Open Networking Lab: online practical learning of computer networking

Rosewell, Jonathan; Kear, Karen; Jones, Allan; Smith, Andrew; Donelan, Helen; Mikroyannidis, Alexander; Peasgood, Alice; Sanders, Chris; Third, Allan; Wermelinger, Michel; Moss, Nicky; Williams, Judith and Connolly, Teresa (2018). Open Networking Lab: online practical learning of computer networking. In: The Online, Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference: Blended and online Learning: Changing the Educational Landscape, 10-12 Oct 2018, Aarhus University, Denmark.

Abstract

Learning to configure computer networks is a topic requiring a substantial practical component and suggesting a pedagogic approach that foregrounds experiential learning. However, providing appropriate computer networking hardware is expensive for classroom labs, and is not viable for individual distance learners.

Simulation offers an alternative basis for practical learning and supports a range of modes, from individual distance learning to in-class blended learning. Sophisticated network simulation packages, such as Cisco’s Packet Tracer, have high fidelity to networking devices and can simulate complex network scenarios. Unfortunately their complex interfaces make it difficult for a novice student to engage productively.

The Open Networking Lab (ONL) will provide online resources for students of introductory computer networking. It will take an activity-centred approach, supported with video and screencasts, in preference to lengthy text. Practical activity is based on PT Anywhere, a network simulator that provides students with an easy-to-use, browser-based interface over Cisco’s Packet Tracer. PT Anywhere thus provides fully authentic simulation but, by only revealing a subset of features, supports a carefully scaffolded approach to teaching and learning.

We report at an early stage in the development of the ONL. Material is being piloted with students at UK Further Education colleges. Evaluation will include observation, surveys and interviews with students and staff; PT Anywhere also provides learning analytics. A further stage of development will culminate in a badged open course on the Open University’s OpenLearn platform.

The ONL will provide vocational learning at scale in educational institutions, employment contexts and for individual learners.

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