July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Computing and Information Technology
The computer networking course is a critical component in the undergraduate computer science and engineering curriculum. In an era of mobile and ubiquitous computing, almost every embedded device can connect online to make full use of its potentials and accommodate task needs. Hence, a good understanding of computer networking opens doors for many high-tech jobs for our students. Traditionally, computer networking courses utilize switches and routers in the laboratory environment to give students hands-on projects to enhance their learning experience. However, due to the pandemic situation, many institutions have switched to online learning. The computer networking class is not allowed to access the physical networking equipment in the laboratories. Consequently, computer networking learning loses the critical element of the learning experience, on top of the challenge brought about by online learning.
While instructors could utilize packet capture tools such as Wireshark to teach popular networking protocols, the experience is still not matching the laboratory's real experience with networking equipment. The reason is that it lacks the design and implementation element with real equipment. An alternative is to have students run network simulations and emulations to explore various computer networking scenarios by commercial and open-source tools. One of the tools is Mininet, typically used in software-defined networking (SDN) research. Without configuring the SDN features, Mininet can still emulate many networking scenarios constructed in the networking laboratory and is more real than simulations.
This paper describes our practical way of teaching the computer networking course using hands-on activities with Wireshark and Mininet. Inspired by existing work in Wireshark and Mininet in their use, we designed our novel combination of the two in 12 laboratories. Students would first observe specific protocols by packet capture in Wireshark and then emulate networking scenarios in Mininet for the same protocols. As such, students would be able to investigate end systems and backbone routers in many networking scenarios. Given that students already felt challenged by online learning, our research question is whether our approach to designing the online laboratory through the hybrid-tool helped students remove online learning obstacles on computer networking. To assess our approach, we analyze a few factors and student attainment of the course learning outcomes. We considered students' online laboratory experience before the computer networking class and post-survey of their hybrid-tool online laboratories' experience as the factors. The evaluation of outcome includes the performance in the hybrid-tool online laboratories the final exam score. Additionally, we compiled input from the students on the hybrid-tool value during the review of student evaluation of teaching. Student attainment of the course learning outcomes has demonstrated a positive effect of the approach and that the impact is statistically significant.
Wang, Z., & Guo, J. (2021, July), A Journey from End Systems to Backbone Routers: A Virtual Lab Environment for Online Computer Networking Courses Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36588
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