Product Review: LabConnection Online Certification Training Tool
LabConnection, created by dti Publishing, is an online study resource designed to accompany a textbook and instructor-led course. There are a number of texts and subjects you can choose from, including Network+ (6th and 7th edition), Security+, and Windows Server for exams 70-410, 70-411, and 70-412, among others.
For this review I used the labs for the Network+ Guide to Networks, 7th Edition, by Jean Andrews, Jill West and Tamara Dean, ISBN 10: 1-305-090942, so any specifics I happen to mention will reference that. Also, I was accessing the student portal, so I can't speak to the instructor side of the product. Let's begin!
After logging into LabConnection, it took me just a bit to get going because I'm a bit slow on the uptake and kept trying to launch the labs by clicking on the instructional videos. After I sorted that out, however, the labs and I had a great time together. They were soothingly narrated by a gentleman with a deep voice and they mostly involved multiple-choice questions or drag-and-drop interfaces.
If I got stuck or curious, I could click the "Show Me" button to launch a pop-up window containing the answer to that particular question. The dark color scheme and deep narration served to make the experience more immersive, but I was glad they included an option to turn the voice off. Fair warning, though: If you click the "show me" button, the voice will play anyway.
To warm up, I ran through the first few exercises of the first chapter. These were not labs, strictly speaking, and mostly consisted of multiple-choice questions and dropping checkmarks onto network diagrams. It was adequate, but nothing particularly exciting.
I took some time to poke around the interface and familiarize myself with the features. Again, everything was straightforward, if not exactly inspiring. I had an insider tip, however, that there were better things farther along — so like a good English student I skipped the next several chapters and focused on the later sections.
The labs (yes, strictly speaking this time) are really where the product gets a chance to shine. These weren't available in the earlier chapters, which mostly handled abstracts, overviews, and basics. Because the later material deals with more specifics and step-by-step instruction, the labs they've built are very detailed.
Using the labs, I walked through a router configuration, set up a computer to access the router, and learned how to set up a virtual machine using the VirtualBox program, all without ever actually risking my hardware.
Here's what to look for if you'd like to use LabConnection:
First, on the main page, there are instructional videos for just about everything you can do on the site. The experience itself is fairly streamlined and not difficult to figure out, but if you get stuck at any point, everything you're likely to ask about is right there.
As you study the chapters in the textbook, complete the corresponding exercises and labs. Remember as you do so that the goal isn't to "win" the exercise — the "Show Me" button makes that approach rather pointless! Instead, the idea is to get a better feel for the parts of the chapter that you may want to review. Note that each lab begins with an overview, including the chapter and pages it is taken from. I would recommend having your book open so you can follow along!
The site also offers exams, but your instructor will need to provide a class code for these.
You can keep track of the labs and exams you've taken in the "Class Overview" page, which provides a run-down of everything you've done so far, as well as the score, grade, and missed questions for each lab. This can be a valuable tool for self-evaluation! In instances where your lab performance doesn't count towards your grade, I would recommend keeping any bad answers in there, so you know what you need to study more in the future.
More than anything else, absolutely take advantage of the labs. The available labs are practical, engaging, and specific exercises that take you as close as you can get to hands-on experience outside of actually doing it. It's a great chance to practice and learn the look and feel of actually completing the learned tasks with minimal preparation time.
Overall, LabConnection is an excellent accompaniment to any technical course. The exercises are a great evaluation tool, and the labs helped me visualize and familiarize myself with the specific tasks listed. My biggest qualm is that, while each lab comes with a remediation plan, the plans don't load smoothly. Beyond that, however, LabConnection is a very enjoyable and useable solution that keeps pace with the material it's teaching. I would be happy using this product in the future.