How To Bring A Cloud Inside: A Checklist To Make It Happen

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Learn from my mistakes! If you need to use an internet (cloud) based software technology in your hybrid or online classroom, this engaging talk will help you avoid problems and present you with a checklist for picking the technology and create increased student engagement. 

Sponsored By


 Fred Aebli is a Lecturer and IST Program Co-Coordinator (Internships) at the Penn State Scranton Campus in Information Sciences and Technology and is also a Penn State Alum.  His role within IST has been to aid in developing online and resident IST curriculum with emphasis on the applied side of the technologies.  Since Fred Aebli's focus is on the applied side he remains engaged with corporate activities as he develops internet solutions and advises efforts to leverage technology.  His background is a diverse one which stems from a career as a Major in the United States Marine Corps.  From there he continued to develop his career as a consultant for companies such as Verizon (then Bell Atlantic) and Scientech, Inc., an Oracle solution provider for the PPL nuclear plant in Berwick, Pennsylvania.  He is also creator of to help homeschooler, teachers, and kids learn how to code.

Extended Abstract

What if you had to teach a course and suddenly realized you had no support to teach it? 

That is what happened to me four years ago while teaching a technology course.  My presentation will show you how I met that challenge, overcame it, and my students benefitted.  Maybe it is a coincidence, but since then I have been recognized by my students and peers with several teaching awards for creating an engaging learning environment using this technology. 

What You Will Learn
The goal of the presentation is to provide any educator at any level with easy to follow steps to select an internet (cloud) based software service tool for use in your online or hybrid classroom while understanding how to manage Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), cost, and the internet (cloud) based software service.

The Presentation
The presentation will be delivered using Prezi and an alternative MS PowerPoint will be available for download via the conference website along with an internet (cloud) based software service selection checklist and resources.  The presentation contains screenshots, video example of a service in use, student comments, lessons learned, and an element of gamification whereby audience members will engage in a preliminary survey using and at the end an online quiz game using the website and smartphone app.  

As educators we are expected to provide students with learning environments that give them the opportunity to achieve the goals set forth in our courses.  If your course offers students exposure to a technology to develop a skill or you use technology to enhance learning you may find yourself facing a number of challenges.  These challenges in using the technology include the cost, privacy rights of the student using it, managing it, and your own experience in using the technology.  If you are responsible for selecting, implementing, and managing a technology like this for your classroom, these challenges may prompt you to forgo its use in your classroom or you may select a lower caliber technology resulting in the delivery of a lower quality course with poor outcomes to include low student engagement. Unfortunately, I have done this myself and even though the students completed the course, I knew they were not provided the best learning environment. 

The challenges noted here are legitimate concerns and can be difficult to overcome when you may be unsure where to turn for advice even with good instructional design or technology support.  Many faculty members who take it upon themselves to figure this out do get very creative in their learning environments when facing these challenges.  I have witnessed some get creative to the point they may be creating risk if they are not carefully thinking through how they will adopt an internet (cloud) based software service. There is a potential risk to the student if the faculty member looking to use outside internet (cloud) based services is not taking the proper precautions to protect student information as per FERPA guidelines.  There is also another form of risk and that is not providing the best learning environment for our students. In other words, risk of a missed opportunity to learn. 

I have been teaching a course entitled “Organization of Data” for over 18 years that introduces the student to database technology and issues associated with managing them. During the running of this course, I have seen technology evolve from software physically installed on the computer to relying more on internet (cloud) based software services. Four years ago, our local campus technology solution that supported my course became unsustainable due to increased cost of the software and hardware.  It had also become very time consuming and difficult to manage which also pulled me away from the classroom and engaging my students.  It was decided to discontinue using the hardware and software resulting in a dilemma to find a suitable replacement.  I no longer had the technology to support my course even though I had to deliver the course as part of our degree program.  I was presented with a challenge to identify, fund, setup, deliver, and support software for my class.   Although my example may seem specific to only database technology, the guidance I provide can be used for any internet (cloud) based software service.  This course introduced students to the concept of database technology to include hands on exercises where they would learn how to write database queries using SQL (Structured Query Language) as one of the course objectives.  The technology needs of this course were quite demanding which makes it a good example for my use in this presentation. The evolution over time of this course has seen the use of software such as Microsoft Access installed on a desktop computer to Oracle, MySQL, and then Microsoft SQL Server running on a computer server centrally managed.  All provide environments for creating and using databases.  All have various costs, maintenance, and support challenges. The course itself is preferred to be delivered using a large scale or enterprise database such as Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server.  Both of which are difficult to administer especially when you are also trying to teach the course itself. In my situation I had to find a solution and I only had a few months to figure it out as the class would be offered the following semester.   After weeks of work in trying to determine the right internet (cloud) based software service, I made a selection.  The following semester, my students experienced learning in the way the course had originally intended. Students then became more engaged, sharpened, skills, and to some extent impressed future employers as they were now able to demonstrate key skills acquired in this learning environment.    

Presentation Delivery and Engagement                                      
I will guide this presentation and discussion via an example of how I journeyed through the selection of an internet (cloud) based software service used in my course.  I will also support it with examples of how I applied the framework to two other classes that I teach requiring different technology.  One of the courses is a software development studio and the other is an computing interface design course.  Both courses utilized software and hardware available as internet (cloud) based software services.  The steps provide a framework so that an instructor can succeed in overcoming the challenges of cost, FERPA, technology management, and their own depth of experience or lack thereof thus allowing the instructor to be an 'instructor' and not just tech support.  This approach ultimately benefits the student. 

The presentation is broken up in three parts.

  • Part one will provide an overview of the problem scenario that I faced. At that point I will learn who in the audience is either facing or has faced this situation and how they dealt with it by using the online polling tool  
  • Part two of the presentation will present how I evaluated and selected internet (cloud) based services also known as Software As A Service (SaaS) focusing on Amazon AWS, IBM Bluemix, and Microsoft Azure.  I will also discuss the challenges of building and hosting your own solution.  The internet (cloud) base software evaluation will focus on brand reputation, service support, service availability, cost, and ease of setup and use.  As a download on the conference website, I will provide a checklist that you can use to systematically compare the services based on your needs. 
  • Part three of the presentation will demonstrate a chosen service.  In this live demonstration you will be able to see the service being operated.  At this point I will go over student comments and the lessons learned to include what to avoid when making a selection.   Issues such as billing, accessing the technology from remote locations such as their homes or school, and complexity or ease of use will be covered in part three of the presentation. 
    • At the end of the presentation I will conduct a live quiz game using the website and mobile app with the winner being recognized with a fun take-a-way prize that I will provide.   Quiz questions will be derived from broad concepts delivered in my presentation. 

By the end of the presentation, you will have a better understanding of how to select an internet (cloud) based software service for use in your course.