Leading a Revolution in Virtual Training
In Part 1: A Revolution in Virtual Training, we looked at the challenges facing training professionals in today’s enterprise learning climate, and how the cloud is helping to overcome them. In Part 2, we’ll look at practical examples of how Skytap Cloud is allowing training professionals to reinvent the classroom environment.
Setting Up a Virtual Classroom
Virtual classrooms can be tailored to suit specific course needs and virtual machines can be powered up in a matter of seconds. Classroom administrators log in to Skytap Cloud™, and create a classroom environment using pre-configured server and client machine templates. These templates can be images captured from existing virtual machines and can easily be imported into Skytap Cloud. Alternatively, virtual classroom configurations can be created from scratch using any of the numerous operating systems and database templates available in the Skytap public library.
Each classroom (or configuration) resides on its own private network. Instructors have a high degree of control over the network settings in the classroom, including the ability to change the hostname of a virtual machine, use static IP addresses within a virtual subnet, map network drives within the subnet, run their own DNS or WINS servers within the subnet, and more. Internet access from the virtual machines can also be turned on or off.
During class, there is often a need to provide students with lab files. In preparation for this, an instructor will typically download materials to a shared folder on a single server machine in the virtual classroom to which the student machines are mapped. In this way, the instructor can easily share the software installers and lab files required for a particular course.
To prepare for a course in which the labs build upon each other, instructors can create a snapshot of the virtual machines at the end of each lab.
Fig. 1 Creating a Classroom Lab from a Pre-Built Template
A capture like this lets an instructor help a student, who may have had trouble on a previous lab, continue on to the next lab by providing a snapshot of a virtual machine with prior exercises completed.
Before a class, instructors will invariably want to control what students can access and when they can access it. Skytap provides full access control settings. A best practice is for the instructor to configure Skytap settings, specifying the hours when a machine is available to students, and whether or not the student can power on the machine. Because machines can be accessed from anywhere, the instructor may decide to allow students to access machines even during non-classroom hours.
During class delivery, each student accesses his or her dedicated virtual machine desktop via SmartClient™, a standard web browser running a Java applet, or via a Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) client. A student is sent a unique web URL with the class registration email to access their machine. With a full screen view of the desktop, the student may soon forget that the labs are not running on their local machine. In addition, the instructor will have access to some very helpful features, including:
Fig. 2 Instructor Over-the-Shoulder View for Monitoring Progress and Assisting Students
Over the Shoulder
Instructors can monitor student progress, and if a student requests assistance during a lab, the instructor can easily access the student’s desktop and assist. Both the student and the instructor will see the same view of the desktop simultaneously. Unlike web conferencing tools, there is no need to share the desktop or grant presenter privileges back and forth. This feature, in combination with an audio conferencing tool, provides a lab troubleshooting capability as good as if the student and the instructor were in the same room together.
Add Hardware Resources
One of the powerful features available within Skytap is the ability to create virtual machine snapshots. Using the snapshot feature, the instructor can save a copy of a machine at any time. This feature provides the ability for the instructor’s support staff to unobtrusively help the instructor troubleshoot a student’s lab issue on a cloned copy of the machine, while the student can continue on to other labs. Once the solution is discovered on the cloned machine, the support staff can discretely communicate the fix to the instructor who can then instruct the student how correct the issue.
Fig. 3 Students Access Virtual Machines Using a Web Browser or a Remote Desktop Client
Snapshots are also a good way to revert a machine back to an earlier state. For example, instructors can snapshot machines that demonstrate irreversible software errors. Thus, giving students space to safely experiment without fear of losing work.
Once a set of class labs has been created, they can be saved back into the Skytap library as a template and easily deployed for future training sessions. Templates can also be customized. For example, an instructor may want to adjust standard training templates used by a colleague to better support his or her own personal training approach. Rather than make these adjustments to each machine every time a new classroom is created, the instructor can make the changes once, snapshot the changes, and use the snapshot as a new template in subsequent classes.
A template can be created as just one machine or an entire classroom of machines. Skytap has powerful automation and deployment capabilities, so once a template has been created, a new classroom can be deployed through the web interface in just a few minutes, saving hours of manual set-up time.
What Customers Are Saying
The key benefits of using Skytap Cloud that are typically cited by training organizations include:
Self-Service Control and Productivity
Instructors have self-service access to create classroom environments on demand. Unlike many traditional training lab vendors there is no need to send an email to acquire access to machines or add new machines to a classroom. Instructors have a greater sense of control since they can add, delete, copy, modify, and power on and off machines on their own. And the user interface is easy to learn and simple to use.
Skytap only charges for the actual minutes that machines run, and machines can be added on demand from a large pool of available resources. Instructors can power machines on or off as needed, and features like auto-suspend ensure machines are not left on inadvertently.
Student Learning Experience
Students can connect to their virtual machine via a browser or Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) client. The lab machine can be viewed in full-screen mode, making the experience of using the remote lab feel no different than using their own desktop. If the student needs assistance during a lab, the instructor can easily assist. Coupled with a web conferencing solution, Skytap provides the student with an immersive training experience.
Zero IT Administration
Labor-intensive cloning and software provisioning activities are eliminated because software no longer needs to be installed and configured locally. And there is no need to constantly upgrade equipment, since the heavy processing and memory demands on your lab machines are handled by Skytap Cloud infrastructure.
When instructors are geographically separated from their peers, they miss collaboration opportunities. With Skytap Cloud, instructors can explore lab scenarios and technical details of a software installation as if they are sitting together in front of a laptop in a conference room--without needing to web conference.
Taking technical training online without sacrificing the quality of the learning experience is a challenge common to many organizations. Many companies have yet to expand beyond the use of web conferencing tools for online course delivery. While these tools provide the ability to lecture, presents slides, and whiteboard concepts, they do not support the hands-on component so vital to effective technical training.
Skytap fills this gap by providing a hosted computing environment that students can easily access and instructors can fully control. Features like over-the-shoulder and thumbnail views give the instructor a real-time view of what the students are doing--providing opportunities to offer immediate lab assistance.
Skytap can also be used for standard ILT where the instructor is in the same physical classroom as the students. With this model, instructors no longer bear the burden of lengthy classroom pre-configuration tasks. Instead, an organization only needs to provide machines that have an Internet connection and a web browser to access Skytap from the classroom environment.
Whether delivering classes via virtual learning or a traditional classroom environment, Skytap can enable your organization to more efficiently and cost-effectively deliver training classes. It provides the missing component of hands-on learning during classes and helps create a genuinely immersive virtual training experience, while removing the burden and expense of costly in-house infrastructure and maintenance.
If you’re considering moving your training environment to the cloud, feel free to get in touch. We can walk you through the basics, show you a demo, or discuss pricing.