Users enter it remotely, from their own computers in dormitory rooms or libraries. They get all the features they've had in the past, including access to expensive software packages, like 3-D modeling tools and advanced statistical programs, that they need for courses. But now the programs run on powerful computer servers behind the scenes, instead of on desktop PC's. And this lab never closes.What a refreshing mindset that is, don't you think?
Officials here also say that the virtual lab could be the beginning in a more fundamental shift, one that could change the way technology staffs on campuses do business. The goal of the virtual-lab approach is to build Web-based tools that professors can control on their own, without having to ask permission from a staff member to add something to a university computer.
"I got tired of telling users what they couldn't do," says Samuel F. Averitt, vice provost for information technology at North Carolina State. "The central-IT guy is about control and ownership. We're trying to get out of that business, and say, Do it however you want to do it."
I heard this week that the U.S. government (specifically the FCC) is going to auction off a chunk of the broadband spectrum so that the winning company could build a free public wi-fi network. Should this happen, we would likely be years away from it becoming reality, but I already can't help but wonder how this might impact schools. When the district DIS doesn't control the signals used to connect to the internet, their precious filters will be useless. GoogleApps? Wikipedia? YouTube? All available for the classroom. Yes, other things---inappropriate things---will be available, too. But if students are using their own equipment with an independent source for internet access, will schools have the same responsibilities for protecting children? Or are they only accountable for their own hardware, software, and infrastructure? If a student comes to my class tomorrow with a laptop and an aircard, are they allowed to use it as they please---just as they do with their own pencils and paper?
There are new tools and platforms available daily, it seems. If we are already making a shift in how we use our hardware (from traditional computer labs to virtual ones), when will the shift in how we use the intangible pieces (e.g. software) with students come?