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

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 WP Carey School of Business.

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

ASU students, faculty and staff teach 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.
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The online course was co-developed by ASU’s Technical Office of the University and the WP Carey School of Business, along with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the National Education Equity Lab.

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

Students take part in the ASU course nationwide

Now in its sophomore year, the 13-week course is being offered in a hybrid modality to more than 185 high school students across the country, including states like Iowa, Louisiana and New York.

The course uses Canvas to manage the online, asynchronous portion of the learning—this includes recorded lectures from ASU faculty, as well as weekly assignments and tests. Students enroll in the course directly from their high school classrooms and computer labs, reducing the barriers for students to access the course and study materials online.

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

“As an adjunct professor, I realized that the digital divide is much more complex than a lack of the right resources,” said Smith, one of the five professors participating this semester. “It is deepened by a lack of exposure to opportunities in IT education and careers, which makes this course all the more important for these students.”

In addition to asynchronous learning, students are invited to participate in weekly office hours with class faculty members who, like Smith, are enrolled ASU students. Conducted on Zoom, students from all schools join together to review the current learning module, do homework and ask questions.

On average, around 30 to 35 students attend each of the live sessions. Smith points out the importance of this interaction for the students.

“Although these sessions are optional, students often attend them to review the current learning module and, more effectively, gain a basic understanding of upcoming content for the course,” Smith said.

And since the topics are quite complex, this time students can get a little more familiar with the content before diving into the next module.

The instructors are critical to the success of the course. Not only do they provide opportunities for live classes and discussions, but they handle most of the day-to-day chores — including grading and communicating with students — relieving high school teachers of their workload.

WP Carey School Faculty Raghu Santanam and Jason Nichols co-teach the course with the Deputy CIO of UTO John Rome.

“Next-generation workplaces will require hands-on knowledge of cloud computing infrastructures,” said Santanam. “That is why today it is very important for every student to be familiar with cloud technologies and their potential applications. Acquiring these foundational skills while still in high school provides these students with a great opportunity to develop an interest in technology careers.”

Welcome to the Cloud: Get Started with CIS 194 Cloud Foundations

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

The course delivers content in weekly modules covering topics such as an introduction to the Internet, networking and the fundamentals of cloud computing – from cloud architecture to storage.

The course builds on AWS content to provide more detail about the cloud. This makes sense since AWS is the largest cloud provider, owns nearly half of the global public cloud infrastructure market.

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

“In addition to earning college credit and being able to earn an industry-recognized certification, another benefit is getting the idea that going to college is more achievable in the minds of students. How great that a course like this can change the trajectory of these students.”

The course challenges participants to explore the role of cloud technology in a modern enterprise, identify appropriate cloud services to support business needs, configure basic cloud infrastructure via ASW, and apply improvements for fundamental cloud infrastructure changes recommend.

Smith notes that the course not only gives students 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, taking Zoom lessons, and submitting assignments on time.

“In addition to the technical foundations they’re 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 credits, but are also invited to take the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification exam for free.

Focus on jobs of the future

Cloud computing is expected to continue to grow over the next few years, impacting the career paths of those working in this technical field and for companies migrating to cloud-based infrastructure as part of their digital transformation.

In fact, ASU began moving to an entirely cloud-based infrastructure back in 2015 Migrate ASU’s data warehouse to the cloudresulting in faster speeds, lower costs and almost limitless scalability.

While it’s an early wake-up call for Smith, she said she looks forward to working with leaders of the future.

“These students are so passionate about learning that they really put their heart into the course,” she said.

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