Friday, October 29, 2010

A Bright Future in Networking

Today, Network World’s Linda Musthaler, expert in IT career skills, reported a very positive outlook on the networking field of IT. According to Robert Half Technology, she said, “the technical skill set most in demand by a majority of CIOs is networking. What’s more, network managers will see average starting salaries rise 4.3 percent, to the range of $79,250 to $109,500 per year.”

This report surely is good news to IT students planning their future career, as well as to IT professionals still developing their skill set. Because networking skills are in high demand, network engineer is considered one of the top 10 IT jobs.

What exactly does a network engineer do? Network engineers are responsible for organizations’ computer networks and make sure that the networks run smoothly. They’re responsible for installing, configuring, and monitoring the networks, which may be LANs (local area networks), WANs (wide area networks), or other networks. Network engineers work with routers, switches, firewalls, and operating systems.

If networking is the direction you want to go, the Network+ certification from CompTIA is the place to start. Network+ is an entry-level networking certification designed to demonstrate that you have a fundamental understanding of networks. As you train for Network+, you’ll acquire a broad knowledge of networking technologies, including:
  • Network Topologies
  • OSI Model
  • Protocols
  • Cables and Connectors for Networking
  • Network Adapters
  • Internetwork Devices
  • Ethernet Architecture, Specs, Cables
  • IP Addressing
  • DNS
  • Routing
  • VoIP
  • Wireless Networking
  • Network Security
  • WANs
  • Network Management
  • Troubleshooting Networks

According to Musthaler, “the industry experts agree that the career opportunities are there if you have the right networking skills, and now you have more choices than ever on how to ‘skill up.’” With the right training, and with Network+ certification to show your competency, you’ll be ready to succeed in a networking career.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Virtual Labs Offer Benefits of Mobility, Affordability--Not Just in IT

Campus Technology’s Dian Schaffhausser reported today on the Engineering department at Colorado State University and the virtual labs they use to support their students’ mobile learning. Because many students travel frequently as part of their education, the department needed a curriculum solution that would allow students to keep up with class material without needing to be in the classroom. Mark Ritschard, IT director for the Engineering Network Services department, found a solution in virtual labs. Schaffhausser wrote, “With the Web becoming a central point for many universities and colleges, Ritschard said, it made sense for his department to set up shop online.”

While virtual labs allowed students to work from a distance, they were also an affordable solution, saving the department about $1,000 per year per seat because it didn’t need to provide as much physical equipment for each student to use. In fact, with the money it saved, the department was actually able to increase the number of students it serves.

Sound familiar? Many academic institutions have experienced similar benefits by using LabSim training courses to train their IT students. The virtual labs in LabSim give students realistic, hands-on experience working with equipment that most institutions could not otherwise afford. Many institutions—high schools, colleges, career centers, and universities—have found that LabSim is an effective supplement to classroom instruction or an effective core piece of the curriculum. And with LabSim training available through any major Web browser, it is a flexible training solution for mobile students.

Of the virtual labs Ritschard has implemented for engineering students, he said that students only need a computer and Internet access—and it doesn’t have to be the greatest computer either. He said, “All engineering students get the same experience, whether they’re sitting in the actual university lab or working from a remote location. . . . From the student perception, there's really no difference at all.”

Has your experience providing LabSim IT training to your students been similar to Ritschard’s experience? How have virtual labs benefited your institution and your students? Please leave a comment and let us know.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Friday, October 22, 2010

First Meeting of Committee on Measures of Student Success

The Committee on Measures of Student Success met for the first time this week to determine how to best measure the success of community college students. The federal committee has been appointed to advise the U.S. Secretary of Education on how to best meet the completion and graduation rate requirements set forth in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. The 15-member committee is chaired by Thomas Bailey, a professor of economics and education at Columbia University and founder of the Community College Research Center.

After discussions on many topics and hearing presentations by representatives from community college associations, the committee members agreed to examine transfers, developmental education, student learning, and employment. Community College Times writer Matthew Dembicki reported that a main topic of discussion was how to capture data about community college students transferring to four-year institutions, as there is currently little data to gauge success of transfer students. Bailey said, “If we can’t take into account transfers, this will really be distorted and inaccurate,” and committee members agreed that measuring success of transfer students is critical.

For example, a significant number of students “swirl”—that is, they concurrently take courses at the local community college and at a four-year institution. Likewise, many high school students are dually enrolled in college courses. Teachers and instructors at high schools and two-year colleges know these situations well and would agree that, although these students are difficult to classify, measurements of their success must also be reported for the data to be accurate.

