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The Effectiveness of Using Virtual Laboratories to Teach Computer Networking Skills inZambiaEvans LampiDissertation submitted to the faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University inpartial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree ofDoctor of PhilosophyinCareer and Technical EducationWilliam T. PriceJohn K. BurtonDaisy L. CartwrightBarbra B. Lockee3/7/2013Blacksburg, VAKeywords: Virtual, Labs, Training, Simulations, Computer Networks, Skills training, Transfer oflearning, Configuration, Troubleshooting

The Effectiveness of Using Virtual Laboratories to Teach Computer Networking Skills inZambiaEvans LampiABSTRACTThe effectiveness of using virtual labs to train students in computer networking skills,when real equipment is limited or unavailable, is uncertain. The purpose of this study was todetermine the effectiveness of using virtual labs to train students in the acquisition of computernetwork configuration and troubleshooting skills. The study was conducted in the developingcountry of Zambia, where there is an acute shortage of network lab equipment. Effectiveness wasdetermined by the transfer of skills learned in a virtual lab to a real lab. A two stage trueexperimental design, that compared the proficiency of randomly assigned experimental (virtuallab) and control (no-virtual-lab) groups, was used to determine effectiveness (N 56). In the firststage, the virtual-lab group practiced in a virtual lab while the no-virtual-lab group did not. Bothgroups were subjected to a lab test where the speed and accuracy of network configuration andtroubleshooting of real equipment was measured, prior and after treatment. In the second stage,both groups practiced using real equipment and the speed and accuracy was again measured. Anindependent t-test was used to determine if there was a significant difference in the finalperformance between the two groups. It was found that there were significant differencesbetween the groups in the configuration time (p 0.011) and troubleshooting time (p 0.03),favoring the virtual-lab group. On the other hand, there were no significant difference inconfiguration accuracy (p 0.06) and troubleshooting accuracy (p 0.440) between the twogroups. In addition, there was positive transfer of training from the virtual lab to the real lab forconfiguration accuracy, configuration speed, troubleshooting accuracy and troubleshooting

speed. There was also evidence that students showed performance gains both in using virtual andreal labs by comparing their pre-test and post-test results. From the results, there is evidence thatthe use of virtual labs contributes positively to the transfer of practical computer networkingskills from the virtual to the real lab environment. Hence, virtual labs were found to be effectivein the teaching of computer networking skills relating to configuration and troubleshooting.iii

DEDICATIONI dedicate this work to my Mom and Dad (deceased) for opening the doors of education for me.I also want to dedicate this work to my wife Dana and son Chaswe for your encouragement,support and putting up with the long hours.iv

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSI would like to acknowledge the following; Dr. Bill Price for taking a chance on me to do this degree. Your guidance made thisdissertation possible. Dr. John Burton for your insightful critic of research methods Dr. Daisy Cartwright for making sure my APA and writing was up to scratch Dr. Barbra Lockee for laying a seed in my thoughts of instructional design Mr. David Zulu for allowing me access to participants and facilitating researchequipment Ministry of Education GRZ for paying for my educationv

TABLE OF CONTENTSAbstract .iiDedication .ivAcknowledgements .vList of Figures.xList of Tables .xiiCHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION . .1Problem Statement . . .1Background of the Problem 2Pedagogical Debate 3Purpose of the Study .6Research Questions 6Null Hypotheses .7Overview of Research Design 7Significance of the Study .8Theoretical Framework 10Assumptions 11Delimitations 11Limitations .12Definitions .12Summary .13CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE 14History of the Debate on the Effectiveness of Technology in Teaching . .15vi

Previous Research Studies on The Effectiveness of Virtual Labs in Learning . .18Ambiguity of Research Findings .19Non Standardized Definitions 22Unclear Outcomes .24How Virtual Labs Function .25How Do Virtual Labs Help Students Learn?.27Theoretical Framework . 28External Feedback .31Internal Feedback .32Educational Claims of Virtual Labs by Advocates 32Feedback 32Progressive Difficulty and Scaffolding .34Practice .34Learning from Failure 35Access to Internal State Variables 37Support of Different Instruction Delivery Modes 38Arguments Against the Use of Virtual Labs . .39Virtual Labs in Skills Training . .41Recognition Primed Decision Model . .43Transfer of Training .45Research Model . .47Computer Networking Content . .49Summary 54vii

CHAPTER 3 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY 55Research Questions and Null Hypotheses . 55Research Design 56Experimental Variables .57Independent Variable 57Dependent Variables .58Confounding Variables .58Participants 61Procedure .61Data Collection .64Instruments 65Validity and Reliability . 68Data Analysis . .69Summary .70CHAPTER 4 RESULTS .71Reliability Tests .71Results for Each Null Hypothesis .72Results for Null Hypothesis 1 73Results for Null Hypothesis 2 78Results for Null Hypothesis 3 82Results for Null Hypothesis 4 87Performance Gains . 91Virtual Lab Performance Gains .91viii

