Using Virtual Computing Labs to Increase Active Learning Among K-12 Students


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Shaneece Davis conducted her research on 'Increasing Active Learning Among Students: NCCU's Introduction of Virtual Computing Lab to Grades K-12' as part of the 9th annual BDPA IT Showcase held August 4-5, 2011 in Chicago IL. In today's classrooms there are sometimes problems related to teaching students and how they retain information. Incorporating active learning into courses is a solution that would involve students in the learning process will help them to retain, recall and use information in an effective way. High School students in Durham, NC participated in a pilot program that introduced them to Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) in an effort to increase active learning. The pilot program results show that students engage in active learning when given the resources to do so.

This is her 10-page research paper.

Shaneece has recently graduated cum laude with a Bachelors of Science degree in Computer Information Systems (CIS) from North Carolina Central University (NCCU). she attended NCCU for a total of three years and has been an active student, serving as the Secretary and Chair of Events Committee for the CIS Club and by being a member of the Senior Class Council on her campus. She received several awards while a student at NCCU, including two awards for Excellent Academic Achievement and the Courtney S. Ferguson Awards for upholding the ideals of the CIS discipline.

Shaneece is now attending the Unviersity of Maryland for its Masters of Information Management Program. She is truly excited about her journey of education.

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Using Virtual Computing Labs to Increase Active Learning Among K-12 Students

