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Using AWS to Empower the Next Generation of Graduates

Mahesh Neelakanta, Director of Information Technology Services, University Libraries, Florida Atlantic University
Mahesh Neelakanta, Director of Information Technology Services, University Libraries, Florida Atlantic University

Mahesh Neelakanta, Director of Information Technology Services, University Libraries, Florida Atlantic University

While public cloud services are slowly being incorporated into academic IT environments, the adoption of those same services within the academic curriculum and student projects have occurred at a much faster and sometimes chaotic pace. The low barrier of entry that cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), have assembled to enable both students and educators to utilize their services at low or no-cost has seen the adoption rate across university curriculum, and student projects grow significantly in the past few years. To enable our users to leverage these services, there are a few different options available:

● AWS Academy for general training and certification

● Microlearning for deep-dives into specific technologies

● Gamification to bolster 21st-century skills

● Post-training mentorship

IT staff (from the CIO/CTO level down to a system administrator) have a unique opportunity to share their experiences in this “wild-west” adoption of cloud services by combining their own experiences in cloud-based IT projects with training programs and services made available by the cloud providers. AWS has to lead this effort through the AWS Academy program. Through the use of ready-to-teach coursework that is in line with the services and programs offered in AWS along with a path towards certification, the AWS Academy program provides a tried-and-tested path to guiding those students and educators who want to adopt cloud-services into their projects or classwork.

At Florida Atlantic University, we are embarking on this journey by partnering with the AWS Academy program and using it as a foundation to teach our students, faculty and staff about the cloud. We augment the AWS Academic curriculum with our own experience from the field and sharing war-stories from prior projects. Student projects often span a wide variety of technical hurdles, and we can provide specific services (or build on services) that would allow the student to jump-start their project so they can focus on the higher-level design rather than get stuck in the weeds of deployment or implementation.

  AWS Academy program provides a tried-and-tested path to guiding those students and educators who want to adopt cloud-services into their projects or classwork  

Student learning for certain technical skills has evolved over the past few years to a model similar to how professionals continue their development: Microlearning; training programs that are short, concise and focused on a very small but essential topic. These micro-doses of knowledge allow individuals to absorb what is needed to solve their very specific (and immediate) need and move on to the next aspect of their project. By utilizing the micro-learning method of knowledge delivery, we can deep-dive into specific technologies that apply to individual or group use-cases. As the pace of innovation and services offerings that AWS and other cloud-provides increase, the use of micro-learning will allow motivated students and educators to gain the necessary skills on a specific topic to quickly put them into practice. Also, AWS has adopted this method of learning through the getting-started tutorials (https://aws.amazon.com/getting-started).

A trend in recent ed-tech based approaches to learning is the use of gamification to engage with the audience. AWS has offered this style of training at their AWS Game Day events during their annual re Invent conference as well as localized AWS Immersion Day events. By making a class into an experiential trial-and-error process, the students can become an active learner while improving their 21st-century skills (Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Adaptability, Leadership and Empathy).

The effort doesn’t end at the class. Through mentorship and one-on-one or small group interaction, we can empower our students to utilize what they have learned. A practical scenario is the use of AWS IoT for gathering metrics across a wide range of deployed devices. In the past, a student would have to work with IT staff to set up a server, database and application service (such as a Mosquitto MQTT broker). This process would involve submitting tickets, provisioning the server(s), installing the application broker, provisioning the database and working for the network staff on firewall rules — a process which would take a few days to a week depending on the level of bureaucracy. By directing the students to AWS IoT, we can (with the students present) providing the service, broker and storage within 1-2 hours. We are then able to step out of the way and allow the student to take control have seen how we would launch the framework for their request.

As AWS continues to evolve their service offerings, we see only more opportunities to enable our students, faculty and staff to utilize them quickly and with minimal guidance on the right services and tools, security considerations and cost management.

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