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Marist College Uses the Cloud to Offer Massive Open Online Courses


William Thirsk, Vice President of Information and CIO, Marist College - Photo by Jordan Hollender




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Customer: Marist College
Headquarters: Poughkeepsie, New York
Business: Higher Education
Challenge: Addressing the lack of enterprise-computing experts in the workforce
Solution: Developing cloud-based massive open online courses
Hardware: Two IBM zEnterprise 114s, a System z10, more than a dozen IBM Power Systems servers running AIX, hundreds of IBM blades, an IBM PureData System and two IBM PureFlex Systems
Software: IBM Linux on System z and IBM z/VM

Remember the days of schlepping 30 pounds of books around campus—and then sitting in a stuffy lecture hall with a hundred other people?

Many educational institutions turned that notion on its head by making classes available online. Often, however, these are one-off courses that also require classroom attendance. This is all fine and well, but to have entire courses and curriculums available remotely—no matter where in the world students are located—elevates this idea to new heights.

That’s where Marist College is heading—to new educational heights—by offering cloud-based massive open online courses (MOOCs). For example, participants in its Institute for Data Center Professionals (IDCP) can enroll in free data center and enterprise-computing training programs over the cloud, no matter how far afield they are.

“We can introduce new ideas at no capital cost, which allows us to experiment for free. ... Others who don’t operate in an enterprise on System z can’t do those things quite so easily, if at all.”
—William Thirsk, vice president of Information and CIO, Marist College

Although students enrolled in this program aren’t necessarily on a degree track, they can get the training they need to help them and their employers improve enterprise data center operations—all by working on a Marist-located IBM mainframe at the pace and time of their choosing. “We see this as part of a social contract, to get as many people educated at the lowest cost available,” says William Thirsk, vice president of Information and CIO, Marist.

Comprehensive and Broad Curriculum

With its main campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, and a branch campus in Florence, Italy, Marist has about 4,700 traditional-age undergraduate students and 1,400 adult-age undergraduate and graduate students. Its curriculum, which Thirsk calls “very comprehensive and broad,” includes 44 undergrad majors, 12 graduate programs and 21 certificate programs. Its most notable programs encompass fashion and technology.

Marist has a long history of using technology in education. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recognized this by supporting the Marist-led Enterprise Computing Community, which aims to increase undergrad interest in enterprise computing, assist in the ongoing development of the school’s computing research lab and provide several full scholarships for underrepresented students majoring in computer science and information technology.

This success in using computing to further educational pursuits came in part thanks to an IBM executive who, for years, drove past the college on his way to work every day.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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