Tuesday, December 22, 2009

LabSim a Success at DeVry’s SkillsUSA Competition

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Texas high school students participating in the SkillsUSA practice competition hosted by DeVry University in Irving. The event went off successfully, and word is, teachers and students alike were “very impressed.” Bill McClure, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry, oversaw the computer maintenance competition. “The students really enjoyed being able to use LabSim and thought it was pretty cool they could perform the tasks in a simulated environment,” McClure said. “From our standpoint running the competition, being able to use LabSim made our life much simpler. It worked out really, really well.”

Planning the content for the skills test hasn’t always been easy. With more than 90 students in the competition, it would have been difficult for DeVry to prepare a physical lab and have the hardware available for each student. LabSim simulates a physical lab and allows students to complete real-life, hands-on tasks without needing physical hardware. “LabSim’s simulations made it very easy because we didn’t need to worry about the logistics,” McClure said.

DeVry chose two sections of the LabSim A+ course to test students in computer maintenance: installing a hard drive and creating logical partitions. “Before we started, I asked if anyone had ever used LabSim before, and no students had,” McClure said. But several of the students’ teachers were familiar with LabSim and thought it was a great idea to use it as the test content for SkillsUSA.

Eric Manuel, Electronics and Technology teacher at Duncanville High School in Duncanville, Texas, said, “This was our second year participating in the competition hosted by DeVry, and it gets better every year. They’re including more simulations like we will see at contests—combined with written tests—giving the students questions on command line interface, operating systems, and troubleshooting, modifying, or repairing a computer.”

Quinton King, a senior at Duncanville High School, competed in the computer maintenance tests. He said, “The simulation was really effective because what you do there is what you would do in real life.” King said the students used LabSim’s tutorials to understand the tasks they needed to perform in the simulated environment. For example, even though he had never created partitions before, the LabSim tutorial helped him figure it out and he was able to complete the exam.

Motivation for Competition

Most students competing in the computer maintenance category are enrolled in high school technology courses focused on A+ content, including computer maintenance. Their technology teachers can reference guidelines by SkillsUSA to know what skills may be tested in competition and then help their students train. To prepare his students, Manuel says he teaches his curriculum in class and holds extra tutorials outside of class—but not until after the practice competitions. “I don’t hold extra tutorials until after the new year—on purpose. I don’t set the students up for practice competition. Rather, the practice competition functions as a pre-assessment. It shows the students what they can expect in competitions and gets them motivated.”

In the recent competition hosted by DeVry, Manuel’s students learned where they need additional training. “My students enjoyed the level of complexity in the exams, but they thought maybe they could have done better, especially on the troubleshooting concepts,” Manuel said. “But now I know where to focus in my tutorials.”

Manuel’s students, including King, are looking now toward their next big event: the District 6 regional SkillsUSA competition in February held at Texas State Technical College Waco.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Thursday, December 17, 2009

CompTIA's Initiative "Getting America Back to Work"

College isn’t a bad place to be when the economy is suffering and unemployment rates are high. But as you near the end of your education, you may be glad to learn of programs in place to help graduates and other IT professionals who are looking for work.

CompTIA—a provider of vendor-neutral IT certifications—just introduced their program Getting America Back to Work, designed to help job seekers in the IT field acquire job skills through training and certification. Skills assessment and job placement tools (a database of current job openings around the country) are also part of the Getting America Back to Work program.

CompTIA’s program will include their own certifications, many of which are widely accepted in the IT industry. You’ve probably heard of some CompTIA’s certifications, particularly the A+ certification that many companies require of their entry-level IT staff. Network+ and Security+ certifications are also included as options in the Getting America Back to Work program.

Of course, you can still pursue relevant job skills, training, and certifications on your own if you don’t want to participate in CompTIA’s program. But the idea is clear: additional training will always help your job search, and certifications show potential employers that you’re willing to go the extra mile in acquiring job skills and keeping them current. And that may be just what you need to get a step ahead of other applicants in a competitive job market.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

IT Salary Guide: A Tool in Preparing for Your IT Career

If you’re getting close to graduating from a technology major or course of study, you’re probably already thinking about the job market and wondering what you may find. The 2010 IT Salary Guide was recently published by Datamation, and it gives a useful and fairly comprehensive look at salaries in the IT industry, including how salaries differ by geographic region, as well as the sectors of the IT industry that are experiencing the highest growth and demand.

