Thursday, December 15, 2011

Exam Builder (Beta) Tool Becomes Final with Release of LabSim 4.0

You may have heard that a new version of TestOut's LabSim—LabSim 4.0—is scheduled for release on December 28th. LabSim 4.0 will bring a new look and added functionality to your LabSim interface, including the official Exam Builder tool.

After several months of testing and gathering feedback about the Exam Builder (Beta) tool, TestOut has improved the tool and its functionality. The beta period of the Exam Builder will officially end with the release of LabSim 4.0 on December 28th. Using the Exam Builder (Beta) tool, instructors created more than 1,300 exams. TestOut has incorporated many improvements to the tool during the beta period, and we thank all those who provided us with feedback.

The new design of LabSim 4.0 will update only in the browser version of the product. Along with it will be highlights of new TestOut tools and products, including the Exam Builder tool and TestOut certification exams, both designed exclusively for LabSim in a browser.

The LabSim interface has also been redesigned to coordinate with the recently redesigned TestOut website. With new graphics and colors, the interface has a cleaner, simpler appearance and is more user-friendly, including:
  • Streamlined workflow
  • Easier navigation
  • Improved step-by-step instructions
  • Updated reporting features

Below are two images that give you a preview of LabSim 4.0:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

IT Professionals Agree: Certifications Bring Jobs and Better Pay

Students who may be wondering the value of IT certifications in terms of pay or job success, a recent article published by Network World should help you know that certifications are worth your effort.

From a survey of 700 IT professionals, Network World reports:
  • 60% said a certification led to a new job
  • 50% said they earned more pay after getting certified
  • 40% said their pay increased by more than 10% directly because of a certification
  • 29% said a certification led to a promotion

Since the survey was conducted of network professionals, it makes sense that the certifications most respondents said they value most are networking certifications, especially CCNA, Microsoft certifications, and Network+.

Certifications are not the only factor in helping improve a candidate’s job situation, position, and pay. Clearly, it is only one part of the total picture, which may include education, experience, timing, and other factors. Still, the vast majority of survey respondents agreed that certifications are a huge help in building and advancing a career.

Network World quoted Craig Norborg, a network engineer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as recommending a combination of certification and experience as much as possible. “I do think networking certifications are the most valuable when coupled with some real-world experience. I wouldn't have gotten my last two positions without them,” he said.

TestOut has introduced a new line of certifications—TestOut Pro Certifications—that are designed to prove the practical experience students have gained through the hands-on LabSim training. The experience and proficiency proven through TestOut PC Pro or TestOut Network Pro Certification will help open doors to your greater job success.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How to Prove You Know Networking? TestOut’s Network Pro Certification Exam (Beta)

Instructors and students using TestOut’s LabSim training for Network+, have you heard about the newest TestOut Pro Certification? TestOut Network Pro Certification can now be achieved while the certification exam is in its beta period.

TestOut Network Pro Certification Exam (Beta) is the second in TestOut’s new line of certification exams. The first to be released was TestOut PC Pro Certification, which has been available to instructors and students since earlier this year. Now the Network Pro Certification is being offered with the same approach: authentically assessing what the test-taker can do, not just what he or she knows. The Network Pro Certification Exam (Beta) includes hands-on lab activities that require test-takers to prove their networking skills.

Students and instructors who have completed the LabSim Network+ course have until December 31, 2011, to take the TestOut Network Pro Certification Exam (Beta). As you do, you are a key player in the exam’s development, and TestOut will use your performance on the exam to evaluate the exam’s questions, simulations, and format before the release of the official Network Pro Certification exam in 2012.

Instructors, this is a great opportunity to measure your students’ understanding of networking by administering the exam during the beta period. We also invite you to gauge your own expertise in networking and gain TestOut Network Pro Certification by taking the beta exam yourself.

Learn more about the TestOut Network Pro Certification Exam (Beta), how to schedule the exam for your classes, and how the beta exam will be scored by visiting TestOut’s Network Pro Certification page.

For more specific details about the content in the LabSim Network+ course, please refer to the LabSim Network+ page.

As always, your TestOut representative is happy to answer questions by email, chat, or phone (800-877-4889).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Organized to Succeed: Rio Salado College

Community College Times recently featured an online public community college that has succeeded in meeting the demand for an alternative to the traditional classroom, keeping it affordable for students and the state, and supporting students’ learning with innovative online services. Rio Salado College, headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, is one of ten colleges in the Maricopa Community College System and serves 70,000 students each year. Yet, even with tens of thousands of students, Rio Salado’s operating costs are 48% less than what peer institutions nationwide are spending. How do they do it?

The organizational structure that helps Rio Salado keep costs down includes:
  • More than 60 certificate and degree programs
  • Just 22 residential faculty
  • More than 1,400 adjunct faculty
  • More than 6,000 course sections taught by adjuncts

The resident faculty have the responsibility of planning each course’s content, while the sections of the course are taught by adjunct faculty.

Rio Salado College president Chris Bustamante said, “Any way you look at it, online learning is an increasingly vital part of producing the number of qualified graduates needed to meet future workforce demands—when it is done correctly.” Part of what is helping Rio Salado “do it correctly” is a learning management system that was developed exclusively for the college, ensuring that it meets all of the college’s individual needs. Also, support services are customized for non-traditional students’ individual lifestyles. That is, a student can succeed no matter his or her situation:
  • Working adult
  • Active military student accessing coursework online
  • Student of adult basic education
  • Incarcerated adult
  • Early college student
  • Workforce training program student

The college offers resources such as round-the-clock instructional and technology help desks, tutoring, and virtual library services. Online classes are never cancelled and offer flexible start dates throughout the year.

These features and resources are making college a viable option for students who might otherwise never be able to work toward a degree.

Are you a student of an online college? What services does your college provide that help you succeed in your online college education?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Students, Get Creative in the APSCU Logo Design Contest

Students, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) is offering you an opportunity to get creative and earn some money for it. If you know you’re going to have some free time during this Thanksgiving weekend, plan to spend it designing a logo to represent the Association, and you could win $500 in APSCU’s logo design contest. The theme of the logo contest is “Working Proud.”

The APSCU logo design contest is held to give students an opportunity to receive professional recognition for their work. The winning logo will be used as the official symbol of the 2012 APSCU Convention & Exposition, being held June 20-22, 2012, at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV (the logo does not need to reference the convention). The logo will be used throughout the Convention’s promotional campaign in printed pieces, onsite signage, official Convention website and social media outlets.

The grand prize of $500 will be awarded for the winning entry and $250 for second place.

Here are the logo contest rules according to APSCU’s website:
  • “Must be original art created by a student enrolled in an APSCU member college. Limit three submissions per campus. (We ask the college to put forth the three best entries from their students’ work only.)
  • The facts about the convention, as noted above, do not have to be incorporated into the artwork.
  • Submissions must be able to reproduce. Any text that may be included as part of the logo should be legible at a minimum of 125 pixels wide.
  • The convention committee will judge the submissions and make the final selections.
  • Artwork should be emailed in a JPEG format and should be saved with the author’s name and school (i.e. John Smith-ABC College). The winning logo will also need to be supplied to APSCU in an .eps format.
  • The originator of the winning artwork will be required to sign a release form to have the work published as the official convention logo.”

The contest entry deadline is November 30th at 5:00 PM EST. Check out APSCU’s website for further details about how to submit your entry.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Helping Students Make the Academic-Career Connection

Converge Magazine’s Tanya Roscorla recently reported on the career education strategies of schools in Oakland County, Michigan. As early as seventh grade, students in Oakland County are using a software program that helps them pinpoint their career interests and develop an education plan that will take them through high school and prepare them for the next steps after high school. They begin doing hands-on projects that help them understand the connection between what they’re learning in school and how it will apply in the workforce.

