Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

The Data Communications Course with a Dedicated Lab: Design, Implementation, and Student Assessment

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

The Data Communications Course with a Dedicated Lab: Design, Implementation, and Student Assessment

Article excerpt


A major limitation of data communications courses offered in Computer Information / Management Information Systems (CIS/MIS) undergraduate programs is the lack of a hands-on network experience. To gain this experience, students need ready access to client/server hardware and software that allow them to actually install and manage various network configurations. Traditional department or college computer labs typically do not meet this need. In these labs, students come in contact with either stand-alone computers or client computers that have applications software installed for their diversified uses. Usually, students are not allowed to use or program the server computers. The need for a hands-on network experience necessitates a lab that is dedicated solely to the data communications course. The major obstacles to creating an environment that provides for a hands-on network experience are the expense and availability of computer resources. If the computer and other hardware resources are not available, the must be acquired. If computer resources are available, they are usually restricted to demonstration purposes and students have no opportunity to actually use them. As a consequence, most data communications courses in CIS/MIS programs are taught using textbooks only. In this environment, the likelihood that a student will gain a valuable hands-on data communications experience is virtually nil.

The main areas of concern when developing a dedicated data communications lab are faculty preparation, adequate physical space, resource procurement and testing, and course design, implementation, and assessment. While all of these are major considerations, the focus of this paper is on the design, implementation, and assessment of a course that incorporates a dedicated lab experience. A brief discussion of faculty preparation, physical space, resource procurement and testing is provided to give a fuller understanding of the courses total development.


Few CIS/MIS departments are fortunate to find and hire faculty with both the education and the experience to design, install, and manage data communications systems. Most graduate programs in CIS/MIS require students take a course in data communications but these courses, like most undergraduate courses, do not provide for a hands-on experience. As a consequence, the faculty member selected to teach a course with a hands-on component may require specific training before being able to teach the course. Taking courses or attending formal training programs can provide the faculty member with the requisite technical skill. However the technical skill is acquired, it must be gained prior to the course's implementation. This may add significantly to the lead-time needed to implement the course.


Creating a dedicated lab for the data communications course does not necessarily demand a large physical space. One factor to consider in finding a room of adequate size is the number of computers and other devices to be installed in the lab. Figure 1 presents a model of the minimal hardware requirements believed necessary to implement an effective lab. Implementation of this model requires little physical space. A second important factor is the number of students that will be using in the lab at any one time. This factor is influenced by course design and whether students will be working in a team/group environment or individually. The team/group approach may require less space than individual approach.


A suggested minimal lab design capable of providing an excellent hands-on experience calls for three network configurations: (1) a stand-alone, Windows NT-based small PC network; (2) a stand-alone, Novell Netware-based PC network; and (3) a "site" network composed of the two standalone PC networks connected to the Internet. The site network is shown in Figure 1. …

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