Public Comment
The committee’s first meeting has adjourned until February of 2011. If you have ideas or comments for the Committee on Measures of Student Success, you can email them to

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Student Engagement and Retention in Distance Courses

Bridget McCrea, writer for Campus Technology, recently featured the Iowa Valley Community College District’s distance education program. With rapid growth and expansion in distance learning, the college district found that many students were not adequately engaged in their education. Working with an education consultant, the college district developed a program to address student engagement and make sure students’ progress was being tracked so that no one would be left behind.

Their result was the development of a program that included four parts, each designed to work toward the goal of delivering the best learning experience to students:
  1. Online course certification to ensure the quality of online courses and course components
  2. Faculty development/training to help instructors create classes online
  3. Early warnings and alerts to pinpoint students who aren’t meeting standards or progressing
  4. A first-year retention and engagement program
The four-part program will be introduced to faculty and staff over the coming weeks, and the college district feels confident the program will work well for its students.

The challenges addressed by the Iowa Valley Community College District are not unusual for any distance learning program. Many colleges who utilize LabSim training offer their courses exclusively via distance learning or have a large distance education component, and they have discovered that LabSim is the solution to offering IT courses at a distance while maintaining course quality, supporting faculty development, engaging students, and tracking student progress.

Quality instruction. LabSim training videos are taught by industry-certified instructors who are proven experts in their technology. LabSim content strictly follows the objectives of IT industry certifications by CompTIA, Microsoft, Cisco, and (ISC)2. LabSim is tested and regularly updated with improvements to ensure quality and accuracy in videos, hands-on labs, written lessons, and exams.

Faculty training. TestOut offers tutorials, course guides, best practices documentation, and other faculty resources to give instructors support and ideas for developing distance courses around LabSim training.

Warnings and alerts. LabSim courses include built-in tracking that monitor students’ every action in the course, including their time spent in each LabSim component, their scores, and how many times they’ve attempted each component. Both students and instructors can view the reports in LabSim, making it simple for instructors to track students who may not be progressing at the rate they need to.

Retention and engagement. LabSim engages students by offering training that meets students’ different learning styles: reading, watching videos, working in hands-on labs, and evaluating knowledge in exams. Tracking their own progress toward readiness for achieving industry certification helps retain students’ interest and motivation to complete the course.

If you have taught a distance course using LabSim training, what has been your experience with student engagement and retention? Please leave a comment.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Community College Week--NISOD Student Essay Contest

Community College instructors, here is a great opportunity to share with your students:

Community College Week--NISOD
Student Essay Contest, In Honor of Scott Wright

The National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) announces the second annual Community College Week—NISOD Student Essay Contest in honor of Scott Wright, past editor of Community College Week (1995–2000), recipient of the 1998 Award for Excellence in Higher Education Journalism, and the reporter who brought national attention to developmental education and the unique mission community colleges possess in providing an accessible education.

Submission Deadline: November 8, 2010 at Midnight, Central time

Essay Topic: Describe your most rewarding learning experience with a faculty, staff, or administrator at your college. 

  • $1,000 to the Student Author
  • $1,000 to the Faculty/Staff/Administrator Featured in the Essay
  • Complimentary 2011–2012 NISOD Membership to the Student’s College ($1,000 value)
  • Additional prizes

Submission Guidelines:
  • Each author must be currently enrolled at the community college featured in the essay. The faculty/staff/administrator featured in the essay must also be currently employed at this same community college.
  • Each author may submit only one essay, and it must address the specific essay topic.
  • The essay text is limited to a minimum of 400 and a maximum of 500 words.
  • The following information must be submitted with the essay using our online form: (1) Essay title, author name, address, phone, email address; (2) Faculty/staff/administrator name, college name, college address, phone number, email address.
  • The essay must be submitted by MIDNIGHT (CST), November 8, 2010, via the online form on NISOD’s website. We do not accept submissions via email/fax/or by mail.
  • Essays will become the property of NISOD and Community College Week. Submission constitutes an authorization for NISOD and Community College Week to use the essays for research and grants. NISOD and Community College Week also have the authority to publish the results of the research and the text of the essays.
  • Editor reserves the right to make final editing decisions.
  • Contestants will be notified by Monday, February 7, 2011 regarding the status of their submission.

Additional Guidelines for the Winning Essay:
  • The student and the faculty/staff/administrator featured in the essay will forward their photos and bios to NISOD by February 21, 2011. NISOD will receive the college’s logo by February 21, 2011.
  • If the college featured in the essay is not a NISOD member, the college will receive a complimentary NISOD membership for 2011-2012. If the college is a NISOD-member, the college will receive a complimentary NISOD membership for 2011-2012.

