Pilot testing of the NSALAB Learn educational platform has been successfully completed

Cloud Computing Education AZURE
The NSALAB team has completed the project of a pilot MVP for an inclusive digital environment (NSALAB Learn) for advanced training in the field of modern information technologies in the Republic of Belarus in cooperation with the Francisk Skorina Gomel State University (GSU). This digital environment was implemented within the framework of the project on "Knowledge Management and Capacity Building in Russia–UNDP Partnership".

The project was proposed by the team on the hypothesis that training in contemporary information technologies can be organized in a much more efficient way in the form of short practice-oriented courses with automatic evaluation of practical work. This approach implies that students are not tied to large groups, as well as to teachers and their schedules, but they can learn the lessons and do practical work at their own pace.

As part of the pilot testing of the platform, students and tutors of the Department of Automated Information Processing Systems of the Faculty of Physics and Information Technology of the GSU were given access to the developed platform, where they were invited to take an author’s course on “Fundamentals of Cloud Computing in Microsoft Azure” in Russian.

At the end of the pilot testing of the platform, the project team talked to Vladislav, one of the platform users, to learn first-hand about the experience of completing the course and working with the platform.

Q: Vladislav, could you briefly tell us what is your major and what your fellow graduates mainly do?

A: I am a student of the Faculty of Physics and Information Technology of the second year of the major “Computer Security”. Many students of senior years already work as web-app developers in Java and .NET, some of them are engaged in the automation of business processes by ERP systems, there are also those who design and maintain corporate data transmission networks.

Q: Have you ever worked in cloud environments before as part of the learning process or on your own? If yes, describe briefly, what tasks you had to solve?

A: For a couple of years I have been renting a virtual private server (VPS) for all sorts of small tasks, for example, to organize my own proxy server. I used to think that when they talk about “using the cloud” they mean just such services. Now it has become clear that this area is much deeper than I could have imagined.

Q: How would you rate your level of understanding of the mechanisms of the “clouds” and, in particular, the Microsoft Azure infrastructure before you had the opportunity to independently complete training on the NSALAB Learn platform?

A: I have not worked with Microsoft Azure environment before. My knowledge on this topic was limited to creating virtual machines and managing records in the domain name system on the hosting provider.

Q: How difficult did the training material seem to you from a technical point of view? And to what extent, in your opinion, is it suitable for people with basic knowledge of IT?

A: The lessons were quite understandable and interesting. We have not yet started core subjects (mostly mathematics so far), so I cannot claim to have any deep IT knowledge, but at the same time I did not have any problems with its understanding.

Q: How do you evaluate the effectiveness of independent practice-oriented IT training using such platforms?

A: In general, it seemed convenient to me. If the information is interesting, you want to learn it faster. At the same time, when there is an opportunity to do practical tasks that are evaluated automatically, the speed of learning is much higher than if you had to wait for one of the teachers to check your laboratory tests.

Q: After completing the course, can you say that you understand how cloud computing works and can confidently solve basic tasks in the Microsoft Azure infrastructure?

A: I cannot call myself an expert yet, but the basic knowledge has definitely appeared. At least, I will quite confidently manage the basic tasks, which I did at laboratory assignments on the platform, because some of them had to be redone several times because I failed to do them in time :)

Q: Do you think if other disciplines from the information technology block were available on such a platform, including the possibility of automatic deployment of laboratory environments and their automatic evaluation, it could increase the efficiency of the educational process in such disciplines?

A: Probably, yes. The first thing that comes to mind is programming courses. One time I tried some free Python courses, there was an opportunity to use the built-in interpreter program, but the practical work was not evaluated there and I needed the help of an online translator as I did not know English that well. If such courses were in Russian and they involved automatic evaluation of laboratory assignments, it would be great. Probably, something similar can be done for courses on database administration or Linux operating systems.

Also, according to the feedback from respondents who have completed a pilot course on the platform, the majority of users:
  • positively evaluate their experience with the platform;
  • believe that the format of independent practical training is quite convenient for them;
  • before the training, used to think that they did not have sufficient knowledge and skills in the field of Cloud Computing, while after the training, they believe their knowledge and skills in this area has improved significantly;
  • basically, evaluate the quality of the developed materials above average;
  • evaluate the difficulty of the developed materials below average;
  • rather agree that the difficulty of the lessons matches their expectations.

The project team and partners aim to support the development of this platform and they are confident that this pilot has sufficient potential to ensure more equal access to advanced training and professional retraining in modern IT in the future, as well as to provide confident practical skills in the ICT to ensure employment, decent jobs and successful business.