Mason Receives 2009 Governor’s Technology Award

Posted: November 3, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm

By Dave Andrews and Jennifer Edgerly

George Mason University was recently congratulated by Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine for winning a Governor’s Technology Award. The awards are given annually to Virginia-based companies and institutions for excellence in use of information technology.

Mason received the Innovative Use of Technology in Higher Education Award for implementing the Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) .

The VCL is a time-, energy- and cost-saving initiative that enables faculty members and students to access specialized software from any computer with an Internet connection anywhere in the world, at any time. The VCL resolves many challenges associated with physical labs such as limited lab hours, limited space, travel time to campus, as well as the availability of complex tools for distance learners.

“What we’ve done is create a new computing environment,” says Sharon Pitt, executive director of the Division of Instructional Technology at Mason and director of the VCL.

“Anyone can access software such as Adobe Creative Suite, AutoCAD, Mathematica or GIS from their home, residence hall or local coffee shop any time of the day or night. The idea is that it will no longer be necessary to come to campus during lab hours to use these applications.”

The code for the VCL was developed at North Carolina State University and made openly available for other institutions to use.

In addition to being recognized for the improvements it made to the system, Mason was also praised for coordinating and hosting the other Virginia institutions using the VCL, including the College of William & Mary, James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University. As host, Mason provides the system management software and the technical infrastructure for those institutions.

Mason is trying to accommodate the many private and public universities across the state that have expressed interest in accessing the VCL. The system’s popularity is evident on Mason’s campus; the VCL attracted an additional 300 new student users within the past two weeks.

“Clearly the VCL has become an effective and convenient tool that focuses on students and helps faculty enhance the learning environment,” Pitt says.

“We are hopeful our success, coupled with the recognition of this award, will help us build the momentum we need to keep the system growing in size and scope.”

The Governor’s Technology Awards were presented at the 11th annual Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium in Williamsburg, Va. Honorees were determined independently by a judging panel of Virginia government information technology professionals. Judges included representatives of state, local and educational government interests.

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