By the time students arrive in high school, they have a plan for the courses they’ll take. They participate in “ACT EXPLORE and PLAN” assessments that show them how they're doing academically to prepare for the career they want, and they learn the different skills required for different careers. Students may elect to participate in a career education cluster of courses where they participate in hands-on projects related to their field. For example:
  • Students in IT repair donated computers and give them to community members in need.
  • Students in marketing analyze Super Bowl advertisements, conduct a student survey, and hold a press conference to publicize results.
  • Students in engineering use Boeing’s simulation design software to design car and airplane parts.

According to Converge’s Roscorla, teachers at Oakland County schools use pre-assessments to determine what each student knows already and still needs to learn; then they tailor the curriculum to students’ needs and prepare students for industry certifications in their field.

Roscorla wrote, “Often, students don't have a focus when they graduate high school and move to postsecondary education. And now, skilled jobs require postsecondary training of some kind, whether it's training at a technical school, a two-year associate's degree in a technical field or industry certification.

That's why Oakland County starts students thinking about careers in seventh grade.”

Mary Kaye Aukee, director of career focused education in Oakland Schools, said, "You have to have credentials and you have to continue life-long learning, and we have to get students thinking in that direction. We also have to get students thinking that their academics are critically important to any of these careers."

What does your school do to help students connect academics to a career path?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Educators and Students, Participate in the Speak Up Survey

The 2011 Speak Up survey, conducted by the non-profit organization Project Tomorrow, is currently gathering responses from students, teachers, administrators, parents, and librarians at any and all school districts in the United States. The annual survey will be open for your responses until December 23, 2011.

The Speak Up survey is an opportunity for you and your students to share your experiences and perspectives about the use of technology in education. Last year, the survey gathered input from hundreds of thousands of responders. Each year, the findings are summarized and shared with national and state policy makers and with schools who participated.

Since 2003 the Speak Up survey has been conducted annually with questions about the use of technology for learning, 21st century skills and schools of the future, as well as emerging technologies (online learning, mobile devices and digital content), science instruction, and STEM career exploration.

Key questions in the 2010 Speak Up survey included:
  • Who is learning online?
  • What is propelling this new level of interest and excitement around online learning?
  • Can online learning really transform the learning process?
  • What is standing in the way of greater adoption of online learning in our nation’s schools?
  • What are the most effective motivators to increase the pool of teachers who want to teach online?

According to Education Week, the 2011 survey asks students, among other thing, if they think they better comprehend information through electronic or print text. Stories of students printing hard copies of material they read online led researchers to develop the question.

The results of the 2011 survey will be made available in spring 2012. To contribute to this large-scale project, visit the Speak Up website before December 23.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Preparing K-12 Students for STEM Careers

Community College Times’s Ellie Ashford reported this week on the efforts community colleges are putting into the development of STEM interests in K-12 students. The demand for more trained workers in STEM disciplines continues to grow and isn’t expected to slow down any time soon, if ever. By getting involved with students at a young age, community colleges may impact the number of students who later pursue a STEM degree or certificate, helping fill the need in the economy for STEM-trained workers.

Ashford reported, for example, that California’s lieutenant governor spoke about the significant discrepancy in the state’s number of unemployed people and the number of unfilled jobs. Basically, there are many jobs to be had but not enough qualified workers to fill those jobs. The lack of STEM education or training is hurting people who need work.

Chris Roe, CEO of the California STEM Learning Network, said, “It’s really hard for employers to find highly trained engineers and technology workers. That alignment between the education system and workforce needs is really critical. And the community college system is a key player to fill that gap—both as a pathway to more advanced degrees and to provide critical, specialized degrees and certifications.”

He continued, “A lot of students are precluded from going into these pathways because they don’t have the preparation. That is a huge barrier. It is absolutely essential that we support community colleges and help them develop linkages with K-12 schools, four-year colleges and employers.”

Community colleges in many states are implementing programs that bring K-12 students to the college to see first-hand what a STEM education may include; also, college faculty are visiting K-12 schools and taking hands-on presentations that get students involved. Further, colleges are creating education centers that give training and tools to K-12 teachers to help them better prepare their students for postsecondary STEM training.

The high schools that utilize TestOut’s LabSim IT training courses are giving students a huge advantage in STEM preparation. LabSim courses are developed around the objectives of industry certifications that evaluate a test-taker’s skills and knowledge in high-demand areas of technology. With the new TestOut Pro certifications, TestOut also offers students an achievable credential that proves not only what they learned through study, but also what they can do hands on.

What is your K-12 school doing to prepare students for STEM careers?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Assessing Students’ Knowledge and Skills through Certification Exams

As we consider ways to improve education, especially with the use of technology, two professors of education have formulated a possible solution for measuring students’ knowledge and skills. While states develop curriculum standards and sometimes assessment exams that schools use to teach and assess students, Alan Collins of Northwestern University and Roy Pea of Stanford University submit that in the digital age, “we need to reconsider how students are deemed proficient in terms of the skills and knowledge they develop outside the standard classroom environment.”

Their plan, published this month by Education Week, centers around the development of national certification exams for subject areas addressed in the common core state standards as well as for less traditional subject areas, such as IT. By offering certifications in many subject areas, students who learn skills outside a traditional classroom have a way of earning a credential that proves their expertise.

In Collins and Pea’s plan:
  • Certification exams would have high standards, comparable to Advanced Placement exams
  • Exams could be taken in a classroom or at a learning center such as Sylvan
  • Exams could be taken by anyone who wanted to take them, with a small fee
  • Exams could be administered and scored by a computer, automatically sending a report to the test-taker with results and suggested learning resources for improvement
  • Students could accumulate as many certifications as they wanted, which would become part of their certification record

For the alternative certification exams envisioned by Collins and Pea, students could prepare in many different ways: virtual or traditional courses; lectures or demonstrations online; books; face-to-face or online tutoring; or engaging games. With exam objectives published online, students would know what is required to pass, and it would not matter what method they used to prepare.

According to Collins and Pea, “a national certification exam system has the virtue that the certifications specify much more precisely than a diploma or transcript what the learner knows and can do. Such a system could reflect our national goals for education and the high standards we want students to meet.”

The TestOut PC Pro Certification recently released by TestOut aligns neatly with the theory of Collins and Pea; the certification is designed to authentically assess what a student can do in the subject area of computer maintenance, no matter what course or method a student uses to prepare for the exam. The PC Pro Certification earned by students will be recognized by employers for its authenticity and objectivity.

What do you think of Collins and Pea’s proposal for a national certification exam system?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Flipped Classes Give Instructors Class Time to Help Students

Do you utilize TestOut’s LabSim in a way that allows you to “flip” your classroom? Do you assign the LabSim videos as homework and then let the students complete hands-on labs in class, where you are available to give one-on-one help to students who have questions? There are many ways to utilize LabSim and many ways to incorporate it into a class schedule. One possible way is to flip your classroom.

Many teachers, not just in IT, are flipping their classrooms so that class time is when students complete the “homework,” and the assignments at home are to watch the lectures—the course element that has traditionally been delivered in the classroom.

USA Today recently featured a calculus teacher in Maryland, Stacey Roshan, who has succeeded in flipping her classroom and has seen students benefit from it. In the past, Roshan lectured during class and sent students home with assignments of calculus problems, but there never seemed to be enough time to get through the material in class. Roshan now digitally records her lessons, uses a tablet computer as a virtual blackboard, and requires students to watch the lectures at home. By having a recording of the lecture, students are able to re-watch explanations of difficult concepts as many times as they need until they understand. Then, in class, students work on the calculus problems that would have been their homework in years’ past, and Roshan makes her way around the classroom to answer questions and give one-on-one assistance. If she sees that several students are struggling with the same concept, she calls the whole class’s attention to the whiteboard and re-teaches it so that they all understand.

Roshan reports that since she has flipped her class, her students are less stressed. She also says she has seen improvement in the amount of content she can cover in a semester and in the number of students who score a perfect “5” on the advanced placement calculus test.