For further information, contact:
Mia Leggett
Membership Representative
(512) 471-4503

Monday, October 11, 2010

Data and an Article to Share with Your IT Students

Last week NetworkWorld reported on new data recently released by the American Community Survey, an annual survey that asks similar questions to the U.S. Census. The data show that employment in computer- and math-related jobs held steady nationwide through 2009, even among the massive decline in overall employment in the United States. While 2009 saw a drop of 6 million in U.S. jobs in comparison to 2008, the number of computer- and math-related jobs went from 3.475 million to 3.472 million in that same period, with a margin of error of 31,000.

States with the highest increases in tech jobs in 2009 were Colorado (up 2.2%), North Carolina (up 1.8%), and Kentucky (up 1.8%).

This is great news for your IT students; they can feel confident that when they graduate, they will find many IT jobs available. Now, they just have to make sure they prepare themselves appropriately to succeed in the job they find after graduation by building the right skills and experience while in school.

Certification Magazine writer Nelson Velez just published an article that every IT student should read for a straight-forward perspective about IT skills and certifications and the steps to take to achieve them in the right order. Some students wonder where to start with certification, and others think they need every prestigious certification before they graduate in order to find their first job.

Velez offers the following basic path for certification that may help your students formulate a realistic plan:
  • Start with A+ to “acquire the basic knowledge of computer hardware and software needed to jump-start your IT career,” Velez said.
  • After A+, move on to Network+. “The best approach to becoming a networking expert is to understand all the basic concepts of networking,” Velez said. 
  • Once you’re in the field, Velez said “it tends to become clearer to individuals what to pursue as a next step or how to take over more complex tasks. . . . Once you have decided if you are an operating system person or a networking person, there are still plenty of options to choose from.”
  • If you want to specialize in operating systems, you may begin certifying in technologies from Microsoft, Linux, or another operating system.
  • If you want to specialize in networking, you may further narrow in on routing and switching, wireless technology, or information security. Each path has certifications to pursue that will further build the skills for that specialization (CCNA, CWNA, or CISSP are all meant for different specializations.)

By teaching IT concepts with LabSim certification training courses, you are developing your students’ foundational IT skills and preparing them to receive the exact certifications Velez and other experts recommend for their career start.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Digital Curriculum Engages Students

Quest to Learn, a public middle school in New York City, has received recent media attention for its innovative ideas to fully implement technology in the education of young students. Based on the idea that young people are digitally-minded, Quest to Learn’s founder Katie Salen, professor at Parsons the New School for Design, and Robert Torres, researcher and former school principal, say they believe school should be “more participatory, more immersive, and also more fun.” Students learn math, science, and English “in a game-like way”—through digital activities like video games and video game design. They also learn skills like team work, project management, and critical thinking.

Sara Corbett, contributing writer for the New York Times, wrote about the theories related to the development of Quest to Learn. She spoke with Michael H. Levine, director of Joan Ganz Cooney Center, who cited a 2006 study conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Researchers surveyed high school dropouts to learn the reasons they left high school, and one reason they heard again and again was that school was “boring.” In their final report, researchers made a recommendation that educators try to make school “more relevant and engaging.”

According to Levine, educators need to be less critical of children’s use of media and explore ways to “harness” their interest in technology to keep them academically engaged. He said, “My view of it is that we will never get to the holy land in terms of educational performance unless we do something about the engagement factor.”

Administrators at Quest to Learn feel that education can be more relevant to young students by structuring their schoolwork around an activity they already enjoy spending time on—video games.

The design of LabSim courses supports a similar idea: students excel when they can practice concepts and skills in a medium that engages their attention.

For example, did you know that TestOut offers a LabSim Crime Scene Investigation course? While LabSim is best known for its IT certification training courses with hands-on labs, the same benefit of hands-on training is needed in other disciplines as well, including criminal justice. Used by many high schools and colleges, LabSim CSI involves students in realistic, simulated crime scenes to give them experience and develop the skills needed in criminal justice careers.

In the LabSim CSI course, students practice real tasks in a simulated environment—investigating a death, tracing evidence, handling biological evidence, fingerprinting, and other crucial criminal justice responsibilities. Teena Calkin, Public Safety & Security teacher at King Career Center in Anchorage, Alaska, said that her students work through the LabSim crime scene scenarios “as if they were playing a virtual game. It makes learning fun.”

What successes have you experienced as you have integrated technology into your students’ learning?