Student and Instructor Perceptions of the Usefulness of Computer-Based Microworlds in Supporting the Teaching and Assessment of Computer Networking Skills: An Exploratory Study

ABSTRACT

Skill shortages in the area of computer network troubleshooting are becoming increasingly acute. According to research sponsored by Cisco’s Learning Institute, the demand for professionals with computer networking skills in the United States and Canada will outpace the supply of workers with those skills by an average of eight percent per year through 2011, amounting to a shortage of about 60,000 full-time workers each year [1]. This skill shortage is having a detrimental economic effect on the information technology (IT) industry at large. Computer networking problem-solving or troubleshooting skills are critical to a network engineer’s work and are among the most desired skill areas demanded by prospective employers who are looking for entry level network engineers [23, 26]. However, teaching and assessing these skills effectively requires a hands-on approach so that each student is individually exposed to an entire network of several computers, network switches, and network routers. This is often problematic in face-to-face teaching contexts due to time, space, and cost considerations and even more problematic in distance learning contexts where students take courses and complete degrees totally online with no physical access to a computer networking lab. Hence, the purpose of this study was to examine the usefulness of Computer-Based Micro-Worlds (CBMW) in supporting the teaching and assessment of computer networking problem-solving skills.

Specifically, the researchers hypothesized that CBMW may provide (a) an economically viable method to overcome the difficulty and expense commonly faced when training students to become effective network engineers, and (b) a practical and widely accessible learning method that could help alleviate the skill shortage in the industry. In order to determine the viability of these hypotheses, this exploratory study examined student and instructor perceptions of the usefulness of CBMW in supporting the teaching and assessment of computer networking problem solving skills. Specifically, the following research questions were investigated:

  1. Do students and instructors think that traditional classroom learning can prepare students to cope with real-world computer networking problem-solving challenges?
  2. Do students and instructors think that CBMW can prepare students to cope with real-world computer networking problem-solving challenges?
  3. Do students and instructors think that traditional assessment methods can provide a fair and accurate measure of computer networking problem-solving skills?
  4. Do students and instructors think that CBMW can provide a fair and accurate measure of computer networking problem-solving skills?

 

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Nada Dabbagh
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia

Mark Beattie
Northern Virginia Community College
Annandale, Virginia

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