Enhancing Teaching and Learning Wi-Fi Networking using Limited Resources to Undergraduates

Enhancing Teaching and Learning Wi-Fi Networking using Limited Resources to Undergraduates

Nurul I. Sarkar (School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/ijwltt.2013100101
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Motivating students to learn Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) wireless networking to undergraduate students is often difficult because many students find the subject rather technical and abstract when presented in traditional lecture format. This paper focuses on the teaching and learning aspects of Wi-Fi networking using limited hardware resources. It provides a walk-through tutorial on setting up Wi-Fi networks using wireless laptops and access points. Students can easily set up and configure Wi-Fi networks using relatively few computing resources to learn networking concepts more effectively. By measuring the key performance metrics such as network throughput and response times, students are able to gain a deeper understanding of Wi-Fi network performance and related issues. The effectiveness of these Wi-Fi practical learning activities has been evaluated both formally by students and informally in discussion within the teaching team. This paper describes the overall effectiveness of teaching and learning Wi-Fi network fundamentals using limited resources.
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Wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks have been gaining in popularity, both in business and in home networking applications (Hiertz et al., 2010; N. Prasad & Prasad, 2002; R. Prasad & Ruggieri, 2003). With the growing proliferation of mobile equipment, this trend is likely to continue in the future. It is therefore important that undergraduate students of Network Technologies should be exposed to Wi-Fi fundamentals as part of the curriculum.

Many students find that Wi-Fi networking is rather abstract and difficult to understand when presented in traditional lecture format. The apparently overwhelming complexity of the underlying concepts of Wi-Fi often intimidates students. This perception can easily discourage the students from learning in-depth this otherwise exciting and rewarding subject.

This paper addresses issues of student learning introductory wireless networking courses and provides hands-on learning activities on Wi-Fi networking using low-cost wireless cards and access points (APs). It provides a tutorial to guide students in setting up Wi-Fi networks using relatively few computing resources. Although a host of problems are to be expected, given the technical limitations of commercially available hardware, students are encouraged to gain a hands-on practical learning experience in setting up and configuring Wi-Fi networks. The paper also discusses the effectiveness of student learning and comprehension using Wi-Fi based projects.

Wi-Fi technologies are rapidly expanding over the last few years. To meet the users demand for high performance Wi-Fi, 802.11n has been standardized by IEEE in 2009. The 802.11n working group has focused on increasing network throughput and the overall system capacity (IEEE 802.11n-2009 Amendment 5: Enhancements for Higher Throughput). Prasad and Prasad (2001) highlight the potential applications of Wi-Fi such as teleconferencing, tele-surveillance, and video-on-demand operating on wireless network backbones. Further developments in capacity (i.e. throughput) and reliability will push these technologies to be used as next generation wireless networks.

The further research and development in high-speed Wi-Fi networking will open an opportunity for students to gain a thorough knowledge and understanding of the technology. An overview of the Wi-Fi technology is presented to help students to develop better understanding and significance of Wi-Fi technology from a technical standpoint. While Wi-Fi brings many benefits to corporate and home network users, the four main benefits of Wi-Fi are highlighted below (802.11ac: The Fifth Generation of Wi-Fi (Technical White Paper); First New Zealand 1Gbps wireless connect goes to IRL; IEEE 802.11s: Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications: Simple Efficient Extensible Mesh (SEE-Mesh) Proposal.; What is a Wireless LAN?):

  • Mobility: Wi-Fi can provide users with real-time information within the organization without the restrictions inherent with physical connections;

  • Flexibility and Simplicity: The W-Fi installation does not involved the tedious work of pulling cables through walls and ceilings. It allows access from places unreachable by network cables;

  • Cost: Overall the installation cost of Wi-Fi is lower than wired LAN. The discrepancy is even higher in dynamic environments requiring frequent moves and changes;

  • Scalability: W-Fi can be configured relatively easily because there is no physical network cables are required.

Although wireless networks may never completely replace wired networks, they will gain in importance as business assets in the future. Howard (2002) reports that the use of wireless networks for mobile Internet access is also becoming big business, as is indicated by the rising number of wireless internet service providers in the United States. The increasing number of public hotspots also opens the possibility of providing continuous connection to a roaming business traveler (Vaughan-Nichols, 2003).

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