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A Virtual Computer Lab for Distance Biomedical Technology Education.
BACKGROUND: The National Library of Medicine's National Center for Biotechnology Information offers mini-courses which entail applying concepts in biochemistry and genetics to search genomics databases and other information sources. They are highly interactive and involve use of 3D molecular visualization software that can be computationally taxing.
METHODS: Methods were devised to offer the courses at a distance so as to provide as much functionality of a computer lab as possible, the venue where they are normally taught. The methods, which can be employed with varied videoconferencing technology and desktop sharing software, were used to deliver mini-courses at a distance in pilot applications where students could see demonstrations by the instructor and the instructor could observe and interact with students working at their remote desktops.
RESULTS: Student ratings of the learning experience and comments to open ended questions were similar to those when the courses are offered face to face. The real time interaction and the instructor's ability to access student desktops from a distance in order to provide individual assistance and feedback were considered invaluable.
CONCLUSION: The technologies and methods mimic much of the functionality of computer labs and may be usefully applied in any context where content changes frequently, training needs to be offered on complex computer applications at a distance in real time, and where it is necessary for the instructor to monitor students as they work.