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National College Adds Virtual Environment to Tech Training

National College has gone public with its use of online training curriculum in its tech program at one of its campuses. The Youngstown, OH campus, which has 62 students in its two-year information systems engineering program, is using LabSim from TestOut to educate students in a simulated environment. LabSim's virtual environment includes hands-on lab exercises that simulate the actual environment being learned, training videos, demonstrations, written lessons, section quizzes, exam questions, and practice certification exams for credentials such as the Cisco Certified Network Associate and the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

When Bill Wittman, director of IT programs and technical support, arrived at the college in 2009, the IT instructors were creating their own materials for class, in spite of the fact that LabSim was being provided to students in a bundle of course materials. To test out the quality of the curriculum, he worked through the content of a CompTIA Network+ course and liked what he saw. "I realized LabSim was a phenomenal resource for in-depth learning."

Wittman takes a gentle approach in encouraging other instructors to use the program. "I suggest [to the instructors] that LabSim is a phenomenal tool. I orient them how to use it and set up their classes," he said. "I tell them my story of how I use it and structure my course with LabSim. Then I leave it up to them how they want to implement it."

One advantage of using the material, he's found, is that students gain an understanding of different approaches that can be used for the IT activities being learned. "When students watch a video in LabSim, they get another professional's perspectives," Wittman said. "And it teaches them to keep an open mind. Change is constant in IT, and my lectures aren't gospel. LabSim is another resource for sharing ideas."

Each class in the program at National meets once a week for two hours of lecture and two hours of skill development. Wittman said he recommends to his own classes that the students work through one module in the program each week before coming to class. He uses reporting features in the application to track student progress. "Their work in LabSim makes up 50 percent of their final grade for the class. All they have to do is provide the report at the end of the term showing 100 percent on everything in LabSim."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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