What is your opinion about flipped classrooms? Are they a smart way to implement technology in education?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Redesigning Campus Computer Labs to Meet Students’ Needs

What is the function of the computer labs on your college campus? Do students still stop in to check their email or sit down to write a paper, or do most students have smartphones with email at their fingertips and carry their own notebook computer? Some campuses are phasing out computer labs, while others are rethinking the purpose of the labs and redesigning them with resources that better fit the current needs of students.

Ed Tech Magazine
currently features Temple University’s Sheri Stahler, associate vice president of computer services, and her experience redesigning a computer lab at Temple. According to Stahler, when colleges debate the future of computer labs, “the discussion should be less about phasing out labs and more about rethinking what labs could and should be in this era of wireless notebooks, smartphones, multimedia and collaborative technologies. IT leaders also need to examine why and how students choose to use computer labs over their own notebooks.”

At Temple, the cost for departments to run their own labs with specialized hardware and software became too great, and they couldn't afford to keep the labs open with long hours. “By consolidating into one large megalab, we were able to control costs and offer students what they needed, when they needed it,” Stahler wrote.

Temple’s CIO Timothy O'Rourke said, "We wanted a comfortable space where students would feel safe and could study alone or collaborate in groups. We wanted all the software they might use in their coursework to be available in a single, 24-hour facility."

Temple focused on creating a lab that offers the technologies needed in each major, as well as collaborative tools, a social environment, and more emphasis on student convenience and customer service. The lab they built features:
  • A mixture of Macs and PCs at 700 workstations
  • Breakout rooms where students practice presentations or share research
  • Recording booths where students work on audio projects
  • Wireless access, including wireless printers, for students who bring their own computer
  • Extra electrical outlets to charge portable devices
  • IPTV for students to watch television in the lab workstations

Temple’s flexible lab, called TECH Center (Technology, Education, Collaboration, and Help), has been successful because it meets the needs of students today. “Colleges have to offer a place that's as comfortable for the students who want to study alone or rest for an hour as it is for groups of students who want a place to work collaboratively,” Stahler said.

Instructors, has your campus redesigned computer labs to better meet students’ needs? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ed Tech Panel Discusses Personalized Learning and Valid Assessment

eSchool News recently reported on a panel discussion called “Educational Technology: Revolutionizing Personalized Learning and Student Assessment,” held at the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization. Educators and policy makers on the panel weighed in on what technologies will benefit students in education and what changes need to be implemented in education systems in order for the technologies to have the impact students need.

A major theme in the discussion was personalization and how technology can meet each students’ individual learning needs. Darrell West, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and the panel moderator, said, “Technology has the potential to improve education by personalizing learning, enabling different forms of student assessment, and making class time more flexible.” Chip Hughes, executive vice president of school services for online-learning provider K12 Inc., said that technology personalizes learning when it allows students to work at their own pace. “Students working at their own pace … aren’t bound by the circumstances of all the other students in the room,” he said.

A vital part of tech in education is assessment methods that allow teachers to understand what students are and are not mastering so that teachers can intervene when needed. Hughes also pointed out that virtual learning levels removes social barriers to learning. For example, an older student who has fallen behind doesn’t feel embarrassed to work with younger students when the instruction is virtual; likewise, younger students aren’t intimidated by older students. With technology in education, “we aren’t only thinking about the academic piece of it, but the non-academic barriers that might be in their way,” Hughes said.

Joanne Weiss, chief of staff to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, stated that “technology-enabled learning and teaching is the way we’re going to figure out how to teach kids what they need to know and how to be successful in the future.”

The topics of personalization and valid assessments are certainly two of the greatest strengths that TestOut’s LabSim IT courseware offers educators and students. Students work individually in LabSim at their own pace—at school or at home—and can review whatever material they need at any time. Teachers have access to a dashboard with data of students’ time spent with each LabSim component and scores achieved. Teachers tell us they love knowing exactly where students need additional instruction and being able to give on-on-one help to meet a student’s individual needs while the rest of the class continues working.

What technologies do you use in your classroom to personalize learning and validate assessment?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Top IT Skills Areas Proven by TestOut PC Pro Certification

Computerworld’s recent Forecast 2012 survey reflects the attitudes of IT executives at companies across the United States, and nearly one-third of them say they plan to increase their IT employee headcount over the next 12 months. What skills are they looking for? Computerworld’s Rick Saia wrote about the top nine skills areas that companies demand and wrote that “IT managers may be thinking about innovation, not merely keeping the lights on, as they plan their staffs for 2012.”

The top nine skills areas Saia detailed include:
1. Programming and Application Development
2. Project Management
3. Help Desk and Technical Support
4. Networking
5. Business Intelligence
6. Data Center
7. Web 2.0
8. Security
9. Telecommunications

Of these top nine areas, Help Desk/Tech Support, Networking, and Security are all areas where entry-level skills are developed through TestOut’s LabSim A+ courses and proven with TestOut PC Pro Certification. For Help Desk/Tech Support in particular, Saia writes that in many organizations, “help desk and tech support are points of entry for IT professionals and places to pick up the skills that can advance them into” other roles.

PC Pro Certification assesses students’ hands-on ability and proves to potential employers exactly what they are capable of. TestOut’s certification exam is different than the exams offered by CompTIA, Microsoft, and others because TestOut assesses students’ performance—what they can do, not just what they have memorized—through online labs with PC hardware, operating systems, and networks.

IT instructors, you can give your students a boost in the job market by administering the TestOut PC Pro Certification exam.

Friday, September 30, 2011

New TestOut Website Has Greater Focus on Students, Educators

Earlier this week TestOut unveiled an all-new look and design of our TestOut.com website. The new website replaces both former sites—LabSimOnline.com that was organized specifically for TestOut’s academic customers and TestOut.com that served primarily IT professionals. Now all of TestOut customers, whether students or IT professionals, will find what they are looking for on TestOut.com. The new site includes sections about LabSim training products, TestOut Pro Certifications for IT students, as well as resources to support students and educators using TestOut’s LabSim products.

Along with a clean new look and logo, TestOut.com now has improved navigation, including top navigation with drop-down menus as well as side navigation on each page, and easy-to-read headings and icons. The better organization makes it easier to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Yet TestOut’s primary goal in developing a new TestOut.com was to focus more attention on the student. We believe the greatest value we can give to any individual is a certification that proves job skills. Everything about the new TestOut.com leads back to students and the value and confidence that is added to their lives through LabSim training, TestOut Pro Certification, and the ultimate career success they achieve through training and certification.

Please visit TestOut.com and get acquainted with the new layouts, new content, and new options for training and certification from TestOut. As always, we would love to hear your feedback.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Does Your IT Program Benefit from a Corporate Partnership?

Many community college programs are greatly enhanced in scope and depth by corporate partnerships that come in many forms. Some corporations partner with colleges and give input on the curriculum the college should offer to prepare students for the workforce. Sometimes companies give students internships or work experience while they’re in school, and some even hire the graduates of partner colleges for full-time positions.

Community College Times
recently featured several partnerships between corporations and community colleges and highlighted the benefits to both the college and the company. For example, Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC) in Kentucky has a unique partnership with UPS, one of the largest employers in the state, and with the University of Louisville. UPS needed to stabilize its part-time workforce, and the college wanted to offer more students an opportunity to afford and attend college. Through the partnership, UPS hires students to work part-time in a night shift, and in return, the company pays half the student’s tuition. Through the partnership, UPS has seen a large reduction in employee turnover, and JCTC has seen increased enrollment and improved student retention.

Corporate partnerships may also provide greater access to technology for students, such as the partnerships that Ford and General Motors have made with Southeast Community College (SCC) in Nebraska. The automotive companies provide cars and software for SCC’s automotive technology program, and they pay tuition for students who agree to work at dealerships after they graduate. Because of the car companies’ investment in the education and training of students, the companies gain employees already prepared to work in their environments. Corporate partnerships such as these can be a win-win for colleges and companies who take the time to develop a partnership that meets both their needs.

