Shifting From Hands-on Hardware Labs to Simulated Labs
Dr. Thornburg spoke about the change in the use personal computing to the use of low-powered netbooks as educators aim to go “green” (Thornburg, 2009a). Similarly, educators in higher education have been slowly phasing out the use of hardware in hands-on lab environments to the use of software simulation. For example, at the college where I am currently teaching as a visiting professor, students no longer physically open up PCs to perform troubleshooting labs. Instead, students are now conducting hands-on activities via LabSim software simulation tool. See the following video for a LabSim demonstration.
Software that allow learners to perform simulated labs go beyond simple PC troubleshooting hands-on labs to complex networking activates, all done without physically working with hardware such as routers and switches. The college where I am currently teaching introduced networking students and professor Cisco’s packet tracer virtual environment a few years ago. Learners were given a choice between using hardware devices (that is, routers and switches) and the packet tracer simulation software. My observation was that older (more traditional) students and professors were not in favor of the implementation of this emerging technology. So, of course they opted for using the “real” equipment. As time goes by the number of students and professors who choose to employ the simulated environment has grown. See the following video for a demonstration of the packet tracer simulator.
Challenges Associated With Simulated Labs
The main challenge associated with using computer simulated labs in higher education is that traditional learners and professors are not comfortable with the idea of not physically working with hardware devices in the learning environments. Based on personal experience, this can cause a rift between students and professors where those who opt to use the “real” equipment will be esteemed as more knowledgeable than those who choose to work in virtual environments. Another challenge is that employers with traditional mindsets might have a marginalized view of networking students who have never used actual routers and switches during their degree programs.
Societal Need and Benefits of Using Simulated Labs
The use of simulated labs has tremendously lowered the power consumption in colleges. Even though some companies, for example Cisco, sells hardware devices that are considered to be “green” technologies, they still use a vast amount of wattage. For example, at initial system boot, many Cisco routers will consume 108W, and then the wattage will increase to 330W once all processors are connected (Miercom, 2009). This cost can be entirely eliminated or lowered whenever simulated networking labs are used in place of these hardware routers and switches.
Room for Improvement/Avoiding Pitfalls
Miercom. (2009). Lab testing summary report: Aggregation services routers – power efficient. Retrieved from. http://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en/us/products/collateral/routers/asr-1000-series-aggregation-services-routers/asr1000_series_green.pdf