By Michelle Nettuno, Category Marketing Manager, Technology at E&I Cooperative Services
We sat down with Raechelle Clemmons, Leader, Higher Education Business Development and Strategy at Amazon Web Services (AWS) to discuss the 4 pillars for education and how they have helped E&I members.
Tell us about the AWS 4 pillars and the value they offer education.
AWS is on a mission to accelerate the digital transformation of education. We’re doing this in collaboration with the entire education community: learners, educators, administrators, researchers, and the technology providers who support them. In other words, whatever ways institutions wish to transform themselves, we want to help them get there faster. We see this desire for transformation happening in four key areas, what we call our four pillars. These are themes we consistently see in institutions’ strategic plans and hear about in conversations with leaders, and are areas where AWS helps them innovate in support of their mission.
The first pillar is Modernize and Secure the Academy, which should be no surprise given AWS’s leadership in cloud computing. Institutions of all sizes are asking for our help to become more agile, secure, and resilient. Importantly, modernizing technology infrastructure helps free up time for IT teams to focus more on strategic business initiatives and creates a platform on which to innovate. The second pillar is helping institutions Turn Data into Wisdom and optimize the entire data lifecycle, to gain insights and make data-informed decisions that can improve operational efficiency and student outcomes.
Speaking of student outcomes, our third pillar is to Enrich the Student Experience, something every institution is looking to do now. Students’ needs and expectations are changing, and we’re helping institutions rise to the challenge to increase equity and access to digital resources, create new ways to communicate with and engage students, and provide workforce-ready skills. Finally, we are working with institutions to Empower Researchers and Accelerate Research. Now more than ever, researchers need access to on-demand computer, storage, and advanced analytics resources at a scale not readily available on campus. By providing these resources, we’re helping accelerate research timelines by spending less time building infrastructure and more time on science.
What are some things AWS provides educational institutions with to help them be more agile?
Agility comes in a number of different forms. AWS helps institutions gain agility through our capabilities, pricing structure, and ability to help free up people resources. Having access to AWS means institutions have 200+ services and virtually unlimited amounts of technical capacity at their fingertips. If you have an idea for something, you can try it out immediately with our over 200 services that can be put together and used however you want. If you need to scale, you can provision thousands of servers in minutes. Compare that to most institutions’ on-premise infrastructure. It typically takes 10-12 weeks or longer to get a server given the current supply chain issues. Then they have to build all the surrounding infrastructure, like compute, storage, database, and so on. Our capabilities provide the agility to experiment, bring new solutions to life quickly, and scale as needed.
AWS’s pay-as-you-go pricing creates a second form of agility. If you’ve ever had to provision infrastructure, you know you have to decide whether to provision on the low or high side. If you don’t have enough, you create an outage. So instead, you provision for the peak even though you rarely sit there for long. Once you’ve purchased the hardware those funds are gone. With the cloud, however, you just provision what you need. If it turns out you need less, you return it and stop making payments. You can turn services on, off, and shift costs as priorities change.
Finally, by using managed database services, serverless capabilities, automation, and more, IT teams can focus less on maintaining systems and more on delivering projects that are more strategic. One institution, Bucknell University, found that by moving their student information system to the cloud they got 40% of their time back, and were able to refocus that time in ways that added more value to students, faculty, and staff.
Pillar 2, and to some degree pillars 3 and 4, discuss how education uses data to transform our understanding of student success and research. Tell us how AWS helps institutions address these needs.
From a technical standpoint, we help institutions go from idea to pilot implementations quickly by providing a low-cost, easy to adopt approach to get data out of silos into a single location. This approach enabled Maryville University to go from an idea that they could nudge students toward success as they begin their college journey, to a working application where data from multiple systems was combined to drive tailored communications to students. Most impressively, they did it in just 6 weeks! Although this solution is relatively new, the expectation is that the right nudges for each student to take action will increase student retention to graduation.
Similarly, we helped Ivy Tech Community College identify students who were at-risk of failing a course. In the first 10 days of a 16-week class they were able to predict, with 83% accuracy, which students were at-risk of failing the course. With that early information, Ivy Tech was able to intervene to help get those students back on track.
We worked with Portland State University to help students accelerate their time to degree. The Portland State team worked with AWS ProServe to develop machine learning models that used prior course enrollments to make recommendations about future enrollments and majors. Using this information, Portland State was able to alert students taking courses that were not a part of their degree plan, as well as gain insights that helped the university plan for course delivery schedules. There are so many opportunities to support and enhance student success once institutions unlock and harness the power of the data they already have.
How is AWS helping to innovate work inside the classroom?
I know folks don’t always think of AWS as a company that has an impact on teaching and learning, but I’m really proud of the work that we’re doing to support students and faculty inside the classroom. We’re working with educators and institutions to increase equity and access to digital resources, enable career-connected learning experiences, and provide students with workforce-ready training and skills. As you may know, AWS offers institutions free, ready-to-teach cloud computing curriculum through AWS Academy to help prepare students to pursue industry-recognized certifications and in-demand cloud jobs.
In addition, we’re working with innovative educators to incorporate artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, augmented reality, and other emerging technologies into the classroom experience. For example, we recently wrapped up our AWS disaster response Sagemaker Studio Lab hackathon where student engaged in solving complex global issues. We also launched our 4th season of the AWS DeepRacer Virtual Circuit with opportunities to train and race models inside the AWS DeepRacer console. We’re also working with institutions – from community colleges like the Bay Area Community College Consortium to research universities such as Cornell University – to create virtual computer labs so that every student has access to the applications they need to succeed in their classes anywhere, any time, and from any device.
How is AWS helping researchers in education conduct research more securely?
University campuses are increasingly under threat from cybercriminal ransomware attacks and attempts to access valuable and sensitive data. They also face increasing compliance requirements, such as the recently introduced Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) from the Department of Defense (DoD), along with privacy focused rules like HIPAA, FERPA, CCPA, and GDPR. AWS enables universities to protect research data and demonstrate compliance by mapping governance-focused, audit-friendly services with applicable compliance or audit standards.
We provide security professionals and researchers the ability to achieve sometimes conflicting goals without sacrificing their needs and wants. By leveraging AWS compliance enabled services, we guide institutions through the deployment of one or more research workloads. This helps security teams come away with the knowledge and tools they need to administer a modern cloud environment that supports the security, observability, and auditability necessary to enable compliant research computing. It also allows researchers to gain the flexibility and access to the scale of AWS that they want. It’s a win-win for all involved.
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