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Future of education: How cloud computing is supporting a new hybrid model of learning

The coronavirus pandemic and a rapid digital transformation process means universities around the globe are embracing online learning like never before. So what happens now? Laura Dawson, CIO at the London School of Economics, explains all.

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Universities and their students around the globe have embraced the potential of online learning.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Academics and executives at the world’s biggest universities have talked for years about the potential of electronic learning to create new and better forms of education – but before 2020, the evidence to support that optimism was pretty thin.

One study at the start of 2019 concluded that online education had failed to reduce costs or improve outcomes for students. Additional surveys showed that the number of students using online learning internationally was modest and, worse still, often in decline.

Such was the lack of progress that Richard Garrett, the director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, wrote a paper asking, ‘Whatever happened to the promise of online learning?’. His research suggested electronic education was no match for the immersion and networking available in traditional classrooms.

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Yet less then 18 months later, the outlook for online learning has changed radically. The coronavirus pandemic and a rapid digital transformation process has led universities around the globe – albeit initially reluctantly – to embrace the potential of online learning like never before, and now they are grappling with what to do next.

That’s certainly the case at the London School of Economics (LSE), says CIO Laura Dawson. Like her peers at higher education institutions in the UK and abroad, Dawson established the technical foundations to shift all learning online when the lockdown came in spring 2020.

The story of LSE’s rapid digital transformation at that time will be one that’s familiar to tech leaders at other organisations around the world: in a matter of days, Dawson and her IT colleagues secured remote links, sent out Windows 10 laptops, and established cloud-based services such as Zoom for the provision of online education.

The move online was a big break from the norm at LSE, where academics had spent many years teaching people face-to-face in classrooms. Dawson accepts that some of these lecturers were sceptical about the potential success of digitisation. However, the successful shift online has helped to remove some of these doubts.

“I think that’s the biggest thing in terms of change for education – it’s giving educators the confidence that online is not a big, scary beastie that they can’t do or isn’t going to be as good, because they’ve done it. And they proved they can do it. I think that’s a big shift and that will make things a lot easier going forward,” she says.

Such has been the level of success at LSE and other universities that experts around the world recognise that there is now no going back to how things were before.

Cloud-based services have proven their value and are helping institutions like LSE to connect with students around the globe who might previously have been unreachable. “It hasn’t gone unnoticed that those opportunities exist,” agrees Dawson.

This new-found positivity is in sharp contrast to some experts last year, who feared that academic institutions and their IT infrastructures would be badly prepared for the rapid shift to online learning.

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Dawson: “It’s giving educators the confidence that online is not a big, scary beastie.”

Image: LSE

While there’s still work to done on refining the online user experience, most experts agree that universities have established the groundworks for a new hybrid model, where a mix of online and offline teaching defines the future of education.

SEE: Digital transformation: The new rules for getting projects done

That hybrid vision chimes with Dawson, who says that – despite the success of LSE’s rapid digital transformation process – lessons won’t all stay online forever. She says there is still “real value” in face-to-face education, especially the opportunity to discuss and debate topics and trends with lecturers and students.

“I think there will be a desire or a need for it, particularly for things like executive education, because it isn’t always the teaching in the room that’s the key differentiator. It’s the networking and the collaborating that makes the difference,” she says.

Dawson says some elements of this collaborative interaction can take place via a hybrid mix of offline and online methods, but key conditions must be met. Any form of hybrid teaching must ensure people inside and outside the classroom have an equitable experience.

“I think it can be done; I hope it can be done, because I can see that that’s what potentially a lot of organisations are going to want,” she says. “But the people in the room can’t have more say than the people who are not in the room.”

Academic institutions, therefore, will have to ensure they focus on refining how technology is used as part of the customer experience that they provide to students, whether they’re in the classroom, at home, or video-conferencing in from abroad.

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Lessons won’t all stay online forever, despite the success of LSE’s rapid digital transformation process.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dawson gives the example of virtual whiteboards that are used in online mathematics lessons. It’s far too hard right now for tutors to be able to write complex statistics on a whiteboard and to successfully convey the details of a lengthy formula, as they would be able to in a traditional classroom setting.

“One of the key reasons we have in the past struggled to get those subjects online is the ability to recreate writing formula up on the screen in a way that can be read by anybody. Because it’s often so small that you can’t see it, so there’s some work to be done there,” she says.

Yet Dawson says it’s important to recognise just how far the move to online learning during the coronavirus pandemic has helped to boost the electronic educational experience, particularly in the case of asynchronous teaching, where teaching materials are posted online and learners work through them in their own time.

