The centrepiece of the Open Networking Lab is the network simulator PT Anywhere. PT Anywhere can be accessed on any web-browser (you can try it here), and allows learners to design, implement and run virtual communication networks that would otherwise require expensive hardware.
PT Anywhere representation of a simple internet-connected local area network (available to try here)
In a network like the one shown above, each component must be correctly configured. A PT Anywhere network is configured just as a ‘real’ network would be. When settings are applied correctly, the simulation behaves like a properly configured network. Data sent from one device to another will be received by the correct device. During configuration, PT Anywhere gives users feedback on how the network is functioning to aid troubleshooting and problem solving.
More advanced work introduces students to network design. Large institutions, for example, typically have differently configured networks for online retail, real-time audio-visual traffic or teleworking. Each network typically requires particular properties, such as resilience, speed, remote access and security. Network-design skill is essential for the creation of networks and subnetworks for particular functions.
Free online course
The project has produced a free online course entitled “Discovering computer networks: hands on in the Open Networking Lab”, which is available through the Open University’s OpenLearn platform. In this course, learners can explore how computer networks operate, discover how data is sent around the internet, as well as put their understanding into practice using the PT Anywhere network simulator to create their own simulated computer networks.
The course uses a new teaching approach based on:
- short screencasts
- hands-on computer networking activities
- quizzes and other self-assessment activities
These elements are tightly integrated to provide an active, iterative learning experience aimed specifically at young people, but suitable for everyone. Upon completion of the course, learners earn a free statement of participation issued by The Open University.