Virtual Labs Taking Over

While online courses are at an all-time high, these programs still have a major problem: how can they can give their students access to software and data sets needed for class when they can’t walk into a computer lab on campus and log in?

At Indiana University, for example, the online course there required a high-end mapping application. Before, the university would put together 10 DVDs or so with the software for the students to use, but this only created more problems and was impractical as the students had to spend time figuring out how to install the software and possibly calling tech support. Another example would be at Capella University, an online school, where the students needed industry-grade applications such as EnCase Forensic and such in order to succeed in their course.


Now, at both of these universities, virtualized desktops are being provided for the students, although the approaches are different. At Indiana University, the technologists have developed a virtual desktop solution with “zero logistical overhead”, according to David Goodrum, the director of teaching and learning technologies. At Capella, they have outsourced the work to a service provider that specializes in virtual environments.

In order to figure out how to grade its virtual desktops, IU (Indiana University), put a team together comprising of staff from IU, Client Services and Support, and Enterprise Systems. Their goal was to figure out a way to move different classes online in a way that would be a good experience for the students.

While the group had different components already set in place prior to, for students, they were all missing one thing: an easy way for instructors to distribute the digital course files to their students.  What they came up with, is Broadcast. This is a plug-in that is used alongside Canvas that allows the staff to send copies of all the course files to the students through their accounts. With the problem of hundreds of files being sent out, the next issue is to tackle programs such as Adobe products which are graphically heavy and poses performance issues above all else.

At Capella, a virtualized secure space was created. This space is heavily protected and allows students to use some of the same tools that hackers may use. The school works with Toolwire, a group in the virtual desktop and scenario-based training business to deliver this environment. Basically what happens is that the student sees a link, they click on that link, and it takes them to this secured environment.

Using virtual labs has many advantages, such as students don’t need to schedule time at a lab, worry about grabbing a free seat at a computer, or finding time to get to the lab. There are still some kinks to work out in this area, but once it’s worked out, virtual labs will be a regular thing to use in online courses.

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