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Virtual labs open up possibilities

By Terri Hughes-Lazzell
Yemisi Bolumole wanted her students to use software they would encounter when working in the supply chain management field. However, a lack of open computer labs on campus where her students could use the software they would find in industry was an issue.

A student in the  Logistics and Transportation Management course at MSU uses a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure for the class.  Photo by Alan Piñon
A student in the Logistics and Transportation Management course at MSU uses a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure for the class.
Photo by Alan Piñon

So, the Michigan State University Broad College of Business assistant professor in supply chain management found a way to bring the lab to her students—virtually.

Bolumole uses VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) in her Logistics and Transportation Management course that allows her students to have “lab” access through their laptops, tablets, or smartphones—broadening what her students learn.

The lab is held in one of MSU’s Rooms for Engaged And Active Learning (REAL) that feature an instructor station, four flat panel displays around the room, dual flat panel displays at each table, and whiteboards around the room for each table. The room allows Bolumole to give instructions to teams around the class using the displays.

The virtual lab allows her students to use SAP software—an enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool—the same or similar to the ERP software used by a significant number of companies, especially those that recruit from the Broad College, she said.

“I like my students to have hands-on opportunities, to use the tools they will use in industry,” Bolumole said. “It adds to learning.”

And she is quick to explain that she is not teaching technology; her students are using technology as a learning interface. The online virtual lab allows students to interface with teammates and use different skill sets while learning supply chain management concepts.

For Tony Edgecomb, a supply chain management junior, his expectations for the class were exceeded, since he wasn’t anticipating what the virtual lab opened up for him in terms of real-world experience.

“We got to do so much more with software programs, like SAP,” he said.

During the course, students were also exposed to LogicTools LogicNet—a supply chain network optimization software tool. Students participated in a packaging activity, focusing on logistics and transportation. They even designed the layout of a grocery store. Using the software, the students’ designs were based on what they determined to be a good flow for the store. Then, they went “shopping” and learned more about logistics and the need for items to be in certain areas of a store. This learning experience was possible because they had access to a “computer lab” that provided industry tools for best practices.

Bolumole said the lab experiences allow for team-based and collaborative learning—something that prepares students again for what they will experience in the business world.

Before VDI opened up the lab experience using the REAL classrooms at MSU, Bolumole would search for an open computer lab anywhere on campus and reserve it. That meant her class met in numerous locations throughout the semester, causing confusion. Also, her classes averaged 40-50 students, while many campus computer labs normally hold 20. These options were not real solutions, either. So she put together a plan—a permanent solution.

Working with MSU’s Information Technology Council, she learned about VDI. Instead of the students sitting in a computer lab with the actual software installed on the computers in front of them, the operating system is on a central MSU server and accessed through an Internet connection from any computer or smart device.

Bolumole compares her labs to teaching in a flipped classroom where instruction is often online and outside of the classroom. But instead, she and students are present and working in virtual team-based labs, similar to how teams may function in a global company with team members around the world.

As students work from their own computers, she can assign different tasks to team members—again similar to the workplace.

“By using this (VDI), I’m able to gain more experience with things that I will use in future jobs,” said Alexa Rosochacki, a junior in supply chain management.


Eli Broad College of Business

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