Instructors, do your IT students benefit from a corporate partnership that gives them practical job experience, tuition assistance, or some other value? Please leave a comment and explain.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dual Enrollment Makes College More Accessible

Dual enrollment opportunities are making higher education more accessible for many high school students who might otherwise feel that going to college is outside the realm of possibility. Recently, Community College Times featured an Oregon school district that is creating new higher ed opportunities for high school students. For several years, the public schools in Portland have had a partnership with Portland Community College-Cascade Campus known as Middle College. High school students in the district have been able to enroll in Middle College courses through an opt-in program and earn up to 45 college credits by the time they graduate high school.

This year, access to Middle College expanded further, and instead of being an opt-in program, all incoming freshmen at one high school will be enrolled in what is now being called Jefferson High School-Middle College for Advanced Studies. The University of Oregon is also offering scholarships to Middle College students who complete at least one year of college credit.

Middle College in Portland has made a higher degree more attainable to many students who might otherwise not have considered college at all.

Many high schools who use TestOut’s LabSim training in their IT program have also made college more accessible to students who weren’t planning on it. Dennis DeBroeck, for example—an IT teacher at Walla Walla High School, in Walla Walla, Washington—helps his students earn up to 60 college credits at Walla Walla Community College for their work in LabSim and in his classes. Requirements for the credits include earning an A or B in the class, completing a list of competencies, completing a portfolio of the work they’ve done, and putting together a resume and cover letter. In an area where more than 70% of students never complete college, the opportunity to gain college credit while in high school is a huge help to students.

High school instructors, do the students in your IT program earn college credit in your classes? How has LabSim training helped students continue their education after high school?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Better Than Providing a Laptop Is Providing an Online Curriculum Like LabSim

Many schools are investing in iPads or laptops for students, experimenting with replacing textbooks with digital tools that young people respond to. An article in eSchool News last week highlighted several schools who have provided these tools to students and some of the challenges and insights the schools have experienced. Interestingly, the benefits schools mentioned are the same ones instructors point out about using TestOut’s LabSim, while the challenges schools faced would all be avoided if schools could incorporate a course like LabSim into the curriculum for every subject!

For example, the benefits schools mentioned from providing iPads with educational apps to students include:
  1. Students engage in independent learning.
  2. Students get instant feedback about their performance.
  3. Teachers are free to circulate the classroom and work individually with students.
  4. Teachers have access to a dashboard to track student performance.
The challenges mentioned by schools of providing iPads to students include:
  1. Teachers need more support using the technology and more time to get comfortable creating lessons that utilize the iPad.
  2. Teachers need to do more than use the iPad as a direct replacement of a textbook (not just ask students to read text on screen).
  3. Students don’t want to stop; they desire more content on the iPad.
A curriculum such as LabSim—online IT training used by thousands of high schools and colleges—does for schools what they desire the iPad or laptops to do. Instructors who use LabSim tell us of the success they see in engaging students. LabSim allows students to work independently, with built-in tracking that keeps students responsible for their own progress, while making grading more straight-forward for teachers.

Using LabSim, schools avoid the challenges mentioned of implementing iPads. LabSim comes with the lessons already planned—a comprehensive curriculum that includes instructional videos and demos, hands-on labs that give students real practice, concise text lessons, and quizzes to evaluate students’ learning and give them immediate feedback. Students are free to repeat LabSim content at any time to be sure they master the material, and teachers have access to a wealth of resources from TestOut to support their use of LabSim.

For schools who want to replace textbooks with a technology tool, there is no better tool for IT than TestOut’s LabSim.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Technology Is a Strong Suit of For-Profit Colleges

Campus Technology writer John K. Waters made a compelling argument this week about the strength for-profit colleges have in utilizing technology. While the for-profit education industry has been under fire over the past year on other issues, its use of technology in education is indisputably ahead of that of traditional, not-for-profit colleges, allowing for-profit schools to connect with students more personally, keep them well-informed, and offer learning tools that fit students’ needs.

According to Waters, for-profit institutions spend an average 10% of their operating budget on technology, while not-for-profits spend only an average 3%. But the difference isn’t just how much technology the for-profits use; it’s also the way they use it.

Waters quoted Ruki Jayaraman, dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies at for-profit Argosy University, as saying, "The way we use technology supports a kind of academic agility. We implement technology quickly and effectively, and, perhaps more importantly, we abandon it when it no longer serves us."

Charles Flader, executive director for academic technology at for-profit Kaplan University, told Waters, “Our students are pushing us all the time, demanding that they get the same technology experiences here that they get in other parts of their lives. We spend a lot to make sure they get that.”

Technology has made it possible for for-profit institutions to offer students the flexibility that the institutions are known for. Kaplan’s Flader told Waters, "The idea that everyone is going to be able to physically attend a traditional, brick-and-mortar institution for two or four years, full-time, doesn't reflect the reality of modern life. Our students have jobs, families, lots of demand on their time."

But an increasing number of students at not-for-profit colleges also have jobs, families, and heavy demands on their time, and not-for-profit colleges may need to take a cue from the for-profits in the ways they implement technology as a more consistent, over-arching part of students’ education.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Have You Used the LabSim Custom Exam Editor (Beta)?

Instructors, have you taken advantage yet of the new Custom Exam Editor (Beta)? This new browser-based LabSim tool for instructors allows you to create custom assessment exams to measure your students’ IT skills and knowledge in specific areas you want to emphasize.

Unlike the quizzes and exams built in to LabSim courses, exams designed with the Custom Exam Editor (Beta) are not instructive in nature. They are assessment exams, giving instructors the ability to assess what students know and can do, without giving students the opportunity to re-take the exam or receive instant feedback about each answer.

With the Custom Exam Editor (Beta), instructors can:
  • Utilize TestOut’s bank of LabSim exam questions and labs to create skills assessment exams or memory/recall exams
  • Take simulations from LabSim courses and turn them into exam questions
  • Pull simulations and questions from multiple LabSim courses into a single exam
  • Schedule the time when students can take the custom exam inside browser-based LabSim

To learn how to use the Custom Exam Editor (Beta), please view the instructions How to Create a Custom Exam and How to Schedule Students’ Exams.

The Beta version of the Custom Exam Editor is fully functional, though TestOut is welcoming and asking for your feedback to make the tool better. As you use the Custom Exam Editor (Beta), please send TestOut your comments and suggestions for how the tool can be improved to better meet your needs.

If you’ve already used the Custom Exam Editor (Beta), please leave a comment here and let others know what you think!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Technology Helps Students 'Own' Their Learning Experiences

In his article “Technology’s Essential Role” on EdTechMag.com, Andy Lausch starts by saying, “Students like to own their learning experience.” Lausch, VP of CDW-G Higher Education, goes on to address how technology is essential in engaging students in their education and supporting their need for collaboration and digital learning.

“Students report that they are more engaged when they use new and innovative technologies,” Lausch writes. He continues, “Institutions need to recognize that this generation is accustomed to accessing information digitally and that they may be more likely to keep up with classwork and earn degrees if they can interact digitally on campus.”

Lausch’s argument for better integrating technology in students’ learning methods is supported by the comments many IT instructors share with TestOut after using LabSim in their class.

For example, Mark Price, IT teacher in the State of New York’s Cattaraugus-Allegany Board of Cooperative Educational Services (CABOCES), has incorporated the LabSim training curriculum in his courses and reports that the technology has changed the mindset of his students. According to Price, the high school dropout rate in New York is over 30%, but LabSim has engaged his students in learning IT and keeps them fully involved.

“With LabSim, the mindset of the class is engagement. They're ready to learn anything you put in front of them,” Price said. “LabSim takes the ownership of learning and puts it back on students' shoulders.”

One example of how LabSim has engaged Price’s students is seen in comparing the LabSim content with a textbook. Price explained, “Students wouldn't read our textbook, and it became a problem in class. LabSim is like a game, so they play it. It helps them engage.”

