New Virtual Learning Lab Coming To DMACC West Campus

Posted 3/4/2020

Lab will help prepare students for in-demand jobs in corporate data center environments

DMACC, the largest undergraduate college in Iowa, will unveil a new, cutting-edge Virtual Learning Lab (VLL) at the Microsoft Datacenter Academy located on its West Des Moines Campus, at 12:15 p.m. on Wed., March 11, during Celebrate! Innovation Live (ciLive!). The new lab incorporates state-of-the-art virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, providing students with a valuable opportunity to navigate within the large, complex and highly secured data centers located throughout Central Iowa via a simulated environment.

In 2018, the DMACC West Campus was selected to house the first Microsoft Datacenter Academy in the Midwest and only the fourth such academy in the nation. The academy provides students with training in infrastructure cabling, fiber optic testing, computer network connectivity and cybersecurity. Microsoft is providing approximately $30,000 in funding support for Phase I of the new Virtual Learning Lab's producti​on.

“The Microsoft Datacenter Academy on the DMACC West Campus is an incredible training resource, and the new Virtual Learning Lab will offer a one-of-a-kind learning experience for our students," said Jay Nickelson, Professor of Network Technology and Telecommunications at the DMACC West Campus. “The lab truly represents the future in higher education as it will help students perform tasks in a safe, virtual reality setting as they prepare for in-demand careers in large, corporate data centers."

Nickelson said DMACC receives numerous requests every week from national, regional and local technology companies that are looking to hire graduates with data center skills.

Virtual Learning Lab to simulate corporate data center environments

The new Virtual Learning Lab will include approximately 200 server racks, and is designed to incorporate the high-security and biometric controls that many real-world data centers use, including retinal scanners and key-card entry. The lab will simulate the type and style of work many data center technicians do every day. Students will be able to practice solutions in a “game type" mode by using virtual reality headsets and a virtual tablet to read work-order tickets and navigate the large virtual reality data center.

Microsoft has expressed a desire to replicate the Virtual Learning Lab technology in its other Datacenter Academies across the country based on its development at DMACC.

Bill McNish, a recent graduate of the DMACC Network Technology and Telecommunications program, said the new lab is a great example of how DMACC strives to prepare its graduates for real-world success.

“Theory is important, but it can only get you so far," McNish said. “The hand-on teaching style at DMACC was really helpful for me because when I now encounter issues in the field, I know what to look for because I've already experienced and dealt with those issues in labs or simulation at DMACC."

McNish also said DMACC is committed to growing and leading with technology.

“Technology changes every day, and it is important to change with it," McNish said. “When you make a commitment to a career in network technology, you are making a commitment to never stop learning. And DMACC has made that commitment, too."

The new Virtual Learning Lab will be used by students in the DMACC Network Technology and Telecommunications program, as well as students in all DMACC Information Technology classes on the College's West Campus.

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