FGV innovates and is first education institution in Brazil to use cloud-based virtual labs
The coronavirus has become a driver of digital transformation at companies. Institutions that were already prepared have taken a step forward in innovation. For example, FGV has been running its in-person courses in distance format, to continue to offer high-quality, state-of-the-art education to its students. It has also innovated by setting up virtual labs, which are now being used by students on FGV’s Big Data and Data Science courses, as well as students taking some master’s and non-degree courses.
The infrastructure for remote lab services is supplied by a cloud-based service provider. This platform was already available to FGV’s schools before the pandemic, but its use gained impetus because of COVID-19. FGV’s information and communications technology (ICT) area was already running a research and development project in this area. As a result of this initiative, FGV is the first education institution in Brazil to offer its students the option of using Microsoft virtual labs, together with all the infrastructure needed to take courses, in line with the public health authorities’ social distancing restrictions.
The adoption of virtual labs yields a range of benefits. They can be used to create machine models that are suitable for each course, with compatible settings and the necessary software already installed. They contain storage spaces in the cloud, where students can save their work. Thus, everyone has access to the same settings and processing capacity, while FGV does not have to maintain its own set of technically advanced, depreciating machines. In a matter of hours, a new lab can be set up and ready for students and professors to use. There are several other benefits, including electricity savings, the freeing up of physical laboratory spaces, and the lifting of restrictions on the number of students per classroom.
FGV’s ICT area formed a task force to implement these labs in recent time. This work involved professionals in FGV’s infrastructure area (implementation), service desk (support), distance education area (training) and governance area (flows and processes). More than 400 students are now using this platform, which can be accessed remotely from any computer with an internet connection, offering all the tools needed to do the course or thesis in question. According to Julio César Chaves, the ICT coordinator in FGV’s research infrastructure governance area and José Ricardo Cavalcante, FGV’s ICT infrastructure manager, the use of virtual labs in classes is disruptive, opening up new dimensions of use and support. They say there are big gains in scale that would not be possible in a physical lab.
“This is disruptive for education. It’s a new reality, which is spreading every day at FGV,” they say.