Classroom and Lab Technologies’ Virtual Computing Lab is currently available for use by students. The VCL allows students to use programs such as Microsoft Word, MatLab and SPSS free of charge.

Mason developed the VCL as a joint venture with Virginia Commonwealth University. According to Mike Fletcher, manager of Computing Sciences in CaLT, the VCL was originally designed by North Carolina State University and launched in 2006 but underwent major changes and was relaunched by Mason in October 2011.

The VCL is a way for anyone with Mason credentials to remotely access programs available through on-campus labs. Mason students can access programs offered through the VCL anywhere in the world.

According to Fletcher, the VCL works through a type of computing called virtual machines.

“Virtual machines is really running an operating system inside another operating system,” Fletcher said.

This allows anyone using the VCL to use programs licensed by Mason as if they were running on a home computer.

“Once you initiate the remote desktop connection, you get windows that look just like your home computer,” Fletcher said.

Programs currently available through the VCL include Microsoft Office, SPSS, MatLab and SASS. More programs, such as Photoshop and AutoCAD, are currently under consideration. Certain programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, are not widely available for use in computer labs around campus; however, CaLT aims to change that.

The Department of Instructional Technology’s efforts to expand program offerings are complicated by software developers’ licensing and purchasing requirements.

“Software licensing is our big headache that we deal with around here,” Fletcher said. “Most companies fight us tooth and nail because we are going to cut their profits, because they would rather have students buy it and here we are trying to provide it to the students. We are trying to figure out a way [where] both the software providers and we have a win on this.”

The VCL is updated periodically with new software and fixes to address problems. According to Fletcher, the VCL maintains a four-hour maintenance window on Sundays between 6 and 10 a.m., however an update is only made once or twice per month. Additionally, DoIT is planning a major VCL software upgrade in April.

In order to ensure that the VCL is meeting all of its users’ needs, CaLT appreciates  feedback regarding the VCL.

“We want feedback all the time,” Fletcher said. “Any type of feedback, [even] beyond the VCL. If you have feedback about classrooms or anything within a lab, we would like to hear about it.” Users can send feedback about classroom or lab technologies to CaLT at