Using Virtual Labs in the Classroom: An Instructor’s Experience

An Interview with Shawn Monsen, CCC NETLAB+ User Group Lead

It’s not uncommon for community college instructors to teach multiple subject areas, especially in IT. This can mean creating lab content, installing software, and managing classroom labs, in addition to teaching the key points students must know to succeed in class and on the job.

We interviewed Shawn Monsen, CCC NETLAB+ User Group Lead and adjunct faculty at Sierra College to find out how NETLAB+ helps him manage his workload and benefits his students. He also gives important advice for instructors new to using NETLAB+ the classroom.

WHY VIRTUAL LABS?

Monsen teaches several different subject areas, including computer forensics, networking fundamentals and a virtualization class. Having created labs from scratch in the past, he appreciates the wealth of pre-existing, quality NETLAB+ lab content available for each of his classes.

“As an instructor teaching multiple subject areas, pre-existing content allows me to give my students quality labs that teach them the concepts they need to understand,” he explains.

Virtual lab content is easily accessible online, and NETLAB+ supported labs can be found on the NDG website.

A virtual lab system also eliminates the need to create a lab environment in the classroom. Monsen has used VMWare in the past to create virtual machines which students used on their classroom workstations. But that was difficult to manage at times.

“There is a lot of overhead in managing live labs in the classroom,” says Monsen. “Instructors have to install the software and ensure labs are functioning properly, which can often be complex and prone to technical issues.”

Monsen says that he doesn’t have these problems using NETLAB+. “The system runs as it should every time.”

Another huge benefit to using a virtual lab system is that students can access assigned labs from anywhere.

“A lot of the classes I teach have had the lab time removed from the course, so having students do labs at home allows me more time in class to focus on teaching the concepts,” he says.

ADVICE FOR NEW NETLAB+ USERS

Monsen suggests that instructors take time in class to familiarize their students with the software and lab environment. This way, students have their questions answered before going home to try out the new system on their own.

"Generally, I assign the first lab in class and walk them through how to log in, how to get their browser working correctly, and how to sign up for lab time,” explains Monsen. “It’s a pretty involved process, so you want to walk your students through that first time so they’re not confused when they get home.”

It’s also important to make sure students install the most current version of Java on their computers. This is a common reason students have difficulty. They should also be aware of the NETLAB+ supported browsers and versions, also listed on the NETLAB+ login screen.

Monsen emphasizes that instructors should remind students that they must perform the remote access test when using NETLAB+ for the first time on a computer. “You absolutely must run this test or the labs won’t function properly.”

SPREADING THE WORD

As the NETLAB+ User Group Lead for the California Community Colleges, Monsen is in a unique position to bring together educators, IT administrators, and college administration around a common goal.

“I can see the value of using virtualized lab tools to improve student learning outcomes in the classroom,” he says. “I personally feel like NETLAB+ is the best product out there right now to do that, and using it in my classroom prepares me to answer questions and support others in establishing or expanding virtual lab systems on their campuses.”

Community college faculty and administrators are invited to join the NETLAB+ User Group to stay updated on the latest news in virtual labs. Monsen envisions an active community of members working together for the benefit of community college students statewide.

“The User Group gives us an opportunity to share best practices and communicate with peers doing the same things in our jobs. We can help each other through the process and provide the resources that college administrators, educators, and virtual lab administrators need to be successful.”

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