Although the data presented in the 2010 IT Salary Guide is indicative of the recent overall economic slump, Datamation writer James Maguire wrote, “IT staffers, compared with the overall workforce, remain some of the highest paid professionals. A veteran IT pro who can change with the times—and versatility is more important than ever—can command a good salary even in rough times.”

Twelve IT job roles are assessed in the 2010 Salary Guide, including Developer/Programmer Analyst, Software Engineer, Systems Administrator, Network Engineer, Systems Security Administrator, and others. If any of these professions sound like the direction you want to take, I recommend spending some time analyzing the information presented in the guide. For example, with each professional role in the survey is listed the skills that lead to a pay increase in that role—including the amount of pay increase, by percent, for having each skill.

Many skills that lead to higher salaries are those that are acquired through on-the-job experience, such as Cisco network administration skills, Windows server skills, or database skills. Of course, getting that first job is an important step. Alternately, many of these same skills can also be acquired through certification training that includes realistic simulated labs, instructional videos, and quizzes on the material taught.

However you choose to acquire the skills and experience for your career, the 2010 IT Salary Guide will be a helpful tool for understanding the job market you’re about to enter and determining where you want to focus your time and attention in training for it.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TestOut's Year-End Blowout Sale

Now is the best time to buy TestOut's LabSim certification training courses. During our 11th Annual Year-End Blowout Sale, you get the best prices TestOut has ever offered on the LabSim library of courses.

If you've been thinking about certifications or waiting for the right time to start training, this offer will help you get started.

The LabSim library of certification training courses includes training for 12 important IT certifications:
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  • CCNA
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  • A+
  • Network+
  • Security+
  • Server+
  • Linux+

Every purchase of a LabSim training library also comes with TestOut's Update Guarantee that gives you access to every new LabSim course developed in the 12 months following your purchase.

TestOut's Year-End Blowout Sale ends December 31, 2009. Visit www.TestOut.com to make your move!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

DeVry Uses LabSim A+ in SkillsUSA Event

High school technology students are participating in a unique, skills-building event today at the Irving Campus of DeVry University, and TestOut’s LabSim A+ course is supporting their experience. Part of a SkillsUSA event, 85 students from high schools around north Texas are competing in the computer maintenance skills test that includes both written and hands-on portions. LabSim’s A+ course is the content used in the skills test, with a focus on the hands-on lab simulations that differentiate LabSim from other A+ courses.

Today’s competition hosted by DeVry is a practice competition to help prepare students for the state and national SkillsUSA competitions in coming months, where winners will be awarded their actual A+ certification. Bill McClure, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry, said, “We set up the same types of scenarios, exams, and skills tests that students will have at the state and national levels. They get exposure to having to complete the tasks within a time limit.” McClure said that students don’t see the requirements for their computer maintenance test until they are at the competition, and they have to “work under pressure” to complete the exams.

Students have been preparing for the computer maintenance competition through the coursework and labs they’ve completed in their high schools. In some of their classes, they’ve experienced building computers or taking them apart—tasks they would face in a real A+ certification exam. “The challenge for us at DeVry is to come up with skills tests similar to what students have been exposed to in high school.” DeVry also receives guidelines from SkillsUSA that help them plan the test content and make it similar to A+.

DeVry knew that LabSim would be their best solution to the computer maintenance test. DeVry uses the LabSim A+ course in their own college courses, and DeVry instructors were familiar enough with it to make suggestions about the specific LabSim modules to include in the SkillsUSA competition. Even though the competing students have never used the LabSim A+ software, McClure and DeVry instructors felt confident incorporating it. “We thought LabSim was a good way to approach this competition because it is really easy to work with,” McClure said.

We’re looking forward to hearing from DeVry and learning the outcome of the competition. Watch for a follow-up entry on The LabSim Experience to read more details about the students’ experiences with LabSim and A+.