Can you learn IT online?
When learning IT skills, hands-on practical experience is essential. IT practice labs bring theory to life, by giving students an environment in which they can apply the practical skills they learn in an IT course. While this might seem obvious, giving students access to real IT equipment for labs, coursework, or practical assessments remains a huge challenge for educational institutions and IT learning organisations. And as education moves from traditional classrooms to the online environment, this challenge is even greater.
What are IT practice labs and how are they beneficial?
An IT practice lab is a web-based environment that contains real IT equipment. Students can access this environment 24/7 using any modern web-browser to develop their skills, without having to install any software. By using IT practice labs, students can deepen their technology understanding without the risk of harming any production systems. In other words, they won’t ‘break’ anything.
Cloud People, has been working with TAFEs, universities and private registered training organisations (RTOs) for almost ten years. In that time, we have seen a number of ways that these organisations try to include IT practice labs as part of their IT learning delivery. Generally they either build an in-house solution, or they provide their students with access to a software vendor’s online labs offering, such as Microsoft Online Labs.
Unfortunately, both of these approaches have their limitations. In-house solutions are expensive to implement and difficult to maintain: They require significant datacentre infrastructure and a team of engineers to manage them. Software vendors’ online lab solutions, while usually provided at no cost to the institution, can be overly generic in their content, are limited in technical support, and operate in complete isolation from your LMS, so there is no visibility of student activity, and therefore no way to track their progress.
How does Virtual Labs transform the delivery of IT practice labs?
Two years ago at Cloud People, we started to develop a platform to solve these challenges. The result is Virtual Labs, a cloud-hosted platform that provides learning providers with a fast, easy and secure method to create full-featured IT practice labs. Our platform has been developed in close partnership with our customers, and in particular, course administrators. The creation and publishing of courses is intuitive on the platform, and it is easy to create new content, or import your existing content.
Virtual Labs is fully integrated with LMSs such as Moodle and eWorks’ TVC. As a result, course enrolments can be automated, and students can seamlessly gain access to practical modules of IT courses, with real equipment – servers, desktops and networking equipment – in their own secure, private cloud. Student results from Virtual Labs practical exercises can then be pushed back into the LMS, to assist with assessment, and provide evidence for auditors.
Our platform also contains detailed, real-time analytics about individual student interactions including access, usage and engagement. These insights are key to improving engagement and completion rates. With a growing focus on the measurement of learning and learner profiling, it is essential that learning providers measure and understand this information.
We have seen institutions increase student engagement and completion rates, while reducing the total cost of ownership by implementing Virtual Labs. This has been very encouraging for us. We still consider Virtual Labs to be a young product, and feedback from our customers is invaluable in helping us define the future product roadmap.
Do you think your institution could benefit from Virtual Labs?
If you’d like to know more about Virtual Labs, we are currently offering free Virtual Labs trials to all eWorks customers.. Please contact eWorks for more information.