Monday, January 31, 2011

LabSim Effective in All Blended Learning Approaches

Most schools and colleges who use LabSim IT certification training courses are utilizing blended learning, which, according to researchers, is the force behind online learning’s tremendous growth.

Education Week recently highlighted the research of Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute. According to Horn and Staker, blended learning is “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, path, and/or pace.”

Blended learning methods don’t all look alike. In fact, Horn and Staker’s report labels six types of blended learning approaches. Likewise, the implementations of LabSim into the IT curriculum at different schools and colleges is also varied. LabSim courses lend themselves to all sorts of effective teaching approaches. Blended with texts, face-to-face instruction, hands-on physical labs, or traditional class lecture, LabSim courses are a blended approach to learning IT.

The six types of blending learning described by Horn and Staker are:
  • face-to-face driver programs where teachers deliver most instruction in a live classroom and use online activities to supplement or remediate what goes on in the brick-and-mortar school;
  • rotation models where students follow a schedule that alternates between face-to-face class sessions and in-person instruction;
  • flex formats where most of the curriculum originates online, but an on-site instructor provides instruction as needed in individual and small group sessions;
  • online lab sessions where students do work online, but in a computer lab at a brick-and-mortar school with aides who offer supervision but little subject guidance;
  • self-blend schools where students may take online courses a la carte to supplement their brick-and-mortar school's curriculum; and
  • online driver constructs where students receive most of the course online and independently, but participate in required or optional face-to-face meetings.

What type of blended learning approach does your school or college utilize? Please leave a comment and tell us about your program.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Internet Materials for Community Colleges: Less Expensive Than Textbooks

Does the Internet have all the information community college professors need to teach their courses?

The state of Washington is implementing a new system called the Open Course Library, made up of materials drawn from the Internet. Teams of community college instructors, librarians, and Web designers from around the state—backed by a $750,000 matching grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—are researching materials online and will create ready-to-use course modules, accessible to students online. The digital modules will replace textbooks and be used by all 34 community colleges in the state in the 81 classes with highest enrollment.

The purpose of replacing textbooks with online learning materials found on the Internet is, of course, to save money. According to the state of Washington, students are paying up to $1,000 a year for textbooks, and the state foots much of that bill through student financial aid. The Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges insisted on finding a less expensive solution. Since 81 classes are taught at all community colleges in Washington, it seemed like a no-brainer to find inexpensive materials that can be used by all instructors of those classes. In fact, the maximum cost the state will allow for each course module is $30.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that, as educators search the Internet for high-quality materials, some are finding what they need and others are not. Math professors, for example, have found that while excellent sources exist for teaching higher math, they are lacking for teaching basic math skills.

Those of you who teach at community colleges—in Washington state or in other states—do you think it’s a good idea to replace textbooks with online material? What Internet sources would you go to first for your IT classes?

Friday, January 21, 2011

CompTIA Reports Growing Confidence in the IT Industry

CompTIA surveyed more than 1,100 IT companies and released a report suggesting momentum in the IT industry will continue.

More than 40% of IT firms say they plan to increase expenditures on new products and business lines, and more than 40% also say they plan to expand IT investments. One-third of IT firms say their hiring will increase in 2011.

CompTIA expects the following six technology trends to impact the IT industry the most in 2011:
  • Cloud Computing: Cloud computing will continue to grow faster than any other technologies in 2011.
  • Data Analysis: With massive amounts of information available for collecting, IT firms need analysts to pull insights from the data.
  • Wireless Computing: Mobile and wireless computing experts are needed to keep businesses running in these areas.
  • Smartphones/Mobile Devices: With widespread adoption of smartphones, people can work, play, and socialize anywhere, anytime.
  • Applications for Communicating Over the Internet: Businesses will build on VoIP and embrace presence, virtual telephony, multi-person video chat, mobile video conference, and related applications.
  • Automation and Changes in How We Work: Organizations will invest in improving work processes to improve accuracy and generate better use of data.

As a student in IT, you will want to use the data presented in CompTIA’s report to plan your training and education to include better experience and understanding with at least one of the technologies named. Then you’ll be prepared to contribute the most relevant skills and ideas as you enter the IT industry.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nominate Your Campus: 2011 Campus Technology Innovators Award

Is your college or university a leader in innovative technologies? Does your institution deserve special recognition for its exceptional technology solutions? As a college or university that incorporates LabSim as a technology curriculum, you are definitely a leader in providing your students technology-driven learning solutions.

Campus Technology is accepting nominations in their 7th Annual Innovators Awards. You can nominate your college or university by completing an entry form online. All entries must be completed by February 15.

Campus Technology’s Innovators Awards recognizes technology leadership in six categories:
  1. Teaching and Learning (including, but not limited to: learning design/instructional design; immersive technologies; social software, Web 2.0; mobile learning; teaching in the smart classroom; collaboration tools; student assessment; student ePortfolios; lecture capture; eLearning)
  2. Student Systems and Services (including, but not limited to: technology for career services; advising/online advising; technology for housing; physical security and emergency planning; eTextbooks/bookstore; instructional resources and library services; recruitment/eRecruitment)
  3. Administrative Systems (including, but not limited to: student lifecycle management; admissions; constituent relationship management; retention; ERP; business intelligence; institutional advancement and development; eProcurement; portals)
  4. Leadership, Governance, and Policy (including, but not limited to: funding/finance; faculty/staff development; CIO leadership and role development; strategic planning; institutional structure/reorganization; program development/innovation leadership; open source/community source leadership; institutional publishing)
  5. IT Infrastructure and Systems (including, but not limited to: learning management systems; collaboration technologies and environments; learning space design/architecture/smart classrooms; classroom management and control systems; data security and authentication; networking; SaaS and cloud computing; telecommunications; digital repositories/digital libraries; high-performance computing; green technologies; disaster recovery and business continuity; help desk)
  6. Education Futurists (including, but not limited to: visionary learning technology development; new program development; institutional reformation; trend spotters: technology and society)

Read more about the Innovators Awards here, including how your entry will be judged and how winners will be recognized.

