Teaching information technology subjects with real world software: The virtual information technology teaching laboratory
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To date, it has been extremely difficult if not impossible to set practical assignments for advanced information technology (IT) subjects since the software interferes with the operation of the University's network. Like many other Universities, we have dedicated computer teaching laboratories that are set aside to support a range of operating systems and specialised software (platforms). Within these laboratories, elaborate platform setups have been required each semester to allow a single physical workstation to support multiple uses. Even then, the platforms interfere and the students cannot be granted administrative access to allow them to install and manage their software. To further compound the problem, when not required by IT students, these expensive and functional teaching laboratories lie idle. As a way to remedy the above, the Virtual IT Teaching Laboratory project was designed and is managed by the author; it uses advanced virtualisation technology and central servers. IT students are allocated individual virtual machines for each subject that requires their use. Virtual machines run on a 24 hours a day/7 days a week basis and students can be given full administrative privileges to install and manage complex software just as in the real world. Students can then access their own virtual machine(s) from any standard computer on campus, and their own laptop connected via the Internet. This advanced virtualisation technology allows Bond IT students to gain experience with advanced software, servers and systems required by employers, thus enabling the development of real-world skills required for careers in the IT industry while freeing up valuable teaching space on campus for use in other domains.
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