Calculating...A Networking Student, Three Months In

Thanksgiving was yesterday, and I am finally afforded a small reprieve to ponder on how school is going so far. We are nearing the end of the semester here at Milwaukee Area Technical College and I have to say I've been really feeling the pressure of taking 5 classes while trying to work at the same time! With only one general education class (English 201) in my current courses, the other four classes are all involved with the Networking Specialist Program. As a first semester student most of what we have been learning is fundamentals. How the internet functions, OSI Model Layers, LAN and WAN technologies, subnetting; things like that. Mind blowing stuff really. I think I'm going to need some hands on soon or else there is no way my brain can possibly maintain this many details. I decided on an IT degree because I thought I already knew a lot about computers and internet related stuff. Turns out that was like 2% of what there is to learn out there!

One thing I'm very glad about, was taking the advice of my counselor about spreading out all of my general educations classes to one per semester. (and one each summer) I think I would go insane if I had mixed a few tech classes with a few of my gen ed! Nothing against general education classes, but what really keeps my interest is IT related stuff. So while I learn some cool new program in IT, I want to come home and tinker but those pesky English papers keep getting in my way. I understand it though; have to be a well rounded person. So stretching them out to one per semester keeps my bandwidth open for my technical related stuff. Which makes for a happier me.

The school gives us some pretty amazing resources to learn from. Number one on my list is CBT Nuggets. It's a collection of online training videos from just about anything you want to know in the industry. Some of the video instructors are fantastic as well! Jeremy Cioara does a large portion of the Cisco training videos and he has saved my sanity on numerous occasions. I've taken to watching these videos over watching TV because I find them to be that engaging and interesting. They really do a fantastic job of breaking things down for you! My advice for anyone struggling in any particular area of IT. Log on to CBT Nuggets and watch a few videos on it. The TestOut Labsims have also been pretty cool (specifically the CompTIA Network+) They at least give you  virtualized hands on experience to apply the seemingly hundreds of hours of details they give you. However, there's always two sides to a coin and one particular tool that has been a complete disaster for me; the Windows 7 Testout Labsim. The guy that instructs the training on this labsim is the most droning, monotone, and lifeless person on the planet. It really is torturous to sit through hour upon hour of his videos. Luckily my actual Windows 7 instructor has made up for it though. He talks a lot about how much of Windows is actually applied into the enterprise environment.  I cannot stress however how terrible that Win7 labsim is. Another great tool we are given is access to VMware and all the Operating Systems you could ever want. I'm like a kid in a candy store here. I didn't even know about VMware until I started school and now I'm addicted to learning it. Especially at the behest of multiple instructors of mine. Virtualization is gonna be the future of IT for sure and it's been a blast so far being exposed to this technology.

Right about this point in school, though, I could really start using more hands on experience. At home I get to try out VM's, read protocols on Wireshark, and even sim a network on PacketTracer but at 15 credits I don't get a whole lot of time to tinker. There's always some homework assignment that needs to be done. I know I need to be patient because there's gonna be a lot more hands on coming up, but I guess it's just hard to not getting  time to apply all the crazy stuff we are learning.

One bit of advice I would give to anyone interested in going back to school for IT, is do not buy any of your books until you've talked to all your instructors in class. Don't make the mistake I did. I bought all of my books nice and early. Eagerly awaiting my return to school. Well it turned out, in the end, that I needed maybe 2 of the 8 books that I bought. At an average of $60 a pop I'll let you do the math. I think I probably wasted $300 on books that it turned out were either offered online for free or were simply not mandatory. Take the money you save and buy an external hard drive instead. You'll be needing it. Plus, you really should have one anyways! Also, if anyone has to tell you that you absolutely should have a computer  (which I will assume you do since you are reading this) IT may not be for you. Get a computer and make sure its up to date!

Overall though, I've never been happier. My family can see it too. I get wide eyed with excitement when I try to explain to them a 3 way handshake, or how DNS works. I know IT is not for everyone, but 3 months in I still can't believe how much I never get tired of learning new stuff in this field.


Stop Cleaning Your Room....and Go Play Your Video Games!

This is a TEDtalks Review of  - Gabe Zicherman: How Games Make Kids Smarter

Video gaming is a very integral part of children's lives these days. Adapting this fascination with education is nothing new and has been around since the mid 1980's. If you are old enough, you may remember games like Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail. These were the earlier examples of Educational Games that attempted to combine what a child should be learning with a media that a child "wants" to learn. In this TED Talks Gabe Zicherman attempts to explain that through his work and studies, he has learned that games are actually making our future generations smarter. A very strong argument made here is that learning through video games actually greatly increases our fluid intelligence vs. our crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is our ability to problem solve or learn on the fly. This is as apposed to crystallized intelligence which is a more structured learning where one simply solves problems through knowledge that has been memorized. His case actually suggests that games have helped children problem solve faster and faster. The level of multitasking in today's video games require players to do an astronomic amount of functions compared to the early days of games. This type of environments increases motor skills and "on the fly" thinking that previous generations where never exposed to. Zicherman suggests that maybe what we perceive as a sort of A.D.D. (that children can't seem to focus in today's world) is actual just a product of our world now being far too slow for today's children. I am inclined to completely agree.    He states that the rate of fluid intelligence has been rapidly increasing since the 1990's.  He then asks "Coincidence?" This Brings up an intriguing point. Video games started becoming very complex and wide spread around that time and I personally think it is no coincidence that this shift towards fluid intelligence has started becoming apparent starting with generations from that era.

The pacing of this TED talks was great. He covers a multitude of examples to convince us that games can in fact be used to educate our future generations. This is also known as Gamification, or the combining of learning with video games. Personally I have seen attempts at Gamification come and go, but I have always felt that it is a very under utilized resource that we could be using in education.  What I believe Zicherman does a great job of is convincing parents that it's okay to allow your children to play video games. This is something I believe many parents have been fighting for years. This aversion to children playing games I think stems from a misunderstanding of what video games really do to a child's brain. Zicherman does an excellent job of pointing out, through the use of slides and story examples, the positive effects that "Gamification" has on all of our brains. In the end the path that I think Gabe is trying to direct us is that we should embrace the power of what games can do for our education and get involved in them with future generations rather than fight against it. I am completely inspired by this, being a gamer since childhood myself. Today education seems to be at a struggle with being in sync with our children and how they want to learn. Why not combine something that they already love to do with things that will help them as they grow? The answer to solving some of today's educational struggles? Gamification! Let's bring the world up to speed. In Gabe's own words (in reference to today's generation) , "The world that we live in right now, the world of Sunday afternoons, drinking a cup of herbal tea, reading some old book, chilling out by the window....is over." Let's not fight the games that children love so much, but embrace the things that engage them.

If you are interested in learning more about Gabe Zicherman's ideas on gamification visit The Gamification Corportaion