USING NETWORK SIMULATION TOOLS TO SUPPORT TEACHING IN COMPUTER NETWORKS
1 University of Derby (UNITED KINGDOM)
2 Loughborough University (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN09 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Conference name: 1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-8 July, 2009
Location: Barcelona ,Spain
Abstract:Computer networks have evolved dramatically in recent years. The growing demand in terms of security, mobile computing and voice-over-IP among others, has led to the development of new protocols and algorithms to meet these challenges. Qualified and experienced network administrators are therefore highly sought after which in turn has led to development of specialized computer networking courses at many universities. Students often find computer networking concepts difficult to assimilate due to the complex processes involved which are not immediately visible. Computer networking courses need the support of a lab-based approach due to the practical nature of the subject. However, the initial costs of the equipment, as well as costs for maintenance and frequent upgrading as demanded by ever changing technologies is extremely high. Due to these costs, students are often provided only with limited network equipment during their studies. In addition, typically only a small number of students can use the equipment at any one time which puts restrictions on class sizes and teaching resources. Furthermore, some of the functionality (e.g. some WAN technologies) cannot actually be experimented with by the students.
Our aim is to provide students with the best possible learning experience while taking into account the limited resources available. Therefore, in this study we investigate the use of network simulation tools as an alternative to be employed in computer networking laboratories. Network simulation tools provide students with the opportunity to freely experiment with virtual computer networks and equipment without the expensive costs associated with real networking hardware. They not only eliminate the need to buy expensive network equipment but also eliminate the need for maintenance and upgrading. In addition, they support a wider range of experiments and allow all students to work simultaneously. The aim of our research is to evaluate suitability of network simulation tools to be employed in our networking courses, as well as to gather the students' perceptions on this approach. To this effect, we have designed a questionnaire to gather the students' opinion on the use of network simulation tools and their effectiveness when compared to real networking equipment. The results we obtained show that the students appreciate the use of network simulators and see them as an effective approach to learning computer networking concepts and gaining relevant experience. This was also confirmed by the actual performance of students who experienced different levels of exposure to networks simulators during their studies.
Keywords: network simulation tools, computer networks, teaching computer networks.