Making connections

By Ben Garside. Posted

Originally published in Hello World 20: Systems and networks, Jan 2023. All information true at the time of original publishing.

Ben Garside suggests inviting a network manager into your classroom to bring networking to life

Traditionally, networks can be the area of your curriculum that feels a little concept-heavy. Like every other area of computing, however, it’s important to bring networking to life through real-world examples and hands-on experiences. One tip I’d like to suggest is to invite a network manager to come along to your lesson to speak with your students.

What can a network manager offer?

At my previous school, we were fortunate enough to have an on-site team that was responsible for the upkeep of the school network. When teaching networks one year, I asked the network manager to come and give a quick talk about what his job entailed. I hadn’t expected it to engage the students as much as it did, and what started as a 20-minute careers talk ended up filling most of the lesson with a barrage of questions from learners.

The following year, I thought more deeply about what the network manager could offer to enhance the curriculum. The next time he visited, I asked him to come into a lesson midway through the unit. Having briefed him about the key concepts and terminology students had studied, he came to class and gave an introduction to his role before giving learners a tour of the server room. He showed them the servers and switches, and explained the purpose of the UPS, why the room was air-conditioned, and how the servers are backed up, where to, and how regularly.

This approach supported the students’ mental model of how networks work by seeing the physical hardware that made the network they used each day function. The questions the students asked were more informed than the previous year, and clearly, some misconceptions were being addressed.

Practicalities, preparations, and tips

To ensure you get the most out of a visit, here are my top tips:

  1. Think about where in the sequence of lessons a visit would best fit. What knowledge would it be beneficial for students to have already in order to get the most out of it?

  2. The network manager might not be used to being in front of a classroom of young people. Help them prepare by showing them an overview of the unit, what knowledge pupils should have before the visit, and what they will learn about afterwards. It’s also helpful to inform your students about the visit ahead of time and ask them to submit questions to the network manager in advance.

  3. If the network manager can give a tour of the server room, consider the practicalities. The room might be small and noisy. Is it possible to take half the class at a time and get someone to supervise the students left in the classroom? What can those students be doing while others are getting their tour?

I personally found inviting a network manager into my class a great tool to engage students with networks and bring some quite abstract concepts to life. For other great ideas to make this topic more concrete, read Ben’s article on the previous page and our low-down of the best network simulator tools on page 22.

“I don’t have a network manager!”

Not everyone reading this will have a network manager on-site to give tours of a physical server room. If this is the case, there are other steps you can take to provide similar experiences:

  • Take your class on a visit to a local data centre and ask for a talk from the staff there

  • Industry experts are often willing to come into schools to give talks

  • Take a virtual reality tour of one of Google’s data centres — you can access this via YouTube with no need for VR headsets (


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