Dawson says the good news is academic institutions won’t necessarily need to invest heavily in a suite of new tools to improve the hybrid teaching experience. Most of the key technologies – like video-conferencing tools and online-learning platforms, such as Moodle – have been implemented to help support the shift to online learning in the past 12 months.

“I think good video conferencing, like we’re doing at the moment with Teams and Zoom, really helps create the collaborative environment to discuss the topic. The value is not necessarily in the material that you’ve just watched, but in the discussion that you have afterwards with the tutor. And I think we’ve seen it works – we just need to hone everyone’s skills and just make it better,” she says.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/future-of-education-how-cloud-computing-is-supporting-a-new-hybrid-model-of-learning/

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Colonial Pipeline cyberattack shuts down pipeline that supplies 45% of East Coast’s fuel

The attack highlights how ransomware and other cyberattacks are increasingly a threat to real-world infrastructure.

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Colonial Pipeline, which accounts for 45% of the East Coast’s fuel, said it has shut down its operations due to a cyberattack.

The attack highlights how ransomware and other cyberattacks are increasingly a threat to real-world infrastructure. The company delivers refined petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, home heating oil and fuel for the U.S. Military.

In a statement, Colonial Pipeline said:

On May 7, the Colonial Pipeline Company learned it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack. In response, we proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems. Upon learning of the issue, a leading, third-party cybersecurity firm was engaged, and they have already launched an investigation into the nature and scope of this incident, which is ongoing. We have contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies.

Colonial Pipeline is taking steps to understand and resolve this issue. At this time, our primary focus is the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation. This process is already underway, and we are working diligently to address this matter and to minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline.

Cybersecurity: Let’s get tactical | A Winning Strategy for Cybersecurity | Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity

Here’s a look at the Colonial Pipeline system affected by the cyberattack.

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Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown should it continue may lead to supply shortages since it covers so much territory in the US.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/colonial-pipeline-cyberattack-shuts-down-pipeline-that-supplies-45-of-east-coasts-fuel/

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FlexiSpot Bamboo EN1 review: Affordable electric standing desk with stand interval reminders

Working from home or working for long hours in an office can wear on you so changing up the scenery a bit with an electric standing desk is a good way to initiate movement. Over the past year of the pandemic, I’ve come to realize standing desks are perfect for me.

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As I discussed in the video of my home office I spent many years working at my old Costco desk that has served just fine for a couple of hours of work here and there. However, with COVID-19 driving people home to work remotely, a standing desk has become my platform of choice and my Costco desk is now used for storing mobile gear I am reviewing.

A representative from FlexiSpot reached out to see if I was interested in testing an electric standing desk. I was sent a bamboo desktop with the EN1 standing desk frame to evaluate. You can purchase desk series that includes the frame, desktop, and keypad or you can purchase frames and desktops separately.

Also: Palmsolo’s Star Wars office: Product boxes, drawers of phones, and multiple screens

A few key features I look for in electric standing desks are programmable height settings for quick transition between sitting and standing, quiet motors, tall enough to satisfy my 6 foot, 1 inch, height, and a stable platform at the standing height. The FlexiSpot solution satisfied all of these features and even provided a convenient additional one I haven’t seen before.

Desk assembly

The desk arrived in two separate boxes a couple of days apart. The EN1 frame, including the legs, feet, and controller, was in one box and the desktop was contained in another box. The EN1 frame box was quite heavy as the legs and motor are pretty dense, helping to make the desk quite stable at the full height.

The legs and top were well protected in the boxes and were in perfect condition. The box with the legs includes the directions, bolts, screws, allen wrenches needed to install the bolts, measuring tape, and a basic wrench to tighten the drive shaft. You will need a Phillips screwdriver or even better, an electric drill to drive in the wood screws to secure the frame to the bottom of the desk.

Also: ZDNet Home Office tours

The directions were easy to follow, but properly tightening the crossbeam at the right length was a bit confusing. I read through all of the directions and then figured I would temporarily tighten the crossbeam at a certain length and then come back to adjust it after I placed it on the bottom of the desktop. The crossbeam length is dependent on the transmission rod placement and the desktop length. Step 5 of the directions states that the distance from the edge of the desktop to the frame should be less than 7.9 inches. I selected 7 inches as my length and made sure the frame was the same on both sides.

Interestingly, there are no holes in the desktop for placement and alignment of the frame so you will also need a measuring tape to center the frame on the bottom of the desktop and make sure you are within the guidance 7.9 inches at each end of the desktop. There were holes for aligning the standard digital keypad with wood screws also used to secure this to the desktop. I installed the desk in a room with carpet, but the feet also have levelers on the bottom in case you need to level the desk.

Cable ties with tape were also provided so you can secure the keypad, motor, and power cables under the desktop securely. The cables were easy to route and plug in for proper use with the desk.

