Posted by Allen Schiano, Director of Academic Services, UCI. The general trend in student computing needs has revolved around getting applications and materials to students’ computers and mobile devices. However, there is still a need to provide computing lab environments for students. These spaces support instruction as homework, as well as projects that require expensive and difficult-to-license commercial applications, such as statistical, mathematical, and scientific software. But it is getting harder to find space on campus to build more dedicated computing labs.
One solution to this dilemma comes from the virtual computing lab (VCL) environment. Led by North Carolina State, a consortium of universities has built an infrastructure and web-based VCL service that is available to others. After trying several commercial solutions, the UC Irvine Office of Information Technology chose to partner with Cal State Fullerton (CSUF), a VCL consortium member, to provide VCL services to the UCI undergraduate community. After a pilot testing period, the VCL services were expanded and put into full production for 2015-2016. Usage has been increasing each quarter, and we expect usage to be on a par with CSUF and other consortium members by this summer.
With the VCL service, students can reserve a session to use all the standard software provided within UCI’s ‘hard’ computing labs and classrooms where instructors have chosen applications critical to their homework and projects. With the exception of applications with severe graphical or networking demands, students can perform from home or other locations the computational tasks that used to require they come to or traverse campus at all hours of the day and night.
CSUF and the VCL consortium are still looking for schools to partner with to expand the service. If you are interested in joining the group, please contact Son Nguyen of UCI’s Instructional Labs Support group (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To see how to access and use the VCL, visit the UCI Office of IT website for more detail, including a video.