Remote Lab Access Supports IT Students

Hands-on solution allows information tech majors to complete labs anywhere, anytime

In March 2020, faculty in the Information Technology Careers (ITC) department at Inver Hills Community College were left in a bit of a conundrum due to on-campus learning restrictions introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ben Franske, PhD

Although many ITC instructors had been taking a flipped-classroom approach for several years, using recorded lectures and online discussions as components in their coursework, IT programs rely on giving students hands-on lab experience configuring and troubleshooting enterprise network equipment.

Ben Franske, PhD, ITC faculty at the college, has long recognized the challenge of offering students the means to complete critical, hands-on lab time while working remotely from home.

Starting in 2014, Ben focused on building a larger system that could be shared 24/7 by IT programs at many Minnesota State colleges and universities, reducing the installation and upkeep costs for individual institutions. Those efforts included two National Science Foundation (NSF) grant proposals as well as other federal funding requests.

Inver Hills remote lab access equipment gallery

More about the new remote lab access equipment at Inver Hills…

Once the pandemic hit, Ben scaled down his original proposals to meet the remote lab access needs of Inver Hills IT students, who would now be studying and learning from home.

“Our earlier work researching existing technologies meant we already had a good idea what we would need to deliver a great remote lab access experience to our students,” Ben said, noting the new project’s limited budget and tight schedule. “We saved money by moving and repurposing much of our department’s current lab equipment. We also made use of previously developed infrastructure instead of building a new greenfield system.”

To avoid buying more expensive components such as specific models of remote power control switches, Ben was able to write a new custom driver to work with less expensive alternatives from a different manufacturer.

Ben added that round-the-clock remote access to real enterprise network equipment is coordinated using NETLAB+ software created by the Network Development Group (NDG). That access is critical to delivering the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum and other IT courses at Inver Hills without the need for students to come to campus.

“Even when we are able to return to campus options for classes, the remote equipment will remain popular with our students,” Ben said. “Many will want the opportunity to do additional practice and experimentation on real equipment that would be too cost prohibitive to purchase on their own. Other IT degree students at Inver are working while attending school; they are looking for alternative times to do lab work such as on nights and weekends.”

Provided the opportunity to use CARES Act funding to support the purchase of remote lab access equipment in delivering our ITC courses remotely during the pandemic, the college showed the ability to quickly adjust instruction and learning in an application-intensive program.

As we move forward and out of the pandemic-driven instructional restrictions in future semesters, this technology will actually allow us to expand the ITC program, better utilizing all resources, and providing students more options for learning.

Stephen L. Strom, PhD
Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) & Social Sciences
Inver Hills Community College

It takes a college…

Tom McArdell helps oversee the technical side of the ITC department’s Cisco Networking Academy. Tom reported that the remote lab access project received tremendous support from the campus community and beyond.

“Notably, we were supported by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Tia Robinson-Cooper and her staff,” Tom said. “Vice President of Finance and Operations David Milton and Dean of STEM and Social Sciences Stephen Strom also provided essential assistance along with the college’s Business Office, Purchasing, Receiving, Facilities, IT, a contract electrician and the legal team at Minnesota State.”

Tom pointed out that remote lab access has been a real boon for IT students and their instructors. “Accessing lab time remotely benefits class organization and assessment on the instructor side,” he said. “Students get 24/7, hands-on access to real equipment along with a wide variety of hardware and software resources they would not normally possess.”

Network and Computer Systems Administrators

What Network and Computer Systems Administrators Do

Network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operation of computer networks.


The median annual wage for network and computer systems administrators was $83,510 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of network and computer systems administrators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for information technology (IT) workers is high and should continue to grow as firms invest in newer, faster technology and mobile networks.

Information Security Analysts

What Information Security Analysts Do

Information security analysts plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems.


The median annual wage for information security analysts was $99,730 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of information security analysts is projected to grow 31 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for information security analysts is expected to be very high, as these analysts will be needed to create innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or causing problems for computer networks.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook

More about Information Technology Careers at Inver Hills…

Information technology (IT) is a constantly changing field that covers every aspect of information management and processing, including implementing and maintaining a vast range of related technologies. IT professionals design, develop, support and manage computer hardware and software, information networks and the internet.

Real-world IT applications are essential to modern society, from basic computer software to sophisticated business networks to the systems that direct remote space exploration. A tremendous variety of lucrative career opportunities are open for capable and experienced IT professionals, especially in the area of cybersecurity. High-profile cyber attacks continue to make headlines around the world.

ITC degrees and certificates

Information Technology Support A.A.S. 60 credits

The Information Technology Support program trains workers for employment providing service to computer users, including hardware and software installation and technical assistance.


Network Technology and Security A.A.S. 60 credits

The Network Technology and Security program prepares students for rewarding careers in the dynamic field of computer networking and security.


Advanced Network Security certificate 15 credits

The Advanced Network Security certificate provides comprehensive knowledge and skills needed for IT professionals who have network security and information assurance responsibilities.


Advanced Network Technology certificate 12–15 credits

The Advanced Network Technology certificate provides IT employees with knowledge and skills needed to assume additional or higher-level responsibilities for a large enterprise networked environment.


IP Telephony certificate 15 credits

The IP Telephony certificate provides IT employees with the knowledge and skills to implement and administer these converged communications networks.


I.T. Help Desk certificate 15 credits

The I.T. Help Desk certificate provides the knowledge and skills for employment in entry-level positions that support end-users of technology in a networked environment.


Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certificate 15 credits

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certificate will provide the student necessary system administration skills to operate in the Microsoft server and client environment, and will provide the student training for the MCSA certifications in Windows Client and Windows Server.


Why Inver Hills?

Completing your Information Technology Careers (ITC) obligations at Inver Hills is smart on several key levels:

  1. You will receive an excellent education with one-on-one interactions with ITC faculty
  2. You will benefit from small class sizes while developing the practical, real-world skills needed for a career as a network computer systems administrator, information security analyst, software developer, software engineer, computer scientist, web developer, database administrator and more
  3. You will save money and continue your academic and professional careers with far less student debt

On a national scale, student loan debt has mushroomed to $1.53 trillion with 44.7 million borrowers and an average loan debt topping $37,000. Minnesota’s average debt per borrower in 2020 was $33,400, according to

Tuition and fees for one year at Inver Hills costs less than $5,500.¹ Compare that to $15,000 to $20,000 at a four-year school, or $40,000 to $50,000 at a private college or university. You can complete your first two years at Inver getting a topflight education working directly with ITC faculty and then transfer to a four-year university with junior-year status all while saving thousands of dollars.

Learn more about Information Technology Careers programs at Inver Hills by contacting:

Ben Franske
Network Technology and Security Faculty

Admissions Team
College Center

¹ Source: Tuition and Fees Chart: Minnesota: 2019–2020


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