolers. Pictured left to right (top row): ASU's John Rome, Jason Nichols and Lukas Wenrick; (bottom row) ASU students Bhavana Kanumuri, Trinity Smith, Luke Sherry and Justin Manila.

April 13, 2022

It’s an early morning wake-up call for Trinity Smith, lead teaching fellow and student studying business data analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

This semester, Smith starts most mornings with 30 high school students who are enrolled in CIS 194 Cloud Foundations, a course delivered by ASU.

The online course was co-developed by ASU’s University Technology Office and the W. P. Carey School of Business, along with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the National Education Equity Lab.

The class offers an opportunity for high school students — targeting those who attend Title I or disadvantaged schools — to earn high school and college credit, as well as an industry certificate, in cloud computing.

Students nationwide participate in the ASU course  

Now in its second semester, the 13-week course is delivered in a hybrid modality to more than 185 high school students nationwide, including states like Iowa, Louisiana and New York. 

The course uses Canvas to manage the online, asynchronous portion of learning – this includes recorded lectures by ASU faculty, along with weekly assignments and quizzes. Students log into the course right from the comfort of their high school’s classrooms and computer labs, which reduces barriers for students to access the course and learning materials online. 

Many of the students do not have reliable access to the devices or internet connection at home, so it’s crucial that they have the time and space in school to complete the course. 

“As a teaching fellow, I came to realize that the digital divide is much more complex than lacking the right resources," said Smith, who is one of the five teaching fellows participating this semester. "It is deepened by a lack of exposure to opportunities in IT education and careers, which makes this course that much more important for these students.”

In addition to asynchronous learning, students are invited to join weekly office hours with the course’s teaching fellows, who are enrolled ASU students like Smith. Conducted on Zoom, students from across schools join to review the current learning module, complete homework and ask questions. 

On average, about 30 to 35 students join each of the live sessions. Smith notes the importance of this interaction for students.

“Although optional, these sessions are highly attended by students to review the current learning module and, even more effectively, get a baseline understanding of the upcoming content for the course,” Smith said.

And because the topics are quite complex, this time allows students to get a bit more comfortable with the content before diving into the next module.

The teaching fellows are critical to the success of the course. Not only do they provide opportunities for live instruction and discussion, but also take on the bulk of the daily tasks — including grading and communications with students — which takes pressure off the high school teachers.

W. P. Carey School faculty Raghu Santanam and Jason Nichols co-teach the course, along with UTO’s Deputy CIO John Rome.

“The next generation of jobs will require a working knowledge of cloud computing infrastructures," Santanam said. "It is therefore very essential for any student today to be familiar with cloud technologies and their potential applications. Getting this foundational knowledge while still in high school gives a great opportunity for these students to develop interest in technology careers.”

Welcome to the cloud: Soar into CIS 194 Cloud Foundations  

At a very high level, cloud computing is simply an approach to share central computing resources and infrastructure across multiple clients. The ability to use the same underlying infrastructure for multiple firms enables greater flexibility, security, reliability and efficiency for the clients. 

The course uses weekly modules to deliver content, with topics including an introduction to the internet, networks and the basics of cloud computing – from cloud architecture to storage.

The course builds off AWS content to teach more specifics about the cloud. This makes sense as AWS is the largest cloud provider, owning almost half the world's public cloud infrastructure market

In fact, “AWS provides a nice starter kit of cloud content that we could build off of to provide a great learning experience for these students," Rome said.

"In addition to getting college credit and the opportunity to get an industry-recognized certification, another benefit is getting the idea that going to college is more attainable in the students’ minds. How great that a course like this can change the trajectory of these students.”  

The course stretches students to explore the role of cloud technology in a modern business, identify appropriate cloud services to support business needs, configure basic cloud infrastructure through ASW and recommend improvements for basic cloud infrastructure changes. 

Smith notes that the course not only equips students with a foundation of cloud computing, but also teaches best practices for online etiquette. She gave examples of students learning how to properly format an email, participate in Zoom lessons and submit assignments on time

“In addition to the technical foundation they are learning for cloud computing, these skills will make students more employable and hopefully ease the transition into college,” Smith said. 

At the end of the course, students not only receive high school and college credit, but are also invited to complete the AWS cloud practitioner certification exam, free of charge. 

Aligning with careers of the future

Cloud computing is expected to continue to grow over the next few years, impacting career journeys for those working in this technical space and for organizations transitioning to a cloud-based infrastructure as part of their digital transformations. 

In fact, ASU embarked on its shift to become a fully cloud-based infrastructure as early as 2015. Major milestones include migrating ASU’s data warehouse to the cloud, resulting in faster speeds, lower costs and nearly infinite scalability. 

While it’s an early wake-up call for Smith, she said she is excited about working with leaders of the future.

“These students are so passionate about learning, they really give the course its heartbeat,” she said.

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