Have you had experiences where technology integration has made a difference in engaging students in your classroom? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why and How Online Education Is Growing

Are you a student in an online IT course? Colleges and universities continue to expand and improve their online offerings, citing student demand as the force behind the expansions. EdTech Magazine’s Wylie Wong just featured several colleges and universities in EdTech with highlights of the programs they offer online for student learning.

Wong quoted Eastern Maine Community College's dean of information technology, Tim Conroy, as saying, "Students today are fully wired. They can get anything they want online, and they expect to have the option to either come to class or get their education online."

Online classes are helpful and attractive to students for many reasons. For example, at TestOut we hear of many students who use LabSim IT training courses in online college courses because the online offering is a flexible option that works around their already busy schedule balancing classes, a job, and sometimes a family. Additionally, Wong wrote that students also “view online courses as a valid alternative to classroom learning because the technology offers rich, interactive learning experiences.”

Carolyn Hardy, professor at Northwest Missouri State University, uses LabSim Network+ as the curriculum in an online course for graduate students for the very purpose Wong described—as an interactive component.

Bonnie Yates, Master’s student in Instructional Technology at Northwest Missouri State, explained that the interactive, hands-on elements of LabSim give her what she needs to learn how different technologies work. “I need hands on,” she said. “LabSim gives me that.”

In Wong’s article, he wrote that even though students demand the flexible option to take courses online, most still prefer to attend class on campus when they’re able. “But they also want to enhance their studies by accessing video lectures and interacting with their classmates and professors online,” Wong wrote. He quoted Valorie McAlpin, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, as saying, "If a faculty member is teaching a large course, and more and more classes are increasing in size, they opt for a blended approach because it's a way of engaging students.”

For the same reason, many IT programs utilize LabSim as a blended approach to on-campus IT courses. Students may use LabSim in class, where the instructor is present to answer questions or give one-on-one help, or they may use LabSim at home for continued training online.

IT students, what has been your experience using LabSim as an online curriculum?

Monday, August 15, 2011

New IT Grads, The Hiring Outlook Is Good


If you’re just finishing up your college degree in IT and working to find a great start to your career, you are working against a pretty good outlook. According to Computerworld, job seekers in IT have the upper hand in the IT job market, even if you barely graduated from college.

“A quick scan of numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms this about-face in the IT job market. In May, it pegged the IT unemployment rate at 3.8%, significantly lower than the national average unemployment rate of 9.1%. At the same time, 65% of 900 hiring managers surveyed by Dice.com said they expect to hire even more tech professionals in the second half of this year than they did during the first six months of 2011,” reported Computerworld’s Julia King.

Further, IT positions are staying open for many months—evidence of the industry’s growth and the high demand for qualified applicants. A report from Dice.com suggested that “now may be a great time for IT job candidates to ask for more money than they're offered initially,” King writes.

IT grads, as you interview for jobs and negotiate your pay, remember that your training with TestOut’s LabSim has given you more than just book knowledge. The hands-on experience you’ve gained in LabSim labs is practical know-how that will allow you to come on board an employer, ready to contribute. And if you’ve taken the extra step to get certified, you have that much more room to negotiate.

Best of luck in your search! Please let us know what you find and how you apply the experience you gained from LabSim in your job.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Closed Captioning in LabSim Offers Broad Appeal

Colleges and universities are making closed captioning a greater priority than ever before as the need for it—and the usage of it—grows. New methods of course delivery, such as distance courses in which professors capture their lecture on video, are presenting new situations where closed captioning is needed. Additionally, more students than just the hearing-impaired are using closed captioning functionality to improve how they learn.

“While the impetus for closed captioning stems from a desire to accommodate students with hearing issues, schools are also discovering that closed captioning has broader appeal, particularly among students for whom English is a second language. And for the rest of the students on campus, there's one other big benefit: It allows them to search captured content quickly, by enabling keyword searches,” wrote Bridget McCrea of Campus Technology.

McCrea highlighted several universities, including George Mason, Oklahoma State, Western Kentucky, Penn State, and Gallaudet, that are utilizing technologies such as DocSoft, Echo360, and 3Play Media, as well as the help of student transcriptionists, to incorporate captioning on a broader scale. However, some curriculum materials—like TestOut’s LabSim—don’t require the extra time and resources of the university to add closed captioning. LabSim videos are already closed captioned.

For the last several years, TestOut has incorporated closed captioning in the instructional videos in its LabSim courses, and students tell us frequently of the benefit they find in it. There are hearing-impaired students that train with LabSim and are able to get just as much out of it as the next student. Other LabSim users turn on closed captioning while they listen to the audio to help reinforce learning. Some LabSim users with attention deficit disorder have said the closed captioning helps them keep focus. Many are grateful for it when they’re studying LabSim in a library and need to mute the sound on their computer.

In what situations do your students use the closed captioning in LabSim?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Students Want Real-World Application and Relevancy

An article in eSchool News yesterday reports the top five things students say they want out of education. eSchool News gathered the students’ wants by asking its readers—teachers, principals, program directors, and superintendents—the question, “What’s the one thing you hear most often from students about what they want in school?”

Based on the responses it received, the top five things students want out of school are:

1. Real-world Application and Relevancy
2. Choice
3. Innovation
4. Teacher Mentors
5. Interactive Technology

The number one want—real-world application and relevancy—stands out as a need that a good IT curriculum will always meet. Students say they want real-world application and relevancy both as in classes that pertain to the real world, as well as hands-on experience and practice while in class.

For example, a professor at South University, said:
The one complaint I hear from students at South University is that they want more practical, hands-on experience and not just lectures and homework. I have worked hard to provide as much hands-on as possible. . . . My one disappointment is that our network administrators will not allow us to have students set up and experiment with computer networks due to a perceived notion that students will damage the corporate network. I have begun to build my own stand-alone network that does not connect to the campus network and am beginning to offer students the opportunity to experiment. So far, this technique is working well and students have learned a lot. I strongly believe I can produce graduates ready for jobs in the 21st-century workforce.

Students desire a clear connection to the relevance of their learning and how it can be applied in the real world. TestOut's LabSim IT training courses give students the hands-on experience and practice they say they want--and the professor and the network administrators don't need to worry about any equipment or networks being damaged. LabSim connects to the real world as students apply their new IT skills working on physical equipment and certifying to gain industry-recognized credentials.

How else do you think LabSim helps meet what students want out of school?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Look at Evolving Classroom Technologies

This image provides an interesting look at the changes in educational technology over the last two centuries, and shows how rapidly classroom technology is moving forward now. What do you think have been the most effective teaching tools? What are your favorite tools now in the digital age?

(image provided by OnlineSchools.com)

History of ed tech
Courtesy of: OnlineSchools.com

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Students Need LabSim Training for Microsoft 70-642

This summer TestOut will release a revised LabSim course for Microsoft exam 70-642: Configuring Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure. The new LabSim 70-642 course will train students for Microsoft’s revised exam objectives.

Passing the Microsoft 70-642 exam earns students Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certification. It is also one of the exams required for further certification under Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional (MCITP), one of the most sought-after credentials Microsoft offers.

Why should schools and colleges make it a priority to train students for 70-642: Configuring Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure?

After students graduate, many of them will find professional IT work in medium-size to large companies where they will work in complex computing environments. By training for Microsoft exam 70-642, students will be prepared for many of the leadership roles in server, network, and systems administration, including the following professional responsibilities:
• Configuring IT addressing and services
• Configuring name resolution
• Configuring network access
• Configuring file and print services
• Monitoring and managing a network infrastructure

Help your students prepare for the real-world IT work they’ll do after school ends by providing training with the new LabSim 70-642 course when it is released this summer. To learn more about the course, email TestOut or keep following the blog for further details.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

LabSim Allows Instructors to “Flip Class”

ZDNet’s Christopher Dawson reported last week on “flipped classrooms,” a hot topic at the recent conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in Philadelphia. Flipped classrooms, Dawson explained, are when an instructor assigns class lectures as homework, usually recorded on video, and uses class time instead for hands-on learning, group work, or labs.

