Online labs in computer networking keep students on track

CNIT major ‘still learning everything I need’ despite pandemic
UW-Stout student Joshua Ferkans studies at his computer. Ferkans is a computer networking and information technology student.
Pam Powers | April 29, 2020

University of Wisconsin-Stout junior Joshua Ferkans misses seeing his professors and fellow students while studying computer networking and information technology this semester. UW-Stout is using alternative learning methods because of the COVID-19 virus.

However, his CNIT laboratory class moving to an alternative learning method went smoother than the Roberts resident expected and had some added benefits to a program that is known for its hands-on learning.

Renee Gunderson, senior lecturer for the information and communication technologies Bachelor of Science, spent most of her spring break moving equipment from Micheels Hall to Fryklund Hall to ensure CNIT classes Multi-layer Switched Networks and Introduction to Network Security could transition smoothly without face-to-face classroom time.

Renee Gunderson, at left, in a lab

In the classes, students learn to build small networks using lab equipment. Now the students are using an online program called NetLab. The program is similar to what online information and communication technologies students use while studying at UW-Stout, Gunderson said.

She moved networking racks, cabled the equipment and then configured NetLab to know the new equipment was there.

The trick was expanding NetLab to serve an additional 125 students from the 32 enrolled in the online program, Gunderson said, noting her priority was to make sure students received the education they need.

“The students have done really well so far,” Gunderson said. “I’m just thrilled to be able to conduct our classes. I can do everything we had planned from day one.

“Students can do labs they would normally do in the classroom, online from anywhere,” Gunderson said.

“Students schedule their time on the group of equipment they need to complete their lab.  They do the lab. Then all their configurations, everything they typed, gets saved for me to score. One of the neat things outside of the students being able to complete labs remotely is if I'm online and they need help I can help them in real time.

“I can log into their equipment, show them the commands they need to get things configured correctly, and we can both configure and see what each other is typing in real time,” Gunderson said.

Ferkans said one benefit is students do not have to spend time cabling the equipment, which can be time-consuming and not necessary at higher levels.

“You also don’t have to switch your console cable around because, in NetLab, you just open another tab in your browser, which is way more convenient,” Ferkans said. “I am still learning everything that I need. Our schedule has not changed much. We are still doing everything we previously did in much of the same order as well; we just don’t meet in person anymore.”

Ferkans said he enjoys Gunderson’s teaching and the expertise she brings to the classroom.

He enjoys his major because it describes how the modern world works. “Have you ever wondered how the internet worked? You use it every single day,” Ferkans said. “Through this major, I can explain to you in depth how the computer systems of the world connect and talk to each other in redundant ways. It was a question I always had, and now I know.”

UW-Stout also offers degrees in digital marketing technology, professional communication and emerging media and computer science. UW-Stout also offers a master’s degree in information and communication technologies, which is completely online.



Renee Gunderson, at left, at the 2019 grand opening of the Computer Networking and Cyber Security Labs.

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