Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Funding for Online Schools

A recent article featured in Parade magazine brought up the issue of funding for online schools. According to the author Stephanie Paterik, 175,000 students in 25 states attend school online. “If trends continue,” wrote Paterik, “half of all high school courses will be taught on the Web in 10 years.”

The funding for cyber schools comes from different sources—private companies, nonprofits, or the government—and some states require that public school districts share their funding with the virtual schools that students within the district boundaries attend.

A new virtual school and an expansion of an existing one in Indianapolis are examples of the growing trend. Indiana’s charter schools enroll students in grades one through six. According to Indiana’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, online programs provide an option for parents who want or need their children to learn at home. “If we hope to reach the diverse spectrum of learners in Indiana’s classrooms, education cannot be a one-size-fits-all system,” said Bennett. Ken Kusmer of the Associated Press reports that “virtual charter schools have teachers and lessons like traditional public schools but offer their instruction online to students at home.”

Indiana’s virtual schools are part of a two-year pilot program approved by the state’s General Assembly and fully funded by the state. But some people oppose state funds being shared with online schools and call it “tax-supported home schooling” (see Education Week). In 2009 a Pennsylvania school district had 50 students switch from public schools to virtual schools, and the district had to give up about $10,000 per student. Superintendent John Halfhill said, ”In my district, we’re outperforming the cyber schools in almost every regard based on achievement data, yet we are funding those schools” (see Parade).

What is your opinion of the funding of virtual schools? Perhaps you are a student or a teacher at an online school—what has been your experience?

Emily Howard, TestOut

Monday, April 26, 2010

TestOut Offers Students Free Practice Exams, Finds LabSim Bridges the Gap between Theory and Practical Knowledge

As a member of the TestOut sales team, one of the questions I am asked most is, “How important is certification?” The question is not as easy to answer as you may think, and it comes down to what someone wants to accomplish, what their educational experience is, and what their prospective employer thinks of certifications. CXO and director-level people tell me that certifications can be a tie-breaker between two similar candidates. Certification shows a level of commitment and dedication, as well as a refined skill set.

Maybe it is because of this attitude among employers that we are seeing an increased interest in certification on the part of students at a wide variety of institutions. I have had the chance to talk to students from all over the country, and consistently they indicate they are looking for the edge as they search for employment. They want to stand out from the crowd, and they see certificates from recognized organizations as a lift.

I have also had the chance to work with students who attend schools who do not use LabSim training or use it in a modified manner. On several occasions, TestOut has hosted on-campus events where we provide these students access to several LabSim courses and give them the opportunity to test their knowledge through LabSim practice exams. In a couple of these instances, the students felt very confident in their preparation and ability to pass a basic certification practice exam, such as A+. It was interesting to note their surprise when not a single student passed the practice exam the first time. There were a few that came close, and after spending some time using the training resources of LabSim, reviewing the sections where they missed questions, and doing some hands-on practice in the labs, they came very close to passing the exam. We knew that with a little more work in LabSim they would be prepared.

At another school, a 4-year university with a recognized Information Technology program, we again discovered the gap between theoretical knowledge and focused understanding related to a specific certification. Not a single student passed an exam the first time. Finally, I worked with students attending a school that did not provide preparation for certification but felt they provided something more valuable—a strong foundational understanding of the concepts. These students above all were most uncomfortable going out to compete for employment, but they were also the ones most focused on finding the right set of tools to help them, and the ones who, as a whole, purchased LabSim training on their own. They saw the impact a great tool like LabSim had on their educational goals.

2-year, 4-year, career college, trade school—it doesn’t seem to matter. IT students in general are looking for ways to be noticed by employers, and they feel certification is the way to do it. And they are telling us LabSim is the best tool they have used to help them.

Doug Nelson, TestOut

Friday, April 23, 2010

Certifications Lead to Greater Team Efficiency in IT

A recent Network World article highlighted results of a three-year study conducted by research firm IDC. The study surveyed more than 1100 IT managers about IT performance metrics in 26 different functions.

The results are described in a report called “Impact of Training on Network Administration: Certification Leads to Operational Productivity,” by Cushing Anderson—Program Vice President at IDC. According to Anderson, “training and certification are effective measures of how well team members can work with specific technologies, hardware, and software. . . . IDC research shows a direct relationship between higher levels of certification and improved performance.”

Below are a few key data points gathered from the IDC study about the effect of relevant certifications on IT team capability. Teams with higher concentrations of certified IT staff:
  • Have 10% more devices in full compliance with security policies on average.
  • Deploy applications and network capabilities on time and on budget about 10% more frequently
  • Have 20% less unscheduled downtime
  • Spent about 20% less on support costs for general network management
  • Spent about 30% less on external support for network security activities

If you’re an employer, these numbers may help you understand the benefits of hiring certified IT staff. While certifications may not be the bottom line reason to hire an applicant, they certainly work to strengthen a resume already solid in education and experience.

If you’re an IT student, take notice that many employers reported better team functionality from their certified IT staff. Completing relevant IT certifications in conjunction with your education will undoubtedly signal to employers that you will be an important contributor on their staff. When you’re on the search for a job to start your IT career, that is exactly what you want to show employers.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Free LabSim Webinar, Wednesday, April 21

Are you free for an hour on Wednesday? Join us for a free LabSim Webinar!

Learn how active learning benefits students enrolled in online computer courses. Knowledge retention is significantly increased when students engage in active learning.

See how one of the nation's largest post-secondary academic organizations—DeVry University—is using active learning in its online entry-level computer maintenance courses to improve student success.

