Remote Computer Lab Access for Instructors

Introduction to Lab Connect

With the decision to deliver instruction online for the Fall term, IST has been working to prepare remote access solutions for computing labs on North Campus. The Lab Connect remote access service has been used during Spring and Summer terms with considerable success. IST has decided to proceed with offering remote access during the Fall term using Lab Connect. 

This is a new service, and throughout the semester there may be optimizations and changes to ensure that the environment runs smoothly for everybody. Thank you for your patience and if you have any feedback, please reach out to ist@ualberta.ca.

Prior to using this service, there are some important limitations and best practices that instructors and students should be aware of.

Understanding Remote Access Options

To understand and gain access to this environment, please see Understanding Remote Access Options.

Important Limitations 

Just like a physical lab, virtual labs have a limited number of seats for students to access. IST has a fixed amount of infrastructure resources that are available to deliver remote access sessions to campus. IST will actively monitor the Lab Connect environment throughout the fall term and will adjust the environment to allow for as many sessions as possible.

While we believe there is sufficient capacity for all courses to access the environment, during peak periods some students may not be able to access the environment on the first try. IST is unable to provide guaranteed access to the Lab Connect service for instructors or students. Anybody unable to access the system is advised to try again at a later time.

Sessions will be accessed on a first come, first served basis. To support this, all sessions will be provided for a maximum of 4 hours. Users will be notified and disconnected after this time.

There are various areas where the limitations on capacity and software licencing will have the greatest impact:

  • Assessment
    • No Timed Exams
  • Cannot guarantee access
    • Large synchronous courses
    • Specialized Software licences 
    • GPU enabled labs

Assessment

  • Timed and proctored exams are not supported by IST. Access to the system cannot be guaranteed and the exam security is a very challenging problem.
  • Please refer to Delivering Remote Exams for best practices and suggestions for delivering fully remote exams using the eClass quiz activity or determining alternative assessment options. 
  • Have options and policies for students who have technical difficulties during time sensitive projects.

Large Synchronous Courses

IST is unable to provide remote access for synchronous classes that have combined sections or large seat capacities that exceed the number of physical seats within a specific lab environment. 

Instructors are strongly encouraged to offer asynchronous instruction for your courses.

Specialized Software licences

Due to software license restrictions, IST is only able to provide access to software in compliance with software agreements. While clients may be able to gain access to a remote lab session, they may be unable to run software within that session if the license limits have been exceeded.

Common software that have licensing restrictions are, but not limited to, the following:

  • SPSS for Windows
  • ARCGIS for Windows

If you are using software that is unique to your Department or Faculty, please double check any licensing limitations with your software vendor or departmental contact.

Graphics processing Unit (GPU) Enabled Labs

Courses with access to GPU enabled labs may have additional difficulties connecting to the environment.  This is due to the limited number of licences and supporting infrastructure.  It is critical to recommend that students follow the best practices on when to use and log-out.

Best Practices

  • Be careful when scheduling large multi-section lab sessions. These activities may fail for some students due to access or capacity issues.
  • Deliver content asynchronously (where possible) to stagger when students interact with the labs.
  • Plan for failure.  Due to the number of technical difficulties that can arise for students accessing remote systems, plan some flexibility and avoid time sensitive, high stakes assessment types.
  • Record delivered sessions through Zoom for students who were unable to access due to technical or capacity difficulties
  • Please provide your students with information on how to connect to the environment.  This information can be found on the Using Lab Connect website. Students are recommended to:
    • Sign out after finishing using the system by using the Sign Out icon on the desktop.
    • Connect to the Lab Connect for synchronous course instruction during your scheduled class date/time.
    • Use the environment outside of business hours for homework and projects where possible. (08:00 to 17:00 M through F)
    • Remember to save your work frequently, sessions are limited to 4 hours and once you sign out the data is gone!