On ISTE’s blog, the conference’s presenters on flipped classrooms make the case that flipping a class “engages students to be independent learners.” In a flipped classroom, students are able to work at their own pace, and instructors have class time to work one-on-one with students and give individual help where needed.

As I read about flipped classrooms, I thought immediately of LabSim, a tool for teaching IT that gives instructors the flexibility to flip their classroom or arrange class time in many different ways to meet the individual needs of students. Many instructors who utilize LabSim courseware assign LabSim videos as homework. The videos, with recordings of industry experts teaching and demonstrating technology concepts, function as class lecture for many classes. As students watch the videos, they can pause, skip backward and forward, or rewatch the videos as many times as they need to fully grasp the content. Many students also utilize the Closed Captioning feature of LabSim videos to read and listen to the instruction at the same time.

When students come to class having watched the video already, they are prepared to take part in hands-on labs where they can practice the concepts they were taught in the video. Sometimes the lab completed in class is also from LabSim, and students work individually on the virtual lab while the instructor answers questions and gives one-on-one help. Other times instructors offer physical labs during class.

Instructors, how do you utilize the components of LabSim courseware to meet the individual needs of your students?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Technology Has Net Positive Impact on Education

Has technology improved the way you educate students in your classroom?

According to a May 2011 CompTIA study, IT Opportunities in the Education Market, 78% of educators surveyed say that the “proliferation of technology has had a net positive impact on overall education results, processes and performances. Among the positive impacts, 65 percent of educators said students are more productive today than they were three years ago due to the use of technology.”

Respondents to the CompTIA survey included colleges, universities, and K-12 schools. In all three groups, educators said the main reason behind their technology purchases is the desire to improve the overall education experience for students.

Classroom management software is one of the top technologies used by educators, with 70% saying they use it or will use it in the next 12 months. Classroom management tools, like those found in LabSim Reporting, help educators better understand students’ understanding of course content and where they may need follow-up instruction.

According to CompTIA analyst Carolyn April, technology in schools has advanced “how students learn, how teachers teach, and how efficiently and effectively educational services can be delivered.” April said that technologies such as tablets, netbooks, interactive whiteboards, and wireless solutions are furthering the reliance on IT by the education market.

What other technology implementations have helped students in your classroom? Please leave a comment or send an email to experience@testout.com.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Learning Technologies Engage Students

Engaging students is one of the key ways to help them succeed through the challenges of gaining an education. Even when the course material is difficult, an engaged student sees the resources available to help him or her succeed, whether that resource is a fellow student offering help, an approachable faculty member, or an engaging curriculum material.

At Purdue University, a full-time Informatics group—part of the Information Technology department—works to develop learning technologies that will keep students engaged and ultimately help them succeed. Converge Magazine reported on three award-winning engagement apps Purdue has developed using social and mobile tools students already use.

The first engagement app, Hotseat, is used in large lecture classes and allows students to ask questions of the professor or other students during lecture where they can receive quick responses. Mixable, another engagement app, is a tool students use outside of class to connect with each other to give and get help. Finally, DoubleTake is an engagement app for courses that give video assignments. DoubleTake allows students to record video using their mobile phone and send it directly to their professor. Each of these learning tools takes advantage of technologies that engage students and help them succeed.

Many instructors in high schools and colleges say that the technologies in TestOut’s LabSim engage students who are learning IT. The brief videos and demonstrations are interspersed with hands-on labs, where students practice real-life tasks in computer maintenance, networking, or information security.

Mark Price, IT instructor at Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES in New York State, said he is utilizing LabSim to engage CABOCES students in their education. “The mindset of the class is engagement. Students are ready to learn anything you put in front of them,” he said. According to Price, LabSim’s realistic graphics and interactivity in hands-on labs makes LabSim “like a game, so students play it.”

Have your students been better engaged in IT education since you’ve incorporated LabSim? What elements of LabSim engage your students the most?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Accessible IT Training

Campus Technology reported that Dartmouth College has formed an initiative to make technology more accessible to all students and to ensure that the campus’s IT offerings are usable by students with hearing and visual impairments.

Sarah Horton, director of Web strategy, design, and instruction at Dartmouth, spoke of the priority of digital accessibility at Dartmouth and the new steps the college is taking to make it happen, starting with a close look at the college’s Web site and other online resources to see where improvements are needed, such as:
  • Closed Captioning for online videos
  • Embedded code that makes it possible for students to use screen readers
  • Options for larger fonts

TestOut’s LabSim is accessible to hearing impaired and deaf students by the Closed Captioning available in LabSim videos and the printable transcripts. Steve Shumko, a former student at Tooele Applied Technology College, benefited from TestOut’s Closed Captioning that made it possible for him to learn from the LabSim videos and demonstrations. Shumko is deaf, and the courseware he first used to prepare for A+ certification didn’t adequately prepare him for the exam because he couldn’t hear the lessons. After his college began offering TestOut’s LabSim training, Shumko retrained with Closed Captioned videos and LabSim’s hands-on labs.

Shumko passed A+ on his second try and then continued training with LabSim to become Network+ certified as well. He said, “I passed the CompTIA Network+ certification exam using LabSim almost entirely. That is, LabSim was my sole source for study material--videos and labs and practice exams in all sections.”

Have you or someone you know benefited from the Closed Captioning available in LabSim training?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dice Survey Shows Continued Growth in IT Industry


A recent hiring survey conducted by Dice.com, an IT staffing firm, shows that hiring in the IT industry is continuing to improve, even since the same survey was conducted 6 months ago. According to Dice, whereas the national unemployment rate is 9%, the unemployment rate in IT is only 4%. Sixty-five percent of the companies surveyed by Dice said they plan to hire more IT workers in the last six months of 2011 than they hired in the first six months.

Although employers report the need to hire more IT workers, 63% report that they are struggling to find enough qualified IT professionals to fill open positions. Demand is especially high for IT professionals skilled in mobile computing, java and .net development, cloud computing, data security, and network security.

If you are currently in school getting your IT education, consider the Dice survey good news; 47% of survey respondents said that new-hire salaries will be higher in 2011 than they were in 2010. If you are already working in IT and looking for better compensation, Dice says to “know that the pendulum has swung back in [your] favor a little. The market is tight and employers don’t want to lose good people. So there is a chance for [you] to take advantage of that.”

TestOut’s mission is to give you the training to develop skills you need to excel in the IT industry. With TestOut’s LabSim training courses, you get hands-on experience working with networks, security fundamentals, and key technologies from Microsoft, Cisco, and others. As you gain experience and certification, you’ll be armed with the skills and credentials to take advantage of the positive growth in the IT industry.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New LabSim Security+ Course to Address CompTIA’s Recent Exam Updates

On June 2 CompTIA announced the release of an updated Security+ certification exam. CompTIA has revised the Security+ exam to keep it current and to maintain accreditation according to ISO standards.

With new objectives for and questions on the Security+ exam, TestOut has been busy preparing updates to the LabSim Security+ training. Watch for the new LabSim Security+ course to be released this summer to give you the training you need on all the updated content for Security+ certification.

Security+ certification is a vendor-neutral certification for information security professionals and covers a broad spectrum of security concerns. A growing number of companies and organizations rank information security as a high level priority, according to a recent CompTIA study Eighth Annual Global Information Security Trends. Security expertise proven through Security+ certification gives IT professionals greater forward momentum in their growing IT careers.

What’s on the revised Security+ exam? According to CompTIA EVP Terry Erdle in a CompTIA press release, “The new exam covers more of the approach that organizations need to take to proactively address security risk control and mitigation. We’ve also included more content in areas such as forensics, cloud computing and virtualization. The focus is on the proactive elements like designing network security to accommodate cloud and the potential threats associated with it.”

