Taking advantage of the Crimbo Limbo

Last year I was in the States for Christmas, and I had run out of things I could study, anyhow.  (I needed to study an online-only section of the module, and it hadn’t yet been opened.)  By the time January rolled around and the new material was available, I had all the enthusiasm of a slug eyeing up a saltine.  Motivation was … well, it just wasn’t.

This year, on the other hand, was great for study!  As MST124 had hinted that it might be more difficult than anticipated (it may not be, it appears to have been one poorly written unit), I had been putting off the networking block in TM129 until a couple of days before the Christmas break.  I was able to catch up during those few days, and then I remembered how difficult it was to start studying again after a break last year, so I carried on with TM129 over Christmas, particularly the week after.

I wrapped things up on New Year’s day, and cut through all but one question on the TMA yesterday.  So that’s the networking block done, and I’m free to wrestle with maths until just about March.  This should see me through the calculus stuff, so I’m pretty happy about the convergence of events.  I feel there should have been a prophecy to give me a heads up.

So, to the rundown of TM129’s networking block!

The OU didn’t really prepare any of the material for this.  There was an outdated textbook from Microsoft with OU commentary on the chapters, and activities that were also mostly taken from the textbook.  I’m of two minds about the activities.  They were exceedingly simple tasks, that took the form of, “Type this line exactly, and copy down the response you see,” and there wasn’t any thinking involved, even for students who had never run the utilities before.  On the other hand, these are tasks that I perform day-in, day-out for my job, and it’s pretty essential that someone saying they’ve studied networking has had some hands-on experience with it.  I just think that, given the unbridled simplicity, there should have been some beefier assignments on the side.  (Trying to write my ePortfolio’s section reflecting on skills demonstrated, when all I was asked to do was type an exact command and copy-paste the results, was the biggest challenge I faced.)

Significant portions of book discussed dial-up networking.  You’d have to try really hard to still find a dial-up ISP, so while it may help someone pass a certification exam, it’s not going to help anybody do anything useful going forward.  (My condolences to anybody disagreeing, you’re obviously still dealing with dial-up and deserve my pity.)

A section on subnetting had the subnetting wrong in an example.  I was working from an updated release of the book where the mistake had been identified and fixed, except it was still wrong after being fixed.  (The OU staff have found the problems and fixed it properly in the module’s errata section.)

Other than that, the textbook was decently fit for purpose, though it could use some updating about speeds, technologies that are available and prevalent, there could be a lot more time spent on VLSM (variable length subnet masking, which is how subnetting typically exists in the wild, though may not be considered a best practice as not all routing protocols support it), and of course Windows Server 2008 hit End of Life status three years ago this month.  Students were mainly asked to ignore the Windows Server bits, though, so that’s not really an issue.  It’s a decent, if slightly outdated, grounding in networking.

I’m a little concerned about the TMA, though.  In the first section, the number of points allocated appear to disagree with the number of statements I need to correct, so I may need to take a closer look at either the assumption I’ve made about the statements, or the assumption I’ve made about the scoring.

Another problem is that the author of the last question seems to misunderstand the word “scalability”.  The author seems to think that it means the ability to cope with a very large scale.  It means, however, the ability to change the scale with which it can cope, typically from very small to very large.  Crucially, it deals with change, or the ability to be upgraded to handle more capacity with increasing demand without a total redesign.  So I’m going to have to spend some of my very precious 200 word count defending both a system’s ability to handle a large scale, as well as its ability to increase capacity based on increased demand, which I’m pretty sure was not the author’s intent when the word count was set.  So I’ll have to leave out some other parts and will lose points here, as well.

Still, I’d be very surprised if my TMA came in lower than 90%-95%, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut and soldier on.

So that’s a very long winded post for today, but it does represent eight or nine weeks of study compressed into two.  Also, Storm Eleanor is blowing buildings around here, right now, so long-winded seems appropriate.


2018/3/9 Edit: TM129 TMA02 finally came back.  It received a 97.  Missing marks were because the tutor felt I was being redundant at an aspect I felt I was being thorough in (fair enough), and two marks off because I didn’t discuss the history of a technology, which wasn’t expressly asked for.  This is not a bad thing.  It looks at first blush like saying, “You didn’t guess the colour I was thinking of,” but realistically, that’s part of the job.  We’re not given full context in our questions.  It’s up to us to discover or create context, or (failing that) to give a complete answer despite not having full context.  It’s a skill I’m normally good with, and I fell short this time.

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