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

April 13, 2022

It’s an early wake-up call for Trinity Smith, a head teacher and business data analytics student at Arizona State University. WP Carey School of Business.

This semester, Smith begins most mornings with 30 high school students enrolled in CIS 194 Cloud Foundations, a course provided by ASU.

ASU students, faculty, and staff lead the Cloud Foundations course for high school students. Pictured L-R (top row): ASU’s John Rome, Jason Nichols and Lukas Wenrick; (bottom row) ASU students Bhavana Kanumuri, Trinity Smith, Luke Sherry and Justin Manila.
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The online course was co-developed by ASU University Technology Office and the WP Carey School of Business, as well as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the National Education Equity Lab.

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

Students from all over the country 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 and asynchronous portion of the learning – this includes recorded lectures by ASU faculty, as well as weekly assignments and quizzes. Students connect to the course from the comfort of their high school’s classrooms and computer labs, reducing barriers for students to access the course and online learning materials.

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

“As a lecturer, I realized that the digital divide is much more complex than the lack of adequate resources, said Smith, who is one of five lecturers attending this semester. “It is compounded by a lack of exposure to opportunities in teaching and IT careers, which makes this course all the more important for these students.

In addition to asynchronous learning, students are encouraged to join weekly office hours with course instructors, who are enrolled ASU students like Smith. On Zoom, students from all schools join to review the current learning module, do homework and ask questions.

On average, about 30-35 students participate in each of the live sessions. Smith notes the importance of this interaction for students.

“While optional, these sessions are heavily used by students to review the current learning module and, even more effectively, gain a basic understanding of upcoming content for the course,” Smith said.

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

Scholars are essential to the successful completion of the course. Not only do they provide opportunities for live teaching and discussion, but they also take over the bulk of day-to-day tasks – including grading and communicating with students – which relieves pressure on secondary school teachers.

Raghu Santanam and Jason Nichols, professors at the WP Carey School, are co-teaching the course, along with UTO deputy IT director 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. Acquiring this fundamental knowledge while still in high school offers these students a great opportunity to develop their interest in tech careers.”

Welcome to the cloud: dive into the foundations of the cloud CIS 194

At a very high level, cloud computing is simply an approach to sharing central computing resources and infrastructure among multiple customers. The ability to use the same underlying infrastructure for multiple enterprises allows greater flexibility, security, reliability and efficiency for customers.

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 draws on AWS content to teach more details about the cloud. This makes sense because AWS is the largest cloud provider, holding nearly half of the global public cloud infrastructure market.

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

“Along with getting college credit and the ability to earn industry-recognized certification, another benefit is having the idea that going to college is more accessible in the minds of students. How great that a course like this can change the trajectory of these students.”

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

Smith notes that the course not only provides students with a foundation in 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 classes, and submit assignments on time..

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

Upon completion of the course, students not only receive high school and college credits, but are also invited to take the AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification Exam for free.

Aligning with careers of the future

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

In fact, ASU began its shift to becoming a fully cloud-based infrastructure as early as 2015. Major milestones include migration of ASU’s data warehouse to the cloudwhich translates to faster speeds, lower costs, and nearly infinite scalability.

Although it was an early wake-up call for Smith, she said she was excited to work with the leaders of the future.

“These students are so passionate about learning that they really make the heart of the course race,” she said.

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