  1. 1. Increasing Active Learning among Students:<br />NCCU’s Introduction of Virtual Computing Lab<br />To grades K-12<br /> <br />Shaneece Davis<br />Student, Department of Computer Information Systems<br />C.T. Willis School of Business<br />North Carolina Central University<br /><br />RESEARCH QUESTION<br />Do students participate in active learning if they are given the resources to do so?<br />ABSTRACT<br />In today’s classrooms there are sometimes problems related to the teaching of students and how they retain information. Incorporating active learning into courses is a solution that would involve students in the learning process that will help them to retain, recall, and use information in an effective way. High school students in Durham, NC participated in a pilot program that introduced them to Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) in an effort to increase active learning by ways of technology. This research paper introduces a virtualization solution, Virtual Computing Lab (VCL), its architecture and it will discuss classroom uses for schools that are looking to provide resources to students inside and outside the classroom. The pilot program results will show that students engage in active learning when given the resources to do so. <br />1. Introduction<br />Educators often face problems when trying to engage students with out-of-date teaching methods and boring standardized tests in order to teach and measure learning in courses. There are a plethora of reasons why students do not learn, one of the top reasons is the use of lecturing. Despite all the research of its ineffectiveness, lecturing is still the, “most prevalent mode of instruction” (Bonwell 2000). In today’s information driven society distractions prevent students from learning in an effective way. These new distractions include mobile phones and computers that offer various entertainments such as texting, social networking sites, and gaming which compete for student attention.<br />A solution to the problem of students not being engaged in the learning process is the use of active learning. Active learning is a process where learning is jointly shared between the student and the teacher. Studies have proven that students who are actively engaged with the material are more likely to recall information later and be able to use that information in different contexts (Bonwell and Eison, 1991; Chickering and Gamson, 2987; Cross, 1987; Ericksen, 1984). Allowing students to engage in hands-on interaction not only increases their retention of the information but will also enhance their creativity. In order for this technique to be viable in today’s economic downturn it would have to benefit students, be accessible, and cost-effective. An ideal solution is a Virtual Computing Lab (VCL). VCL is an intelligent solution for schools without enough computing resources. It allows active learning by giving students abilities to perform on school assignments and projects in and outside of the classroom. VCL provides dedicated remote access to a range of computing environments for students to access and software applications from any networked location.<br />This paper will discuss the architecture of VCL and how it can be used in education. The paper will also examine how students were engaged in active learning through a pilot program at Hillside New Tech (HNT) High school using VCL. Finally the usage results from the pilot program will be analyzed. <br />2. VIRTUAL COMPUTING LAB<br />Virtual Computing Lab is a facet of cloud computing technology. Cloud computing refers to the on-demand provision of computational resources (i.e. data and/or software) via a computer network, rather than from a local computer. “Cloud Computing is done through the Internet so that information, database resources, and software can be provided and shared to computers and other devices from anywhere in the world on demand.” (Davis 2010) Virtual Computing Lab allows you to reserve a computer with a desired set of applications and remotely access it over the Internet by using a web browser. Sets of applications are grouped together on a VCL image. VCL images are provisioned on a virtual machine environment that allows students to reserve them either for immediate use or for later.<br />2.1 Architecture<br />The VCL architecture contains four key components as shown in Figure 1, which are:<br />- An End-User<br />- A VCL Manager<br />- An Image<br />- Network Resources<br /> Figure 1 VCL Architecture<br />An End-User is the individual who accesses the VCL. The user will access it through a Web-Interface by creating a new reservation, as shown in Figure 2, which can be reserved immediately or for a later date at a specific time. The user selects an image that has a combination of their desired set of applications from a menu. <br />Figure 2 Creating a Reservation<br /><ul><li>A VCL Manager has the duties of checking the image for functionality, scheduling, and managing images. The VCL Manager is comprised of the following components;
  2. 2. A PERL based VCL Demon Service (VCLD) which perform provisioning and deployment.
  3. 3. A PHP based Web application to supply tools to “request, manage, and govern all VCL resources.” (Moothor 2010)
  4. 4. An Image is a collection of software applications. An Image contains three components; an Operating System (OS) (i.e. Windows, Linux, Mac), Virtual Layer applications, and an end-user access solution (work flow, services, Web-interface).
  5. 5. Network Resources support workloads and user demands. Resources can range from blade servers to desktop workstations. Networking within VCL can include both public and private networks. </li></ul>2.2 Capabilities for Classroom Uses<br />VCL offers a wide range of functionalities and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to users. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) allows a user with graphical interface from another computer desktop access. All VCL solutions are able to “reduce the need for physical lab space” (Raths 2011) by enabling a single network resource to run multiple OS and/or multiple virtual images making better use of resources. Reduction of network resources saves money for school systems by decreasing costs for hardware, maintenance, and licensing costs. <br />Imaging can be quickly deployed through VCL which consists of toolbars, folders, icons, and applications. VCL can support a wide range of users at once which makes it ideal for classroom use. With VCL there are numerous types of course materials and tools for instructors to use that could help support learning activities for students.<br />According to Harris (2009) more people are “using virtual world technologies in the classroom.” By introducing VCL to students it causes them to interact thoroughly with technology. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills states that; “as the US continues to compete in a global economy that demands innovation…. and its members provide tools and resources to help the US education system keep up by fusing the three R’s and the four C’s (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation.” Virtualization is an effective alternative to simply communicate information to students, and also creation of interesting labs applications centered on lessons in order to promote information discovery from instructor to student. Technologies such as VCL that transform or supplement tedious classroom practices have been shown to widen student knowledge base. VCL allows students to experiment, possibly resulting in a mastery of multiple skills.<br />3. PILOT PROGRAM<br />In partnership with IBM, North Carolina Central University (NCCU) provided Hillside New Tech students with access to three VCL images.<br />3.1 NCCU & IBM Initiative<br />NCCU Professor’s initiated this project in particular because it continues their research to develop a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach program using VCL. NCCU’s program, Virtualization – Information Communication Technology Outreach to Re-energize Youth (VICTORY) focuses on engaging schools into a technology rich environment where students have access to tools that expand the classroom environment. A goal of VICTORY is to increase the pipeline of students who are interested in technology and could possibly major in disciplines of STEM. By introducing high school students who are a direct channel to universities and colleges to VCL they are exposing them to new found technologies that could possibly major in an STEM discipline and in the future create a workforce of IT professionals.