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Teaching System Administration

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"Teaching System Administration" talk at Open Source Bridge in Portland, June 2009

"Teaching System Administration" talk at Open Source Bridge in Portland, June 2009

Published in: Education, Technology

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  • 1. Teaching System Administration Steve VanDevender University of Oregon
  • 2. How did this happen to me? ● I didn't originally have an ambition to be a teacher ● Attended LISA '99 System Administration Education Workshop on a whim ● Started asking computer science department faculty about a system administration class – One answer: “But that would be too practical” – Another answer: “That would be great! Will you teach it?”
  • 3. Discussion: How do you feel about teaching? ● Would you want to teach? ● What excites you about teaching? ● What frightens you about teaching?
  • 4. What had I gotten myself into? ● The LISA education workshop had a wide representation of people and not a lot of common agreement: – Educators and non-educators – Academic and commercial organizations – Education or training? – Among educators, very different approaches to teaching ● The hard part is trying to nail down what system administration is all about
  • 5. Discussion: The most important thing in system administration ● If you had to teach a new system administrator, what aspects of the profession would you consider most important to teach?
  • 6. So I had to design a class . . . ● My constraints: – 8-week summer session class – Couldn't assume students would have extensive UNIX knowledge – Dedicated lab (sort of a non-constraint) ● Virtual machines could make this possible without a dedicated lab – No teaching assistant (so I had to do all grading myself)
  • 7. My personal notions about teaching ● Written tests are artificial, and I couldn't figure out how to make good ones for this topic ● System administration seems especially well- suited to hands-on assignments ● Students should have more than one way to learn things (lecture, textbook, personal interaction, independent study) ● I always hated unclear, underspecified assignments
  • 8. The implementation ● Students work in groups – Emphasizes communication themes (but also cleverly handles limited lab space) ● Grade is primarily based on a series of projects to install and develop a system – Later added class discussions – Objective grading (did it work or not?) ● Final project that students get to design themselves, as a way of teaching basic project management
  • 9. Course website online ● http://www.cs.uoregon.edu/classes/09U/cis399sysadmin ● Previous years are also available – http://www.cs.uoregon.edu/classes/index.php?course=cis399sysadmin – http://www.cs.uoregon.edu/classes/index.php?course=cis410sysadmin
  • 10. Dangerous choices that worked ● Working in groups – Fewer group issues than I anticipated – Stole a good idea (from Evi Nemeth) about group work evaluation: students each provide private estimates about member contributions ● Gave students their choice of operating system (of a freely-available UNIX or Linux distribution) ● System emergency day!
  • 11. Teaching System Administration Steve VanDevender University of Oregon 1
  • 12. How did this happen to me? ● I didn't originally have an ambition to be a teacher ● Attended LISA '99 System Administration Education Workshop on a whim ● Started asking computer science department faculty about a system administration class – One answer: “But that would be too practical” – Another answer: “That would be great! Will you teach it?” 2
  • 13. Discussion: How do you feel about teaching? ● Would you want to teach? ● What excites you about teaching? ● What frightens you about teaching? 3
  • 14. What had I gotten myself into? ● The LISA education workshop had a wide representation of people and not a lot of common agreement: – Educators and non-educators – Academic and commercial organizations – Education or training? – Among educators, very different approaches to teaching ● The hard part is trying to nail down what system administration is all about 4
  • 15. Discussion: The most important thing in system administration ● If you had to teach a new system administrator, what aspects of the profession would you consider most important to teach? 5
  • 16. So I had to design a class . . . ● My constraints: – 8-week summer session class – Couldn't assume students would have extensive UNIX knowledge – Dedicated lab (sort of a non-constraint) ● Virtual machines could make this possible without a dedicated lab – No teaching assistant (so I had to do all grading myself) 6
  • 17. My personal notions about teaching ● Written tests are artificial, and I couldn't figure out how to make good ones for this topic ● System administration seems especially well- suited to hands-on assignments ● Students should have more than one way to learn things (lecture, textbook, personal interaction, independent study) ● I always hated unclear, underspecified assignments 7
  • 18. The implementation ● Students work in groups – Emphasizes communication themes (but also cleverly handles limited lab space) ● Grade is primarily based on a series of projects to install and develop a system – Later added class discussions – Objective grading (did it work or not?) ● Final project that students get to design themselves, as a way of teaching basic project management 8
  • 19. Course website online ● http://www.cs.uoregon.edu/classes/09U/cis399sysadmin ● Previous years are also available – http://www.cs.uoregon.edu/classes/index.php?course=cis399sysadmin – http://www.cs.uoregon.edu/classes/index.php?course=cis410sysadmin 9
  • 20. Dangerous choices that worked ● Working in groups – Fewer group issues than I anticipated – Stole a good idea (from Evi Nemeth) about group work evaluation: students each provide private estimates about member contributions ● Gave students their choice of operating system (of a freely-available UNIX or Linux distribution) ● System emergency day! 10