AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

Serverless Application: Walking into the Cloud at the University of Georgia

We have seen a push for innovation in distance learning across higher education in recent years. The University of Georgia’s virtual exercise course is one example of a university addressing this challenge. The goal of the online course is for students to learn to manage heart rate activity during exercise for optimal fitness results.

Initially, students had to manually export the data from their fitness tracker, then send it to the instructor. But this approach wasn’t ideal. “As a student, this process could be confusing because there were multiple reports and file types to choose from when downloading the data. With the wrong report or the wrong format, the data could be unusable. For some students, data management became a barrier to learning,” said James Castle, Lead Instructional Designer, University of Georgia Office of Online Learning.

To alleviate the burden on the students, James worked with a student majoring in computer science to develop an alternate solution. The team looked to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for an inexpensive way to run the application and seamlessly collect the data. They needed to make the data collection and analysis easier for both the students and the professor.

“I had to look up a lot of the documentation for AWS. I watched a lot of videos and it was fun learning about it,” said Chuma Atunzu, a junior at the University of Georgia majoring in computer science. “Starting with little experience with these technologies, I was able to build a modern, serverless application using many different AWS services.”

With AWS, they designed a serverless application that uses AWS Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon API Gateway, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) along with Desire2Learn (D2L) and Fitbit. In anticipation of the start of the summer semester, they tested the application last month and received a bill of $0.01.

Now, students give access to the instructor once with a single click at the beginning of the semester—that’s it. And then, they walk. For professors, once given permission, they can request the data after each module and do the necessary analysis for the course.

The online fitness course is now live with Fitbit and the new serverless application monitoring the heart rate data of University of Georgia students across the globe, from Switzerland and South Korea to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. “So far it all seems to be working smoothly,” said James. “Our students are able to earn the physical education credit they need from almost anywhere on earth.”

Two workloads were built (for just a penny!) – one for students and one for professors.

Figure 1: Student workflow

Figure 2: Professor workflow

Learn more about the AWS Cloud for higher education here.