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

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