Although at times technology seems to be making us dumber (speed dial has replaced my phone number memory, at least), its use in education and training should be exploited. A well-designed combination of personal and machine interfaces will resolve the challenges of different learning cultures: the digital natives ("What's a pen?"), the digital naives ("What's a PIN?"), and the digital tourists ("Can I borrow your pen/PIN?").
Not surprisingly, the information assurance (IA) field is primed for digital content and virtual labs. Regis' Academic Research Network, affectionately known as ARNe, leverages hardware with virtualization software to provide a learning environment for students. Not for technophobes, ARNe can be used as a platform for experimenting safely with the different tools introduced in classes (in-person or on-line) without risking the integrity of personal or corporate computers. Students learn to use the capabilities of virtual hosts to take snapshots of the virtual environments they create so that they can return to more successful versions (or instantiations), thus allowing an iterative process of trial-and-error in which no bytes are damaged in the process. This is especially helpful for the more hesitant learners who fear making a mistake -- or for the technically challenged who are expanding into a technology field without many hours of hands-on operational experience. The technical experts can experiment with virtual networks and machines to more quickly understand the inter-workings of the relationship between middleware, software and networks.
With a virtual lab, students who do not have physical access to Regis' Denver Tech Center (DTC) facilities are not penalized (although using biometrics as one dimension of multi-factor authentication for access to DTC resources is instructive and fun). Let’s face it; most IT work is done remotely from distant venues and virtualization technology means that power use is reduced, both as a direct consequence of fewer servers being deployed and indirectly because fewer servers mean less heat generation and lower cooling requirements.
While working on virtual machines cannot yet supplant the actual, physical experience of working in the server room or data center -- it is not yet possible to replicate all the smells or sounds that indicate a possible problem, for example -- it does provide a meaningful introduction to a hypothetical environment more successfully than purely text-based learning. Well-designed class simulations can enhance the individual learning experience by adding group interactions. Students who are geographically disparate can meet in the virtual room to examine problems and negotiate solutions. This preparation is increasingly relevant outside the classroom: Companies and government agencies need a workforce that is mobile and competent in assembling quick response teams that include the necessary skill sets, independent of geocentric location.
Jennifer Kurtz is a technology and economic development consultant currently focused on information security and privacy. She has held appointments at Purdue and Ball State Universities in Indiana and currently teaches graduate courses in information assurance at Regis University in Denver. Her work in telecommunications includes leading Indiana’s statewide broadband infrastructure initiative as Indiana’s eCommerce Director, building and managing the telecommunications infrastructure for Delco Remy International, and co-authoring a 10-year strategic plan for the US Department of the Treasury. She recently wrote a chapter on data leakage prevention for a book published in early 2011 by the American Bar Association, The Data Breach and Encryption Handbook. Her degrees are from The American University and Anderson University.
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