Watch a demonstration of the new LabSim A+ Practical Application, which integrates hardware and software in groundbreaking lab exercises to provide students with real-life, hands-on virtual labs.

Title: LabSim Offers Active Learning in Online Computer Courses
Date: Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Time: 12:00 PM–1:00 PM MDT

Register here. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

See you Wednesday!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Career in Public Security

According to, demand is growing for well-trained public security professionals, partly due to a rising number of disasters, both natural and man-made. In response to the demand, colleges are increasingly offering degree and certificate programs in public security, criminal justice, and related fields. These fields offer careers such as law enforcement officer, fire service, security officer, homeland security administrator, educator, investigator, or many others.

If you’re thinking about a career in public security, or if you’re a professional already working in the public security discipline, you will benefit from the training available toward an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree program. Online colleges such as Virginia College Online and Penn Foster Career School offer these type of courses, with hands-on training available with our LabSim online labs. “Some of the courses covered may include Administration, Accounting, Public Safety Research, Fundamentals of Homeland Security, Emergency Planning and Decision-Making, Law, Human Behavior, Disaster Response and Recovery, and Development of Public Policy Strategies.”

Many job opportunities exist in public security. If it’s what you’ve been thinking about, maybe now is the time to find a program and get started!

Emily Howard, TestOut

Monday, April 12, 2010

New LabSim A+ Practical Application: Responses from Instructors

The new LabSim A+ Essentials and A+ Practical Application courses have been evaluated by many schools, colleges, and career centers who want to determine the courses' quality and potential for success in their classrooms. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and many organizations have expressed their excitement about how well the course is serving their students. Professor William Schlick of Schoolcraft College said the new A+ is “as close a feel as possible to actually being in the room with the physical equipment, getting the hands-on experience.” Instructor Martin Cordero of Hopkinsville Community College said, “The graphics are so clear that you can distinguish and interact with the smallest details and gain a level of familiarity with computer components that you would normally only get from hands-on training.”

Other instructors evaluating LabSim A+ Practical Application have told us they are:
  • Excited to have a single tool for teaching the computer maintenance course, rather than many separate materials
  • Hoping the preparation from LabSim A+ will encourage students to take the certification exam
  • Already using LabSim in some classes, wanting to use it in more

If you haven’t had a chance yet to experience the new LabSim A+ Essentials and A+ Practical Application courses, visit FREE LabSim A+ Teacher’s Edition to order a free Teacher’s Edition for your classroom.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Beyond Traditional Textbooks

College students are being offered a wider variety of learning materials as new solutions are developed and tried, but students aren’t adopting all solutions as quickly as one might think. For example, according to Converge Magazine’s Jessica B. Mulholland, less than 17 percent of community college students found e-book collections useful or very useful, and 80 percent of students say they still prefer an actual book. Do you think e-books will ever be widely adopted by college students or even replace traditional textbooks?

Some textbooks are being developed that blend learning methods; that is, the texts offer traditional reading but also incorporate other media. Mulholland described a college student at the University of Massachusetts whose textbook has an e-book component, as well as interactive online quizzes and flash cards. The student says that textbooks like that are “targeted much more toward today’s generation of college students who are taking on more and more.”

Besides simply being targeted at a generation who is more comfortable than ever using technology, textbooks that offer interactive learning methods have the potential to reach and teach students who struggle learning through traditional textbook reading alone.

Help us understand your experience by giving us feedback about these questions:
  • In your technology training, what materials have been most helpful in supporting your learning?
  • How useful have you found textbooks? E-books? Interactive online materials? Labs?
  • Have you used technology training that combines methods or lets you choose?
  • Thinking specifically about technology training, how effective would it be to learn from a textbook alone?

Emily Howard, TestOut

Friday, April 2, 2010

LabSim Closed Captioning Makes Training More Accessible

Network World’s Linda Musthaler wrote today about LabSim and the significance of accessible IT training materials—resources that meet students’ specific learning needs. Technologies that accommodate different needs allow students with disabilities to pursue their interests and develop their strengths in the IT field.

Musthaler highlights LabSim’s closed captioning as an example of an accessible IT training material. The closed captioning in LabSim makes it possible to learn the entirety of information taught in LabSim’s videos, simulations, and guided demonstrations, whether a person can hear or not. LabSim’s flexible closed captioning can be turned on and off or sped up and down as needed.

Steve Shumko, a deaf student at Tooele Applied Technology College in Tooele, Utah, struggled in his IT training at first because an accessible training resource wasn’t available, but now he successfully trains with LabSim. Musthaler writes:

"Although Shumko took courses to prepare for the A+ certification exam, he failed the exam the first time. He attributes that failure to video courseware that wasn't accessible; Shumko couldn't hear the lessons being presented and missed many of the major concepts that were only presented via video.

Then the college invested in accessible training materials from TestOut. Shumko retook the training and had a much better experience because the video is closed captioned and comes with a complete textual transcript for easy reading. The courseware also includes simulated labs using software called LabSim. Instructor [Jay] Olson says having LabSim in the classroom is like having an instructor talking to the students, connecting the hands-on work to the video and book materials. Using the TestOut courseware, Shumko passed his A+ certification exam and is on track to earn his Network+ certification soon."

Shumko is one of many students who has been able to move forward with his career plans because of accessible training materials. Do you have a need for closed captioned training in your IT classroom? Contact TestOut to learn how our training courses can support your students.

Emily Howard, TestOut