Live Stream Learning

Teaching Tech Live Online

By Bill Stanard, Director at Tech Collaborative STL

 

Tech Collaborative STL was hatched in 2017 when a friend asked how his philanthropic foundation could bring coding into the lives of under-served youths in the St. Louis metro area to increase their employment opportunities.

Our first few months were spent getting to know the players: the local school systems, the other education based non-profits, and the grant-makers. Six months in, we were presenting micro-computer workshops (Raspberry Pi) and teaching a drag-and-drop animation and game language (MIT’s Scratch) at a middle school during their summer enrichment program. While our efforts broadened their digital horizons, we weren’t really increasing our students’ chances of landing a good job in tech. Also, one teacher reaching only 15 students at a time wasn’t logistically efficient.

As we made the rounds of other players in the tech field, we were introduced to the world of cyber security competitions, a less expensive sibling of hugely popular robotics competitions. Employment opportunities in the world of cyber security were everywhere, and they did not require a four or even two-year college degree. Certification after passing a rigorous test followed by a year of internship could mean salaries which could support a young family, one of TechLabSTL’s original goals.

But prospective cyber security competition coaches were feeling overwhelmed by the technology needed to create virtual machines, design OS images with security vulnerabilities, and teach their teams command line access to the Linux operating system. We started to work with the leading advocate for the St. Louis area’s cyber ecosystem, the Midwest Cyber Center, adding our coaching support to their mentoring efforts for CyberPatriot competition teams throughout the area.

To help coaches manage their team infrastructures, from sign-up, through practice image procurement, to acquisition of competition images, we created a series of step-by-step guides. Because we were able to observe the results of CyberPatriot competitions through several seasons, we created a series of check-lists to guide competitors in mitigating their Windows and Linux images’ vulnerabilities.

Because there is so much to learn to be prepared to compete in cyber security competitions (the task has been compared to getting a sip of water from a hydrant or a fire hose), we designed integrated curriculum guides and materials to focus the teams and their coaches on the essentials of OS administration, from novice to expert level.

The latest step in our evolution from classroom code teachers (think dial-up) into fully-realized tech educators is Live Stream Learning, an interactive, video based delivery system for code and operating system education (think broadband). We have moved from simply sending teachers into classrooms to facilitating learners to become teachers in their own communities.

In the spirit of our mission statement, the most important thing we do is to nurture tech literacy in the under-served. By sharpening our focus on new modes of educational outreach, we increase the maximum number of under-served youths we can reach.

Leveraging our established relationships with the Midwest Cyber Center and its associated CyberPatriot teams, we have now stepped beyond static school schedules and have become a persistent learning environment. But Live Stream Learning needed a first focus, a pilot curriculum: enter the operating system of choice for the world’s hackers, Linux.

Arguably, the premier gateways to cyber security literacy is through Linux, the open source alternative to Windows OS and Apple’s iOS. Three-quarters of the Internet’s servers are driven by one of the many flavors of Linux: Arch, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Fedora, Debian, Suse, et cetera. A knowledge of this ubiquitous OS is central to success as a digitally literate job seeker in cyber security.

While most versions of Linux have a graphical user interface (GUI) similar in look and feel to Windows and Apple’s iOS, the text-only command line, similar to Microsoft’s DOS of the 80s, is the interface of choice for most serious administrative and security work.

Learning Linux command line (known as the shell) is best accomplished through interactive lessons: the tutor gives an explanation and an example of a command, and the student, in her own Linux environment, types and executes the command and observes the result. Back and forth and back and forth, the interaction between the tutor and the student evolves into a conversation, especially if a real-time, live chat is part of the lesson environment.

Being able to ask questions during the lesson via a typed chat interface has two benefits; it allows the struggling student to ask for clarification of an issue during the presentation, and it allows the advanced student to request more information on a topic while it is being presented. The typed chat format keeps the flow of the lesson moving like a conversation while allowing even the most reticent or shy student to be heard and to participate.

The live chat appears on the screen next to the active, living terminal window. A chat entry appears on all participants’ screens and is usually answered by the tutor aloud, via the audio feed, either as the answer to a question or as an amplification of a point in the lesson.

Live streamed Linux lessons may not be timely for all students, so each lesson is archived for asynchronous (not live) viewing at a later time.

TechLabSTL uses a hybrid system of live game streaming software (including student-instructor interaction via live chat) and the easy access of asynchronous (on-demand) archived tutorials, offering personalized lessons in most areas of the computer science curriculum. In the near future, TechLabSTL will be offering lessons in Scratch (February and March) and Linux (February and throughout the spring), broadcasting live feeds from classes scheduled for after-school, weekday afternoons during the winter and spring of 2018.

 

You can subscribe to our live feeds by searching for bstanard at https://www.twitch.tv/ and to our archived lessons by searching for TechLabSTL at https://www.youtube.com.

Screenshot of a Live Stream Learning Linux lesson

 

Screenshot of a chat session during a Live Stream Learning online session

 

Screenshot of a Live Stream Learning session featuring MIT’s Scratch language