Real Lab Performance Gains 92Transfer Percentage . . 93Summary of Results .94CHAPTER 5 SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, DISCUSSION, AND RECOMMENDATIONS.97Summary 97Problem Statement 97Research Questions and Null Hypotheses 98Findings .99Conclusions . 100Discussion .102Relevance .104Relevance for Skills Training in Zambia .105Limitations .106Recommendations . .108Recommendations from the Study .108Recommendations for Further Study .110Concluding Remarks . . .110REFERENCES 112APPENDICES . 125Appendix A: Instruments . .125Appendix B: Cisco CCNA Skills assessment objectives . . .138Appendix C: Fair Use Evaluation for Cisco CCNA Skills assessment objectives . .139Appendix D: IRB Consent form and Approval Letter 142ix

LIST OF FIGURESFigurePageFigure 1 Lewinian experiential learning model 29Figure 2 Research Model .48Figure 3 Experimental design .57Figure 4 Research model for configuration skills 59Figure 5 Research model for troubleshooting skills 60Figure 6 Packet Tracer logical design area screen shot .62Figure 7 Packet Tracer physical view of a router .63Figure 8. Packet Tracer command line interface (CLI) .63Figure 9 Picture of Cisco routers connected to computer . 64Figure 10 Network configuration . 66Figure 11 Distribution of configuration accuracy pre-test scores 74Figure 12 Distribution of configuration accuracy post-test 1 scores .75Figure 13 Distribution of configuration accuracy post-test 2 scores .76Figure 14. Graph of configuration accuracy scores trends 77Figure 15 Distribution of configuration time pre-test in minutes 78Figure 16 Distribution of configuration time post-test 1 in minutes .79Figure 17 Distribution of configuration time post-test 2 in minutes .81Figure 18. Graph of configuration time trends 82Figure 19 Distribution of troubleshooting accuracy pre-test scores 83Figure 20 Distribution of troubleshooting accuracy post-test 1 scores 84Figure 21 Distribution of troubleshooting accuracy post-test 2 scores 85x

Figure 22. Graph of troubleshooting accuracy trends . 86Figure 23 Distribution of troubleshooting time in pre-test .87Figure 24 Distribution of troubleshooting time post-test 1 .88Figure 25 Distribution of troubleshooting time post-test 2 .89Figure 26 Graph of troubleshooting time trends .91xi

LIST OF TABLESTablePageTable 1 Quantitative Comparative Studies on Virtual Labs .20Table 2 TCP/IP Protocol Hierarchy .50Table 3 Summary of Data Collection Activities .65Table 4 Network Design Specifications 66Table 5 Router Specifications .66Table 6 Task Checklist .67Table 7 Pearson’s Correlation between Configuration Tests 71Table 8 Pearson’s Correlation between Troubleshooting Tests 72Table 9 Result of Independent t-test of Pre-Test for Configuration Accuracy . .74Table 10 Result of Independent t-test of Post-Test 1 for Configuration Accuracy .75Table 11 Result of Independent t-test of Post-Test 2 for Configuration Accuracy . .77Table 12 Result of Independent t-test of Pre-Test’s Configuration Time . .79Table 13 Result of Independent t-test of Post-Test 1 for Configuration Time . .80Table 14 Result of Independent t-test of Post-Test 2 for Configuration Time 81Table 15 Result of Independent t-test of Pre-Test for Troubleshooting Accuracy .83Table 16 Result of Independent t-test of Post-Test 1 for Troubleshooting Accuracy .84Table 17 Result of Independent t-test of Post-Test 2 for Troubleshooting Accuracy .85Table 18 Result of Independent t-test of Pre-Test for Troubleshooting Time .88Table 19 Result of Independent t-test of Post-Test 1 for Troubleshooting Time 89Table 20 Result of Independent t-test of Post-Test 2 for Troubleshooting Time 90Table 21 Performance Gains for Virtual Labs . 92Table 22 Performance Gains for Real Labs .93xii

Table 23 Transfer Percentages .94Table 24. Summary of Results for Each Null Hypothesis . 95Table 25 Comparison of Performance Gains of Virtual And Real Labs 96xiii

1CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTIONLaboratory sessions in computer networking courses are an essential part of training.They provide hands-on experiences that allow students to learn the necessary skills required tomanage, configure, troubleshoot, and repair real computer networks (Anisetti et al.,2007).Laboratories also provide an opportunity for students to practice and acquire skills on realnetwork equipment (Feisel & Rosa, 2005).Unfortunately the equipment needed to perform hands on labs is not always available. InZambia, the offering of computer networking technician and engineering programs in highereducation institutions is limited because of the lack of capacity for providing laboratory sessions(Kessy, Kabemba, & Gachoka, 2006). According to the Zambian Ministry of Communicationand Transport (2006), this lack of capacity is manifested by an extreme limit of physical networkequipment and laboratory space.Students enrolled in computer networking courses, just as in any other engineeringdiscipline, have to attain competences that will prepare them with skills relevant to theworkplace in addition to understanding the underlying principles that govern computernetworking (Anisetti et