As the popularity of Distance Learning continues to grow, more and more academic institutions are developing content and delivery systems for Internet based "online" education. Although the delivery of content can be easily accomplished through one of several vendor applications, the problem of how to deliver associated lab instruction, especially in courses of a technical nature, is still being addressed. Lab environments may call for access to specific applications, products, and tools, and the feasibility of having every student locally install a required lab environment is low due to constraints with licensing, technical support, local hardware and software available, and the level of expertise of the end-user. The use of thin-client technology appears to present a solution to this problem. This report and presentation reviews the design and implementation of an Information Systems architecture that allows integration with content delivery systems in online and distance education programs by delivering a "virtual-lab" (V-lab) environment to the distance education student via the Internet. The integration point for the content delivery systems and the virtual-lab environment is the academic portal. Seamless integration of the two environments, through single sign on (SSO) at the portal level, can create a more comprehensive and powerful delivery platform for online instruction. By utilizing current compression and streaming technology from protocol vendors such as Citrix, the advent of the "thin-client laboratory", or V-lab, is here and is supported by an educational concept (pedagogy) and information system architecture that significantly advances the ability of organizations to deliver viable, quality instruction of application development tools, GUI based resources, and Information System modeling and data analysis tools via the web. Attendees of this presentation will be familiarized with the platform architecture and associated technologies used to integrate and deliver GUI application based tools with the academic course content through the Internet, as well as the concept of educational "infomediation". A live demonstration of the technology, along with sample course materials and techniques for integration, will be included in the presentation. The principle outcomes of the presentation will be a detailed analysis of the platform architecture and associated technologies, a suggested academic support model, a live demonstration of the technology, and associated deliverables for designing and implementing the system with new and existing organizational information systems. The relevance of the presentation to the Information Technology professional and Information Systems Educator is the study of the application of current Internet technology and platform architecture to support an increasing demand for online distance education in both the academic and corporate venues. The technology platform and pedagogical approaches suggested support both synchronous and asynchronous methods of instruction, and will actually support hybrid pedagogies exhibiting characteristics of both methods. This platform architecture and pedagogical approach was designed and is currently implemented by the MSCIT graduate school at Regis University in Denver, Colorado as part of an initiative to globalize graduate education in the field of Information Systems.
Keywords: distance learning, online education, online lab instruction, thin-client technology, virtual-lab environment, v-lab environment, academic portal, streaming technology
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