Will your college or university be the next winner? Best of luck!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Difference Between Virtual Labs and Simulations

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a virtual lab and a simulation? Both have their advantages, but a high-fidelity simulation is a better option for an IT curriculum.

Virtualization is when an operating system is run on a virtual machine. The benefit of virtualization is that multiple operating system instances can run at the same time on a single physical computer. This essentially creates multiple computers out of a single physical computer.

In the case of an IT curriculum, virtual labs means labs that use virtual machines. First, virtual machines are installed on a physical computer. Each virtual machine is accessible to students through the Internet. Students log on to one of the virtual machines and work on it as though it is a “real” computer.

The advantage of virtual labs is that students are working with an actual operating system. In a simulation, only relevant and related features are enabled.

Depending on how thoroughly a simulation has been created, there might be significant differences between the simulation and a live system. With LabSim, TestOut has created very high-fidelity simulations, meaning that we get pretty close to the real thing in the areas we have chosen to program.

There is sometimes a negative stigma attached to “simulations” because of low-quality, low-fidelity, screen-shot simulations people often see. Educators who are considering passing over LabSim because it is a “simulation” should carefully consider what they are trying to teach students, then evaluate LabSim labs to see the type of freedom and fidelity that is available. LabSim provides the ability to experiment, get things wrong, and identify and correct mistakes.

There are many advantages of the simulations in LabSim over virtual labs, including:
  • Targeted scenarios. LabSim labs are designed with clear tasks to target the skills students need to master. Many virtual labs start with a running operating system but no instructions about what the student is expected to complete.
  • Scoring. LabSim labs provide task-by-task scoring with detailed score reports. Scores are automatically added to the student progress record where they can be easily tracked. Most virtual labs cannot be scored. If instructors want to verify completion of a specific task, they typically require students to do screen captures or just log their time.
  • Screenshot from lab in LabSim A+
  • Hardware labs. LabSim labs provide a way to learn and practice hardware configuration tasks. Virtual labs are limited to being able to work with the operating system and applications—there is no possible way to work with hardware components or physical network connections.
  • Restricted operations. LabSim labs let students practice administrative tasks—tasks that are often disabled or prevented on virtual machines. For example, LabSim includes labs on configuring BIOS settings, reformatting hard drives, and changing virtual memory settings that often cannot be performed in a virtual lab due to security restrictions or other limitations.
  • Capacity. TestOut has not yet encountered a situation where a student could not complete a lab because there were too many current users of the lab. Virtual labs can only support the number of simultaneous users based on the number of available virtual machines.
  • Scheduling. Students can complete LabSim labs at any time and from any computer that has an Internet connection. Virtual labs can only be completed on a computer with a virtual machine installed. To complete a lab, students must work during a scheduled time.
  • Time limits. Students have full access to LabSim labs, can spend as much time in the labs as they like, and can return to any lab at any time. To further reduce the capacity and scheduling problems, many instructors using virtual labs limit their students’ time in those labs.
  • Performance. Performance of LabSim labs is typically equal to or better than virtual labs. TestOut has had several customers report dropped connections or inconsistent access through virtual labs.
  • Misconfiguration. With LabSim labs, if a student makes a significant mistake, he or she simply restarts the lab. With a virtual lab, starting over might not be possible or might take a significant amount of time.
Investigating virtual labs is a logical thing to do when looking for a solution to providing hands-on practice. The advantages of LabSim make it a better choice for most institutions. TestOut has several customers who initially used virtual labs, thinking that the “real” thing must be better, only to find out that students weren’t getting the experience they expected and that managing and scoring the virtual labs was problematic.

One final note about simulations. Pilots, NASA, and the military recognize simulations as a valid and often preferred alternative to “live” training. Much like a good flight simulator or a bike with training wheels, LabSim simulations are sufficiently lifelike to provide realistic experience. In addition, LabSim is specifically designed to target the skills students need for certification exams and for future careers.

Don Whitnah, TestOut

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Big Chance to Show Gratitude for 20 Years

2011 is a big year for TestOut, and the company plans to celebrate it in a big way! TestOut was founded in 1991, making 2011 the 20th anniversary year for the company.

TestOut’s CEO Noel Vallejo and President Doug Edwards have made plans to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary year by showing gratitude “to our families, our customers, and our community,” Vallejo said. As a company, TestOut will celebrate on the 11th of every month of 2011 until November 11, 2011, which is the company’s official 20th anniversary.

As part of the company’s year-long celebration, one of the first ways TestOut will celebrate is by serving its local community by offering grants for LabSim IT certification training. “We know that career training can really make a difference in a person’s life,” Vallejo said. TestOut is working with LDS Employment Services to provide LabSim training for free to 200 people in TestOut’s own community who are out of work and want to train in IT.

TestOut believes in the importance of training and education to prepare individuals for a better future and career. Those who want to succeed in the IT field first need the right training to gain the skills employers are looking for and then achieve an IT certification from Microsoft, Cisco or CompTIA as evidence of skills acquired.

Other 20th Year Anniversary Celebration events will include community service (including Christmas lights donated to the city of Pleasant Grove to decorate downtown starting this past holiday), donations to education and career training organizations, activities for TestOut family members, and more.

Thank you to all TestOut customers for your support of TestOut and its LabSim IT certification training, and Happy 20th Anniversary, TestOut!