CompTIA described the following content areas for the 2011 revision of the Security+ exam:
  • Network security (21 percent of exam)
  • Compliance and operational security (18 percent)
  • Threats and vulnerabilities (21 percent)
  • Application, data and host security (16 percent)
  • Access control and identity management (13 percent)
  • Cryptography (11 percent)

The 2011 Security+ exam is available now at testing centers. The 2008 version of the Security+ exam will still be available until the end of 2011 when it will be retired.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

IT Career Retraining Comes in Many Forms

If your career was sidelined during our nation’s economic downturn and you’re looking for ways to retrain, writer Gregory Karp at the Chicago Tribune has detailed the pros and cons of the different avenues you can take for gaining new skills. Community college programs, career schools, and workforce training centers offer opportunity to learn the skills you need to get hired in the IT field of your choice. Understanding the details about each option can help you determine which is best suited to your needs.

For example, a community college may be the most affordable option. Community colleges have campuses scattered throughout each state, and there’s probably one located not too far from you. Most community colleges offer a program in computer technology that allows you to emphasize computer support, networking, or another IT area of emphasis, to work toward a technical certificate or an associate’s degree.

Many times community colleges also offer courses you can take to learn just a particular skill without working toward an entire degree. For example, Steve Bowker is an IT instructor of a non-degree course at Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Many of Bowker’s students take the class to train toward one or more IT certifications that will qualify them for a job they want. Bowker utilizes TestOut’s LabSim to give all his students—ranging from young to old and from computer novice to computer near-expert—hands-on IT learning.

Another career retraining route you may take is attendance at a career school or for-profit college such as DeVry University or Corinthian College. These schools tend to make it a priority to offer flexible class schedules and course deliveries to make it possible for people who work full-time or who have family obligations to complete coursework. Unlike community colleges, for-profit schools are private businesses and therefore tend to be more expensive.

Lastly, there are many job training centers whose sole role is to help you gain the skills you need to be employed in a specific job. These centers may be for-profit or government funded. Programs may be brief such as 12 or 16 weeks, and in IT, these programs frequently focus on getting you trained for one or more certifications.

Karp recommends that, no matter which path you take, you do your homework and ask many specific questions about the programs offered and the certifications you’ll be trained for. He points out that volunteer opportunities may also help you learn new skills.

Best of luck to you as you seek the retraining you need for your IT career.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New LabSim 70-640 Course

You’ve been asking for TestOut’s new LabSim 70-640 course, and now the course is ready for you! New LabSim 70-640 training was released today and is available with a quick update in your LabSim account.

TestOut’s new LabSim 70-640 Configuring Windows Server 2008 Active Directory course trains students fully on all of Microsoft’s revised objectives for the 70-640 exam.

The new LabSim 70-640 is:
  • Now accessible through most Web browsers on a PC or Mac
  • Up-to-date with the revised Microsoft objectives for the 70-640 exam, including topics such as Active Directory Recycle Bin, offline domain join, PowerShell cmdlets, service accounts, RODC security, and advanced auditing features
  • Created with new videos, demos, text, simulations, and quizzes that teach the concepts and tasks necessary to successfully configure Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory and to successfully pass the 70-640 exam

To view a complete list of the updates to the 70-640 course, please read more at www.LabSimOnline.com/products/70-640-update.htm.

Academic instructors, the LabSim 70-640 course will update automatically today, or you may use LabSim's Course Update feature to delay the update by up to three months.

Whether you’ve been using TestOut’s LabSim training before or want to start training now with the new LabSim 70-640, don’t hesitate to contact TestOut with questions. We’ll help you get the update or begin the course for the first time. You can reach TestOut at 800-877-4889 or via chat on the LabSim website at www.LabSimOnline.com.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Enter Your College in the 2011 Digital Community Colleges Survey

Is your college a leader in implementing innovative digital solutions on campus and using technology to better serve students and faculty? If so, be sure to enter your college in the 2011 Digital Community Colleges Survey.

Converge Magazine has announced the call for entries in the seventh annual Digital Community Colleges Survey administered by The Center for Digital Education (CDE), a national research and advisory institute that focuses on technology in K-12 and higher education.

All community colleges in the United States are invited to participate in the survey. Last year, two colleges that utilize TestOut’s LabSim were among the winners in the Survey, including Scottsdale Community College and Walters State Community College.

Colleges that enter the Survey are classified into three groups based on their enrollment size. The CDE reviews each entry and publishes a ranking of the top ten colleges in each classification.

According to the CDE, "Top colleges honored reflect a comprehensive implementation of technology supporting the educational institution’s operations, as well as serving students, faculty and administrators."

Submissions are due online by June 8, 2011. We’ll follow the survey results on the Converge website and be sure to let you know of LabSim campuses that are recognized.

Friday, May 20, 2011

LabSim Engages Community College Students in Blended IT Courses

Distance education continues to see growth, according to a newly released survey conducted by the Instructional Technology Council (ITC). According to ITC’s report, distance education in the form of online courses offers “the most efficient, effective way to respond to increasing student enrollments.” Community colleges reported an 8 percent increase in overall enrollments in the 2009-10 school year and a 9 percent increase in distance education enrollments.

Blended or hybrid courses—courses that combine both in-person and online instruction, such as courses that utilize LabSim—experienced growth at an even higher rate. In the report of the 2008-2009 school year, 15 percent of community colleges reported that they offer blended courses. In the 2009-2010 report, that number had risen to 21 percent.

While just 75% of community college students complete traditional courses with face-to-face instruction, an even lower number reportedly complete online courses: 69%.

IT students at community colleges are some of the most avid users of TestOut’s LabSim certification training courses, a solution used in both online and blended courses. With TestOut’s LabSim training, many community college students prepare for IT certification and gain the credentials needed for an IT career. The hands-on components of LabSim engage students of all ages and work toward better completion rates in IT courses. Further, the reporting built into LabSim courses allows instructors to track students’ progress in the course.

For example, Allen Luck, a graduate of Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, said that his training with LabSim as a community college student worked well with the flexibility he needed in college and gave him practical, hands-on learning that led directly to his college internship and eventual full-time position after graduation.

Have you experienced greater completion rates in your community college courses since utilizing LabSim training? Send us an email or leave a comment to share your experience.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Certification Validates Skills

Sometimes IT students wonder why certification is important. Why does it matter if they’re already getting a degree or diploma in IT, they ask. Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, vice president and general manager of Learning@Cisco, answered that question this week:
Certification meets the needs of IT professionals by allowing them to gain valuable resources and skills necessary in the work place, then validating those skills. Certification validates skills necessary for various job roles. Certification also provides a competitive differentiator for employers.

Certification validates skills, she said. A student is taught many concepts in IT education, but an employer may not know exactly what skills a new graduate has unless the graduate also holds a certification. Certification standardizes the measurement of skills. For example, if a graduate holds A+ certification, an employer knows exactly what skills the graduate has been tested on and successfully passed.

Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, offers IT diplomas, certificates, and associate’s degrees, as well as courses for non-degree-seeking students. In the non-degree course are adults who want career retraining, others who simply want to learn more about troubleshooting and repairing computers, and many who take the course specifically for certification training because some employers will not hire them without certification.
Steve Bowker, HACC instructor, explained that while many of his students have a practical understanding of computers, even a box store like Best Buy may not hire them without formal training or certification. Bowker’s course at HACC provides training for CompTIA certifications A+, Network+, and Security+, giving students the opportunity to gain credentials they need to find jobs in IT.

Bowker uses TestOut’s LabSim training to prepare his students for certification. He explained that since requiring his students to train with TestOut, Bowker’s students have had a 100% pass rate on certification exams—on the first try. After they achieve certification, Bowker asks them what really helped them the most to pass the test. Bowker said, “I ask them, ‘Was it TestOut’s training combined with a textbook?’ They tell me the instructor-led class was great to answer questions, but TestOut’s videos and labs really put them over the top.”

