TSTC's Future on Technology Cloud Nine

TSTC's Future on Technology Cloud Nine

By Andy Kroll, Statewide Department Chair, Cloud Computing, Texas State Technical College (tstc.edu)

Andy Kroll, Statewide Department Chair, Cloud Computing, Texas State Technical College (tstc.edu)

One of the biggest challenges facing the information technology and education industries today is the speed of innovation. This is mostly attributed to the rise of cloud computing. My experience working in the IT industry and now in higher ed at Texas State Technical College has allowed me to witness a unique array of technology and the ongoing battle between legacy and modern environments.

Performance-Based Education

TSTC is the first two-year college in the state to offer a degree in Cloud Computing with a curriculum built around Amazon Web Services (AWS) to train students in cloud computing knowledge and hands-on skills. TSTC is using that same technology to meet the needs of the modern and future workforce, and we are beginning to implement a performance-based approach to our educational offerings. With the pace of innovation and change not slowing down anytime soon, students are at a disadvantage the longer they stay in school. A goal of our initiative is to provide flexibility for the student and allow them to accelerate throughout the curriculum. This poses some problems that we have turned to cloud computing to solve.

Cloud Computing -- Infrastructure

The on-demand and scalable nature of the cloud allow us to provide flexibility and empower the student to learn and build anytime, anywhere, on anything. Three years ago, we began migrating lab environments off local hardware and onto Amazon Web Services. The success and overwhelming positive student reviews we began receiving drove us to embrace cloud technology in our labs. Using best practices around cost optimization, we have been able to automate and lower the cost of our lab environments by creating AWS Lambda functions to shut down servers that are no longer in use automatically. Another best practice in the cloud is automation. We have created AWS CloudFormation templates for our labs that deploy infrastructure resources. This ensures that we do not have idle resources (cost savings) and can use the entire lab for all students by running a script only a few minutes before class starts.

"Digital transformation looks to identify your customers and align your organization’s processes and products to meet their desires"

Industry Trends -- Digital Transformation and DevOps

The cloud has enabled many changes, but few are as revolutionary as digital transformation and DevOps. Digital transformation looks to identify your customers and align your organization’s processes and products to meet their desires. DevOps is a culture of collaboration and brings together multidisciplinary teams to improve product delivery. To provide an analogy, DevOps is like the vehicle to take you to your destination, and digital transformation ensures that you arrive at the correct destination. An example of identifying our customers’ needs and solving them is the challenge we face in fulfilling our students’ needs to meet with an instructor for advisement, study hours, etc. We have used Google’s cloud-based G Suite to make our calendars available to students so they can book times at their convenience while increasing instructor productivity by saving them from the constant interruptions they used to experience.

Industry Trends -- Voice Assistants

Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are household names today and are prevalent on millions of devices. Using our voice is a more natural way of using technology, as opposed to tapping a screen or clicking a mouse. It is no surprise that a voice-enabled future is quickly approaching. The students of tomorrow (and today!) will grow up in a voice-first environment where they can perform many actions by speaking to their devices. This will be second nature to them, and they will come to expect it. We are tackling this challenge head-on by creating Alexa skills that our students can use to perform things such as studying and receiving information. Students have enjoyed the interactivity it can bring, and it engages them in a new way.

The Future -- Technology and TSTC

TSTC is adept at keeping up with technology, and we work with industry to stay ahead of innovations to keep programs relevant and graduates prepared to meet industry demand in Texas. Performance-based education, TSTC’s competency-based learning initiative, will allow students flexibility in scheduling and the ability to accelerate through curriculum via multiple-entry and multiple-exit options, thereby setting the pace for the future of technology education.

Some of the additional characteristics of the PBE initiative include the utilization of authentic assessment to provide real-world project opportunities and a curriculum that is offered in a blended, flipped classroom approach where the traditional lecture is placed online, and the focus is placed in the lab with hands-on learning. The curriculum will be continuously updated through a continuous improvement plan that will ensure the content is current and meets the needs of the industry.

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