<br /> <br />3.2 Hillside New Tech<br />Hillside New Tech (HNT) High school is a “new, small, STEM high school located in Durham, North Carolina (STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and was established before the 2007-2008 school year. Hillside New Tech is designed to offer a break from the traditional high school experience. New Tech offers a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio, Project-Based Learning, and a small school environment designed to build strong working relationships with teachers and fellow students.” It was chosen as the school to launch the pilot program because it is local and it relatively focuses on technology through computer-assisted education practices. <br />3.3 VCL Images<br />The goals of the HNT pilot program were to introduce students to programming using animation and hands-on labs, as well as enhance their analytical and problem solving skills. The three images provided to the students (Alice, Digital Media, and Microsoft Office Suite 2007) were all Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) compliant. This assured that all images provided contained internet filters and other technology measures to protect children from harmful online content. <br />3.3.1 Alice Image<br />Alice see Figure 3 below is a 3D programming environment that allows a user to create an animation to either play an interactive game or tell a story among other things. It is a free teaching tool for beginners that teach object-oriented programming (i.e. Java, C++, and C#). A English course used the Alice image to enhance students ability to identify elements of drama, analyze dramatic elements, understand foreshadowing, summarize scenes from plays, and understand the chronological order in regards to events.<br />Figure 3 Alice Image<br />3.3.2 Digital Media Image<br />The Digital Media image provided students with Google Sketch-up and Microsoft Expression see Figure 4. Google Sketch-Up is a 3D modeling program designed for engineers, and other IT professionals that allows placement of models. Microsoft Expression is a collection of tools for designing and building web and Windows client applications. The objective of the students using the Digital Media image was to allow students to enhance their websites by using cutting edge software.<br />Figure 4 Digital Media Image<br />3.3.3 Microsoft Office Suite 2007 Image<br />Microsoft Office Suite 2007 is a well-known collection of applications from Microsoft Corporation that gives a user a wide range of capabilities and features. The applications that were provided in the Microsoft image were Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, and Publisher. The image was not associated with a course at (HNT) but was to expose students to programs to enhance their schoolwork and projects. Applications in Microsoft Office Suite offer user-friendly graphical interface and a chance for students to gain experience with software that is used by most of the business world today.<br />4. RESULTS <br />The Hillside Pilot Program was run from October 2009 through May 2010 with 138 students and three instructors who used VCL. During the pilot program there were significant amount of usage see Figure 5. The largest amount of usage came from the Alice image totaling 1,811 hours 2 minutes and 19 seconds. The second largest amount of usage came from the Digital Media image with 1,045 hours 28 minutes and 52 seconds. The image that was used the least was the Microsoft Office Suite 2007 image, the amount of usage totaled 732 hours 17 minutes and 29 seconds. <br />Figure 5 Pilot Program Usages<br />For HNT School hours are between the times of 7:15am-2:45pm, VCL images were available to students outside of class. Usages by reservation count inside of class see Figure 6<br />Totaled 3,446 and out of class usage totaled 415. 12% of usage was a result of student use away from school.<br />Figure 6 In-Class Usages<br />Figure 7 Out-of-Class Usages<br />4.1 Student Feedback<br />After pilot program ended students seemed to be motivated to use computers in a whole new way. Students have been given a new perspective of computer uses, a 10th-grader at Hillside New Tech said, “The best thing about VCL is just the fact that it has many programs you can use that aren't usually available to students that make your life easier." (Reed 2011) Other students have stated that VCL are helpful, by helping them to obtain new versions of software to accomplish their school work. One student in particular pointed out that, "VCL gave me a chance to use programs that helped me look at human genetics and create my own virtual world." <br />The VCL has increased students levels of involvement and has some students considering a change in future careers, “…..Before, I used to want to be a lawyer, but now I think I should do something in graphic design because I really like designing things." <br />5. DISCUSSION<br />The overall amount of usage totaled to 3,588 hours 48 minutes and 40 seconds. In active learning the responsibility of learning is jointly shared and in this pilot program students took it among themselves to log on to VCL both inside and outside of the classroom. Students accessed VCL outside of school approximately 415 times taking it upon themselves to get their work done through VCL. This can possibly be the result of students maximizing their full usage time of the VCL. The Microsoft Office Suite 2007 image was not associated with a class meaning that all access to this image was self-initiated. <br />The program was a major success; IBM has as a result announced the opening of a new data center in Research Triangle Park, NC showcasing a cloud computing solution with NCCU. It will enable HNT to gain access to educational materials and software for classroom use.<br />6. CONCLUSION<br />The introduction of sophisticated technology may likely get students interested in becoming IT developers and not just consumers sooner. It will also accelerate learning by the students’ interaction with new technologies on a regular basis. Interaction with VCL can inspire creative thinking with students and excite them about coursework that will in turn increase the willingness to participate in active learning. As a result of this pilot program there has been evidence shown that VCL interests students enough to help them increase productivity within the classroom. The future of classroom education could possibly advance young teenagers to design and create endless possibilities. This pilot program illustrates that VCL can be used to enhance education to allow students with just an Internet connection the chance to use software and resources to advance as individuals, students, and ultimately business professionals.<br />REFERENCES<br />Bonwell, C. (2000) Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. Active Learning Workshops.<br />Bonwell, C. and Eison, J. (1991) Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.<br />Buyya, R. Yeo, C. Venugopal, S. Broberg, J. Brandic, I. (2008) Cloud computing and emerging IT platforms: Vision, hype, and reality for delivering computing as the 5th utility. Future Generation Computer Systems 25, (599-616)<br />Chen, M. (2010) In the ‘clouds’ with Big Blue.<br />Chickering, A. and Gamson, Z. (1987) Seven Principles of Good Practice. AAHE Bulletin 39:3-7. ED 282 491. 6 p. MF-01; PC-01<br />Cross, P. (1987) Teaching for Learning. AAHE Bulletin 39:3-7. ED 283 466. 6 pp. MF-01; PC-01.<br />Davis, S. (2010) The Security Up There; An In-Depth Look at Cloud Security. National BDPA Conference. pg. 1, 2-4<br />Durham Public Schools. (2008) History, Demographics, Affiliations. Hillside New Tech<br />Ericksen, S. (1984) The Essence of Good Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.<br />Eynon, R. (2008) ‘The use of the world wide web in learning and teaching in higher education: reality and rhetoric’, Innovation in Education and Teaching International, 45: 1, 15-23<br />Furht, B. Escalante, A. (2010) Handbook of Cloud Computing. New York, NY: Springer Science.<br />Harris, A. Rea, A. (2009) Web 2.0 and Virtual World Technologies: A Growing Impact on IS Education. 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