With certification, students have industry-recognized credentials that validate their skills. Instructors, have your students experienced greater career success after gaining certification?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Watch for Increases in Microsoft Exam Prices

The prices of many Microsoft certification exams are going up for both IT professionals and students, beginning July 1. For current students at high schools and colleges, Microsoft exams now cost $60; on and after July 1 they will cost $83.

The new $83 price will affect the exams for nine Microsoft certifications, including:
  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS)
  • Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP)
  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD)
  • Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST)
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA)
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
  • Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD)
  • Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD)
  • Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA)

Network World reports that, according to Microsoft, "The new fee structure enables Microsoft to improve the Microsoft Certification program. Examples of proposed improvements include new Microsoft Certifications, new question types, frequent updates to certification exams, improved exam security, and driving adoption of Microsoft Certification by accrediting bodies across the world."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New CompTIA Website Helps You Plan IT Certification Path

How many students, and even IT professionals, have asked the question, “Which certification is right for me?” CompTIA, the certifying body that offers A+, Network+, and other fundamental IT certifications, has launched a new website, certification.comptia.org, that answers that question and offers helpful information about all of the credentials CompTIA offers.

CompTIA outlines
all of its certifications first in order of skill level, and then again by area of expertise. Students, entry-level IT professionals, and established IT professionals can view the certifications that match their level of training and their areas of greatest experience and interest in the IT profession.

For example, if you are interested in gaining expertise with hardware—including setting up, testing, and troubleshooting office equipment—A+ or Server+ may be best for you. If IT systems are your thing—integrating computers and secure communications in a business environment—the Network+, Security+, or Linux+ certifications will help you gain expertise. And if you’re more interested in how IT helps traditional business roles, focus on the Project+ or CTT+ certifications.

CompTIA’s new website for planning your certifications also has resources for better understanding career paths in IT. You may remember that Microsoft recently launched a similar website with IT career planning tools as well, giving you plenty of help as you find your way into an IT career. With TestOut’s LabSim courses to train you for many of Microsoft’s and CompTIA’s certifications, you are on the right track.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Investments in Digital Teaching Tools

According to Vicky Phillips, director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s College Ready program, teachers frequently express the need for more engaging teaching tools that deepen learning, allow them to differentiate instruction to students’ needs, and align with what students must know according to the Common Core State Standards. (Instructors, do these sound familiar to your needs in your own classroom?)

In response to the needs expressed by teachers, the Foundation announced yesterday that they are pledging $20 million to the development of tools and programs that approach instruction in new ways and that implement the technologies students use. New teaching tools that meet Common Core State Standards will incorporate games, the Web, social networking, interactive tests, and other digital formats.

The investment by the Foundation will benefit science, math, and language arts instruction.

With its investment in better teaching tools, the Gates Foundation is working with the Pearson Foundation, the Florida Virtual School, iRemix, Educause, and other organizations that build digital curriculum materials.

In the Foundation’s press release, Phillips said, “These new cutting-edge applications have the potential to inspire students and engage them in the way they naturally learn, while giving teachers the flexibility to be creative in their craft and customize tools to their students’ needs.”

TestOut has a very similar goal. We’re working to develop interactive tools to train students in technology and engage them in learning with methods they respond to, such as videos, hands-labs, and online exams with instant feedback.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Online Education Is Maturing

As online courses become more and more common in higher education, online delivery is not just for nontraditional students anymore. While the flexibility and accessibility of online education may have been its greatest draws in the beginning—making higher education possible for students in nontraditional circumstances—improvements in the quality of online learning are making it a desirable alternative for traditional students too.

As large universities make online education a staple in their course offerings, they’re investing in resources to increase the quality of their online courses. Professors are receiving training directed specifically at teaching online, and programs are being developed that offer only online courses.

According to Brian Burnsed at US News & World Report, experts are saying that for online higher education to become mainstream at universities, it will need to be “subject to regulation, governed by a common set of accreditation standards, and widely accepted by institutions.”

Burnsed quoted Richard Garrett, managing director at research firm Eduventures, as saying, "We're at the beginning of elite schools starting to take online seriously. They're trying to marry the online experience with the brand of the institution."

Because TestOut develops computer-based training courses used in higher education, we’re always interested in the curriculum needs of postsecondary online IT courses, and we strive to offer the highest quality in every LabSim course. Using LabSim online training, college and university students are taught IT concepts in videos and text lessons, they see demonstrations by industry experts, they gain practical experience in hands-on labs, and they are evaluated in quizzes and exams scored by the software. Professors can track each student’s progress through LabSim Reporting.

Professors who utilize LabSim for online courses, what has been your students’ experience? Are your students gaining the high-quality, postsecondary IT education they need?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Should High Schools Require Online Courses?

Some states are considering making it mandatory for high school students to take courses online. A group of lawmakers in Florida, for example, is proposing bills that mandate at least one online course in order to graduate and that open up the possibility for full-time online education for students K-12. In Idaho, the governor and the state superintendent are pushing for a requirement of at least four online courses.

Thousands of high school students already take Internet-based courses to make up credit, to have more choices of electives, or to take Advanced Placement classes not offered in their school.

In Tennessee, Memphis City Schools has developed an online program where every student, beginning the sophomore year, must take an online course to graduate. Sometimes the students complete their online course in a computer lab inside the school, during the regular school day, where a faculty or staff member is in the same room.

The school district points out that offering online courses helps prepare students for college, where they will likely take at least some courses online. Taking online courses in high school may help students build skills they will need in college and career.

Opponents to requiring online courses for high school students say that there is no research showing that online courses are as effective as instructor-led courses for K-12 students and that the push to require online courses for high school students is only fueled by a need to save money.

Administrators and instructors, what is your opinion about requiring high school students to take courses online?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blended Courses Have High Levels of Success

Do you use a blended approach to teaching IT? Do you incorporate online instruction and face-to-face instruction in the same course? Hands-on labs in addition to reading assignments?

Blended courses have some of the highest levels of student success in postsecondary education, according to the University of Central Florida (UCF). UCF is one of 29 institutions awarded grant money last week from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the Next Generation Learning Challenge, which gives organizations the funding and opportunity to research strategies for improving student success in and completion of postsecondary education.

UCF’s grant money was awarded for them to develop a national model for blended learning, “a practice that combines web-based learning with traditional classroom instruction.” Specifically, UCF is developing a “Blended Learning Toolkit” that can help hundreds of colleges design blended courses, including course content, assessment solutions, and training materials.

UCF has thousands of students enrolled in blended learning courses, and the university reports that students consistently rank the blended courses higher than courses that are completely web-based or that are purely in the classroom with face-to-face instruction. The university also reports that its blended courses have the highest levels of student success and the lowest withdrawals.

According to UCF, blended learning “encourages collaboration” and can “compensate for limited classroom space.” For faculty, blended courses can “infuse new opportunities for engagement into established courses.”

IT instructors, has a blended approach to teaching IT increased students’ engagement in your course? Has LabSim and its variety of teaching methods created new opportunities for learning in your classroom?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trends in Ed Tech: Mobile Devices in the Classroom?

Do you let your students use their mobile devices for learning in your classroom? Do you think there could be educational benefit to letting them do so?

eSchool News reported this week on the Speak Up survey, a national survey of K-12 students, parents, teachers, and administrators about the use of technology in education. The survey has been conducted every year since 2005.

Of the middle and high school students surveyed at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, 53% reported that the biggest obstacle to their education is that the use of their mobile device is not allowed for learning in school. 67% of parents say they think students should be allowed to use their mobile device in the classroom. On the other hand, 65% of school administrators strongly object to the use of mobile devices in school.

Other noteworthy themes that emerged in this year’s survey deal with digital curriculum materials, online courses, and the use of technology on collaborative assignments. Students expressed the desire for more interactivity and collaboration at school.

What do you think are the pros and cons of allowing students to use their mobile devices for learning in school? Have you had experiences when the use of mobile devices in the classroom has benefited your students' learning?