Teaching Tech Remotely with Cloud and Command Lines

Grant, Peadar (2021) Teaching Tech Remotely with Cloud and Command Lines.


Computing Education at all levels requires a significant suite of software tools. On-campus lab environments offer a centrally managed consistent environment for students to learn and experiment within. These environments are often replicated to varying degrees by students on their personally owned devices.

The sudden cessation of on-campus activity in March 2020 proved challenging for all educators, and posed sectoral difficulties for those involved in computer-based technical subjects. Planning for September 2020 identified challenges in the Emergency Remote Delivery of computing modules covering cloud computing, databases, data centres and data storage technologies.

The pedagogical question of how to educationally leverage any technology changes to benefit students also arose. Could any additional technology setup required build skills in industry-adopted tools and methodologies? Could Command Line Interfaces, or text-based software, have any advantages for students working remotely over the more utilised Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs)?

Graphical User Interfaces have become the norm for general purpose computing over the past two decades. In lab-based environments, GUIs are easily troubleshot with lecturer and peer assistance. Screen sharing solutions do not lend themselves to quick “over the shoulder” reviews and demonstration.

Many apps used in the technology sector (e.g. code compilers, database clients) also have text-based user interfaces that are preferred by power users. Considered “old style” by general computer users, these apps have the crucial advantage that learners can exchange commands via text-based chat (in Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp etc).

In terms of software configuration, the diversity of laptop configurations and capabilities proved difficult to overcome. Remote access to campus-based resources was trialled but proved sub-optimal. Using Cloud Computing Instances to provide simple module-specific virtual machines proved simple to implement and administer with minimal cost.

This talk will examine the key lessons learned, introduce some tools (AWS EC2, PowerShell, SSH) and pose some questions as we continue online and move back into the classroom.


TEL in a time of Covid
Natural Disasters & Online Learning (including Pandemics!)

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