How Virtual IT Labs Prepare Students for Real-Life Work

Higher Education

How Virtual IT Labs Prepare Students for Real-Life Work

from Practice Labs

By Wendy McMahon     May 29, 2018

How Virtual IT Labs Prepare Students for Real-Life Work

In 1997, when he was in his mid 30s, Dr. Jongbok Byun flipped his entire life upside down to pursue his dream of becoming an educator.

There was no monumental motivator for leaving his 10-year career as a business researcher in South Korea. He says he just knew it was time. “My motivation to be in academia was soaring,” he chuckles.

Facing vast differences in language, culture and lifestyle, Byun, his wife and three children moved to Los Angeles where he earned a Ph.D. in Management of Information Systems from Claremont Graduate University.

A passion for lifelong learning led to more change when he left a teaching position at a traditional university for a role at Ashford University—a completely online school. He’d heard so much about online education as a learning path and he wanted to experience it firsthand. In his current role, Byun is an Associate Professor in the Forbes School of Business & Technology at Ashford University, where he teaches courses in database management, programming and telecommunications.

Six years in with Ashford University, Byun continues to embrace change. Over the past two years, he’s been using virtual labs to create more realistic learning opportunities for online students—changes he believes will make quality education more authentic and accessible for all learners.

Byun talks to EdSurge about how virtual labs promote active, authentic and accessible learning, and the future of online education.

EdSurge: Why did you decide to switch careers and become a professor?

Dr. Jongbok Byun: My wish to be a college professor was a dream I had since I was young, but I didn't have any means to achieve it. I thought I was not smart enough to teach at college. I didn't have any connections who could tell me how to be a professor or what I needed to do to prepare. So, instead, I started a career that I could do at that time. Later, I found a way and connections which guided me to my current profession.

You worked in a traditional university and then moved to Ashford—what attracted you to online learning?

When I joined Ashford, the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) had just started and it was quite an interesting movement. Ashford was one of the leading schools in that area. Its business college was also actively growing when I joined. In 2011, it had only five full-time faculty members. Renamed the Forbes School of Business & Technology, today it has over 40 full-time faculty members.

How does online learning benefit students?

I didn’t start studying for my master’s until I was in my 30’s. More mature people have many daily obligations in their careers. They also need to support their loved ones and families. After a hard day at work, they may not have enough energy to do a new thing which might help them change careers. Change needs dedication and sacrifice.

Online learning can help this situation. One of its significant benefits is its flexibility. Whenever a person wants, he or she can click the online link to open the classroom. Flexibility in time and place is beneficial to people who don't have the luxury of attending schools in person.

Are there also challenges to online learning?

Yes, but for my business information systems students, virtual labs have helped. Before Practice Labs—the virtual lab technology we use—our students had to download programs to run them on their computers.

Video materials were also provided to teach students how to use the downloaded applications and what to expect. However, students often had difficulties in understanding the concepts since they didn't have immediate feedback. For example, when they designed a program and ran it, they didn't know whether the results were correct or not until they got the feedback from the instructor. Now, with Practice Labs, students can get the results instantly and fix their errors. The experience is similar to how programs are actually created in the technology industry.

How long have you used virtual labs and how often?

I’ve been using the technology for two years. It’s embedded as a weekly component in all of the courses that I teach, which are Database Management Systems, Telecommunications and Networking Concepts Concepts, and Programming Concepts.

Do you see a difference in what and how students learn with virtual labs?

Yes, they’re motivated and understand concepts better.

The virtual lab has a very similar environment to a real situation and it’s hands-on. It makes students active learners rather than passive ones. And students can take a lab over and over until they get it.

After they finish their coursework, they’re ready to jump into the real world. They can use those systems in their communication or in their workplace setting because the labs made them familiar with a real situation. They are definitely more prepared for a real-life work setting.

How do you see online learning changing and growing in the future?

A big problem in the United States and other parts of the world is the high cost of education—but online learning helps address that issue.

Our next young generation is more familiar with augmented reality and virtual reality; both of these technologies provide them with a more realistic experience. As online learning experiences become more and more realistic with technology like mobile devices, augmented reality and faster computers, we get better programs and better quality content. This will give students a better experience and a better education at a more affordable price.

Source: Practice Labs

Byun’s favorite online learning resources

Byun believes “doing is better than reading.” He recommends getting involved in online learning if you want to learn more.


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