Virtual labs to teach in-demand tech skills take shape
- A consortium for eight California community colleges is experimenting with virtual labs to train students remotely in the latest IT and cyber security skills. The South Central Coast Regional Consortium (SCCRC) Virtual Lab Project is being tested this academic year with hopes it will be made available broadly in 2019.
- An IT professor at one of the colleges participating in a trial of the project was able to increase his class capacity from 25 students to 40 without adding any lab space or hardware. He estimates that using the lab will eventually reduce his workload by half, though project designers note that instructors may find initially more time is involved. It will be linked to the Canvas learning management system already used by the eight colleges.
- The project has been backed by a collection or organizations including California Polytechnic State University Digital Transformation Hub, a venture between the university and Amazon intended to offer support for such initiatives.
Planners say the lab will help fill a need for trained IT graduates more quickly, with more current information and less expense than through traditional computer labs. They also suggest that it will allow colleges or high schools with fewer resources to potentially offer such training. The SCCRC project will eventually be expanded to allow regional high schools to access the labs, planners hope.
Computer labs are expensive to develop and keep up-to-date and secure, plus they take up space that can't be easily used for other purposes. In addition, hardware, software and even the curriculum can be outdated quickly. The labs will "decrease the need for high-cost physical labs, yet provide open virtualized environments that let students experience the real-life scenarios that so critical in educating for technical careers," according to a description of the project.
Collaboration through cloud computing is likely to grow considerably and such training may be a key part of that, experts say.
The project is one of a variety of ways that higher education is attempting to keep pace with changes in both the information that graduates in the tech sector need and the way they are trained. Amazon recently announced it was partnering with colleges to help train workers in cloud computing, and several other tech companies are either working with universities or providing online training themselves to meet the demand.
- South Central Coast Regional Consortium Virtual Labs Service Brings Access and Flexibility to Community College Students