Another critical campus area now moving to the cloud

Cloud-based virtual labs could become key for universities looking to save money and improve student learning.

In an innovative move, faculty from colleges and universities are working with a tech company to create fully mobile, real-world, cloud-based virtual labs.

Why? Because as Virginia-based IT solutions provider Aeronomy explains, harnessing cloud infrastructure to help alleviate strained funding is critical for one of STEM’s most invaluable resources: the lab.

Founded in 2013, Aeronomy initially began as an infrastructure-neutral, cloud-based solutions provider for businesses, but quickly discovered they could serve the higher education market as well by creating virtual labs that allow colleges and universities to save on costs and better support students.

“Many universities are not doing too well financially, and their old school ways are part of the reason for that,” said Aeronomy chairman and CEO K. Scott Bethke. “Our idea is that schools should collaborate more with what’s out there. Some of the basics can be totally improved by technology. It’s advantageous for all universities to offer [virtual labs], as it can level the playing field for them.”

Essentially, Aeronomy creates and manages private, community-based clouds which primarily host virtual labs for universities. Students can then access their virtual lab at any time and from any device. This is generally done through their web browser, though more technical courses sometimes necessitate downloading minor additional software.

These virtual labs can be used as blended learning components of traditional courses, or stand alone exclusively online.

Real-World Labs, Thanks to Faculty

To date, Aeronomy has created about 30 different types of labs for the likes of the University of Notre Dame and a top 3 online university, the majority of which have been for technical fields such as cyber security, forensics, data analytics and gaming development. Thus, the virtual labs often carry very specific requirements, such as creating fully secure and isolated environments for each student’s practice without repercussions on a campus network, while simultaneously allowing them to experience the most up-to-date tools that will be at their disposal when entering the workforce.

This also means ensuring that labs are created with direct faculty influence during their 4-8 week development.

“Our uniqueness lies in connecting with faculty…so that we can create labs that match their desired learning outcomes,” said Aeronomy COO Christopher Wade. “That way, we understand how the labs work and we can support students better, which is the end goal.”

(Next page: Student input on virtual labs; a smart support strategy)

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