Wireless communication and networking courses are becoming increasingly popular in universities, polytechnical institutions, postsecondary colleges, and private training institutions around the globe. This popularity is partly because of rapid developments in wireless communication and networking technologies and the high demand for wireless networking skills in the industry worldwide. Unfortunately, motivating students to learn wireless local area network (WLAN) design is often difficult because students find the subject rather technical, and dry when presented. To overcome this problem, we have developed a Web-based software tool (named WLAN-Designer) that gives students an interactive learning experience in WLAN design concepts. The WLAN-Designer is suitable for classroom use in introductory wireless networking courses (undergraduate IT and CIS curricula). The effectiveness of WLAN-Designer has been evaluated by both students and teaching teams. The implementation of WLAN-Designer was judged to be successful because of the positive student feedback and also students scored better in the final examination. This chapter describes WLAN-Designer and its effectiveness as an aid to teaching and learning WLAN design concepts. The impact of WLAN-Designer on student learning and comprehension is also discussed.
Wireless networking is often included as a subject in computer science, information technology (IT), engineering, and business courses because wireless networks are a fundamental component of IT systems today. Research has shown that students learn WLAN design fundamentals better, and feel more engaged with their courses if they are given interactive exercises that illustrate theoretical concepts (Midkiff, 2005; Richards & Waisbrot, 2002; Sarkar & Craig, 2006). Therefore, we have developed a Web-based tool called WLAN-Designer that facilitates an interactive teaching and learning of various aspects of WLAN design.
Many educators have experimented with various approaches to alleviate the problem of motivating students to learn technical subjects. For example, computer assisted learning packages (Diab & Tabbara, 1995), game-based simulation (Shifroni & Ginat, 1997), approaches based on the constructivist paradigm (Chen, 2003), experiential learning (Chang, 2004), and learning research techniques such as the phenomenographical approach (Berglund, 2003). This chapter introduces a Web-based flexible learning tool (WLAN-Designer) for teaching WLAN design fundamentals. WLAN-Designer provides online support for off-campus students by engaging them in a flexible and learner-centered manner. This interactive and flexible learning approach to WLAN design is used for three years now in the e-Business IT Infrastructure (EBITI) undergraduate courses (IT curriculum) at AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand. This course covers various aspects of wireless communication and networking fundamentals.
Wireless networking fundamentals are described in many textbooks (Carter & Whitehead, 2004; Holloway, 2003), and Web-based tools are discussed extensively in the literature (Aller, Kline, Tsang, Aravamuthan, Rasmusson, & Phillips, 2005; Djordjevic, Nikolic, & Milenkovic, 2005; Garcia & Alesanco, 2004).
The main contribution and strength of this chapter is the emphasis that interactive learning experience using a Web-based tool is crucial in motivating students to learn WLAN design concepts. The most innovative aspect of this work is the development and evaluation of such a tool to be effective in complementing the lecture content of the course. A review of existing network simulation and modeling tools is presented next.