SHERIDAN — Walking down a hallway, Sheridan College faculty members Anne Gunn and Mark Thoney pull two computer labs behind them.
The mobile labs are composed of 10 laptops and several routers that fit into a suitcase-sized container easily moved from one place to the next. They were purchased less than a month ago, at the cost of about $10,000 each, using money from a Whitney Benefits grant to support computer programming education at the college and throughout Sheridan County.
Gunn and Thoney plan to bring the labs to local schools and introduce middle- and high-school students to computer programming. The effort is part of what is known as the Sheridan Computing Education Initiative, an informal partnership between Whitney Benefits, Sheridan College and Sheridan County School District 2 to enhance computer programming opportunities in the area.
With the mobile labs, Gunn and Thoney are hoping to introduce computer science and programming to more area schools. By having their own routers, Gunn and Thoney don’t have to connect the laptops to a building’s wi-fi, making it easier to have programming tools and an internet connection up and running in a short amount of time.
Another aspect of the SCEI, Gunn and Thoney said, is making the opportunities as “low-friction” as possible. This means eliminating extra hassles that accompany online instruction, such as programs that work better on a certain type of laptop, or a costly online textbook.
Whitney Benefits paid for three years’ salary and benefits for Thoney’s position as a college faculty member, and Gunn’s position as an instructor and liaison between the college and SCSD2.
Thoney joined the college last year, and was in charge of redesigning courses and modernizing tools for the computer degrees offered. There are currently four degree and two certificate options. Two degrees are in programming (computer information systems and computer web design), while two are in information technology (cyber security and computer networking administration). The certificates are in cyber security and IT support.
Most of the programs offer an Associate of Applied Science degree, which gives a student the potential to get a job in their field immediately after graduation. The only one that does not offer an A.A.S. is the computer information systems degree, where students receive an Associate of Science degree, and then likely transfer to a four-year school.
Gunn and Thoney said about half of their students are college-aged, while some are adults in their 40s and 50s. A wide variety of students are able to take the classes because all are currently offered online. Thoney said there will be one class that meets in-person at the college next semester. He said there will hopefully be four or five in-person classes eventually, depending on enrollment.
Gunn teaches two programming classes at the college and is at Sheridan High School every day helping with the computer science and programming courses. Thoney teaches five programming courses.
They structure their courses the same way, with new information and assignments posted every Monday. Students are expected to email an update by Friday, and the homework is due the following Tuesday.
Programming is a valuable skill to have, Thoney said, because most jobs use computers to some degree. He added that it was only a slight exaggeration to equate programming in the future to reading in the present, because it will be ingrained into nearly all aspects of society.
Thoney said he became fascinated with computers in sixth grade, after seeing a robot demonstration in one of his classes. By the time he was in high school, Thoney was already writing programs for the school math department. With the new mobile labs, perhaps he can introduce a sixth-grader to his or her next career.