The University of Alberta has launched a Virtual Computing Lab service for the start of the spring 2014 semester to provide virtual workstations for students. This service replaces the need for physical computer labs on campus. The system allows students to access the software they utilize in class from a 'virtual machine', doing away with the need for on-campus workstations and opening the door for more efficient use of software licenses.
The Lab was piloted by Cybera, Alberta's not-for-profit advanced technology agency, in collaboration with the University of Alberta over a two and a half year period, beginning in late 2011 with one economics course. Since then, over 6,500 virtual machines were created, 15,000 hours of reservations made, and 1,800 students in 43 classes participated.
As well as the University of Alberta, the Virtual Computing Lab was also piloted at the University of Lethbridge and by several other educational groups from 2011-2014. The service has now been transitioned to be run full-time by the University of Alberta's IT staff, who will continue to offer it to faculty and students.
The Virtual Computing Lab benefits both students and their learning institutions: students can access their course software at any time, from any location with an internet connection, without having to work on campus. It also frees up campus space for classrooms, reducing the need for physical computer workstations and their costly maintenance and upgrades.
"This project nicely demonstrates the efficiencies that can be achieved through close collaborations between like-minded organizations," says Robin Winsor, President and CEO of Cybera. "The University of Alberta is a leader in adopting technologies that enhance students' learning experiences, and we are thrilled to have piloted a service that will improve both the University's bottom line and the students' studying opportunities."
Cybera's staff will be presenting the modifications it made to the Virtual Computing Laboratory system at a major software conference being held in Atlanta later this month, as well as contributing code back to the open source Virtual Computing Laboratory project.
They are also looking at the next generation of virtualized application tools for education, and are seeking post-secondary institutions who are interested in piloting this technology.
To find out more about virtualization tools, and how to be a part of future pilot projects, please contact Cybera's project management team.