Design and setup

There are many options when it comes to electric standing desks and the FlexiSpot one I tested is one of the most affordable. The bamboo desktop is priced at $180 for the 55-inch by 28-inch rectangle top I tested. You can also select a curved top, as well as size options of 48×24 ($150) and 60×30 ($290) inches.

The EN1 standing desk frame, with a digital display keypad, is priced at $229.99. The frame is available in black, gray, and white. The frame is designed for a capacity of 154 pounds. FlexiSpot has other frame options that have dual motors and higher weight capacity.

After connecting everything together, plug in the desk to activate it. There are three programmable memory settings, up/down arrows with a LED display showing the current height in green, a memory save button, and a reminder settings button. Height settings are available from 28 inches to 47.6 inches, not including the desktop thickness. My preferred sitting height is 30.5 inches and my preferred standing height is 45.1 inches. Switching between these two only takes several seconds and the movement is quiet too.

The reminder option is a handy feature where you can program a period of time between 0 and 99 minutes to have a buzzer sound for 10 seconds to remind you to stand. If you press any button within that 10 second period then the timer will start over. If you do not press any button in that 10 seconds, then another buzzer will activate after five minutes. If you again do not press a button then the reminder function will turn off. You can simply press the A button to reenable the timer.

FlexiSpot EN1 electric standing desk Daily experiences

The bamboo desktop looks and feels great with a solid surface. It’s a naturally sourced material made from 100% bamboo so you can trust you have an eco-friendly desktop surface.

The EN1 frame is very solid and heavy-duty. Even at the full height, the desk is stable when loaded with computers and other gear. The directions are comprehensive, except for the alignment of the crossbeam and fit to center the frame under the desktop.

The price is excellent for an electric standing desk with the quality of construction and all of the included features.

Even if there aren’t measurable health benefits of standing over sitting, simply changing my perspective throughout the day has made me more productive. In addition, I find when I transition from sitting to standing it prompts me to leave the office and walk around my house so more activity is being initiated through regular sessions of standing.

It’s great to shift to a standing position and look out my room window to see some of the world around me as I work. Spending several hours a day on Microsoft Teams meetings can be a defeating lifestyle, but standing desks switch up your perspective a bit and get you shifting your weight around as you make the transition up and down.

The desk arrived in two separate boxes a couple of days apart. The EN1 frame, including the legs, feet, and controller, was in one box and the desktop was contained in another box. The EN1 frame box was quite heavy as the legs and motor are pretty dense, helping to make the desk quite stable at the full height.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/flexispot-bamboo-en1-review-affordable-electric-standing-desk-with-stand-interval-reminders/

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Adobe Flash: Microsoft lays out plans to remove it from Windows 10 PCs for good

Microsoft’s July Patch Tuesday security update will include the Flash removal update for all versions of Windows 10.

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Microsoft is preparing to issue two more Windows 10 updates in June and July that will eliminate unsupported Adobe Flash Player from Windows PCs for good.

The update KB4577586 called “Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player” has been available as an optional update since October and now looks set for a broader deployment.

Flash Player officially reached end of life on December 31, 2020 as per an announcement by Adobe and major browser makers in 2017.

SEE: Windows 10 Start menu hacks (TechRepublic Premium)

Via Windows Latest, Microsoft in late April updated an old blogpost detailing its Flash removal plans that it now says will culminate in the update rolling out in the upcoming Patch Tuesday security updates targeting older versions of Windows 10.

In June Microsoft plans to release KB4577586 as part of the preview Windows 10 updates ahead of the next month’s Patch Tuesday update. These updates are not optional, so it should roll out to all Windows 10 machines via Windows Update and WSUS.

“Starting in June 2021, the KB4577586 “Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player” will be included in the Preview Update for Windows 10, version 1809 and above platforms. It will also be included in every subsequent Latest Cumulative Update,” Microsoft said.

“As of July 2021, the KB4577586 “Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player” will be included in the Latest Cumulative Update for Windows 10, versions 1607 and Windows 10, version 1507. The KB will also be included in the Monthly Rollup and the Security Only Update for Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Embedded 8 Standard,” it added.

SEE: Back to the office in 2021? Here are ten things that will have changed

Also, Windows 10 version 21H1 or the May 2021 Update is due out any day now, possibly with the May Patch Tuesday update. Of course, this version won’t be shipping with Flash Player. Microsoft notes that when users update to 21H1 or later, Flash will be removed.

KB4577586 remains an optional update to install for now. However, Microsoft will eventually mark it as a “recommended update”. Once installed, the Flash removing update cannot be uninstalled.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/adobe-flash-microsoft-lays-out-plans-to-remove-it-from-windows-10-pcs-for-good/

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