Flipping an advanced networking course

Before the beginning of the semester, Nick Feamster informed me that he decided to flip his advanced networking course . Various teachers have opted for flipped classrooms to increase the interaction with students. Instead of using class time to present theory, the teacher focuses his/her attention during the class on solving problems with the students. Various organisations of a flipped classroom have been tested. Often, the teacher posts short videos that explain the basic principles before the class and the students have to listen to the videos before attending the class. This is partially the approach adopted by Nick Feamster for his class.

By bringing more interaction in the classroom, the flipped approach is often considered to be more interesting for the teacher as well as for the student. Since my advanced networking class gathers only a few tens of students, compared to the 100+ and 300+ students of the other courses that I teach, I also decided to flip one course this year.

The advanced networking course is a follow-up to the basic networking course. I cover several advanced topics and aims at explaining to the students the operation of large Internet Service Provider networks. The main topics covered are :

  • Interdomain routing with BGP (route reflectors, traffic engineering, ...)
  • Traffic control and Quality of Service (from basic mechanisms - shaping, policing, scheduling, buffer acceptance - to services - integrated or differentiated services)
  • IP Multicast and Multicast routing protocols
  • Multiprotocol Label Switching
  • Virtual Private Networks
  • Middleboxes

The course is complemented by projects during which the students configure and test realistic networks built from Linux-based routers.

During the last decade, I’ve taught this course by using slides and presenting them to the students and discussing the theoretical material. I could have used some of them to record videos explaining the basic principles, but I’m still not convinced by the benefits of using video online as a learning vehicle. Video is nice for demonstrations and short introductory material, but students need written material to understand the details. For this reason, I’ve decided to opt for a seminar-type approach where the students read one or two articles every week to understand the basic principles. Then, the class focuses on discussing real cases or exercises.

Many courses are organized as seminars during which the students read recent articles and discuss them. Often, these are advanced courses and the graduate students read and comment recent scientific articles. This approach was not applicable in many case given the maturity of the students who follow the advanced networking course. Instead of using purely scientific articles, I’ve opted for tutorial articles that appear in magazines such as IEEE Communications Magazine or the Internet Protocol Journal . These articles are easier to read by the students and often provide good tutorial content with references that the students can exploit if they need additional information.

The course has started a few weeks ago and the interaction with the student has been really nice. I’ll regularly post updates on the articles that I’ve used, the exercises that have been developed and the student’s reactions. Comments are, of course, welcome.