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Computer chatter 2:
Network performance

Years 7-8

Students build on and extend their knowledge of networks and discuss an inquiry question about Wi-Fi speeds and handling bulk of data transfer needs.

Learning hook

Revisit (and potentially extend) the learning hook from Computer chatter 1: Networks and data transmission

Learning map and outcomes

In this learning sequence, we will:

  • find out about the kinds of things that can affect the performance of a network.

You could also focus on the skillset and mindsets that learners might need to adopt and use during this project, this ties in with the Creative and Critical Thinking Capabilities. Read the effective teaching section, learning: knowledge and beyond Skills to Teach Digital Technologies for further guidance on this.

Learning input

  1. Students use the 'transportation chart' to compare the following types of transportation (adjust for your local context): walking, cycling, bus, tram, train, taxi, car and plane. You may want students to complete the template on paper, on a single electronic copy, or collaboratively through a collaborative document tool.
  2. In their comparisons, they consider the following factors: speed, reliability, complexity, capacity and cost.

    In addition to providing a rank for each mode of transport, students include notes on each of the factors that clarify any interesting points.

  3. Explain to students that when building a network or connecting a computer to an existing network, one of the considerations is whether or not to connect using wired or wireless technology.

    Learning construction

    1. Students research the following types of network infrastructure, using their experience from the 'Learning input' task to inform their process: WiFi, cellular (mobile phone networks), ethernet (copper), ADSL, cable and fibre ethernet.
    2. Students complete the research in groups of three or four.
    3. The group needs to come up with a consensus before they rank each criterion. To reach consensus they will often need to consider the factors they are using to make their decision, and this encourages them to weigh up the relative importance of these factors in each of the environments presented. 

      Remind them to provide a brief explanation of why they rank at the score they do.

    4. Remind students that for each of the technologies, they need to consider what it is being used for – the idea of constructing networks that are 'fit for purpose' is a way of reiterating that in some circumstances expensive infrastructure isn't always necessary.
    5. An example might be the installation of optic fibre between network infrastructure in a house – if the speed of your connection into the house is 25Mbps at its maximum over ADSL2+, then the performance of fibre between your computer and router when downloading content from the Internet would be no different to good quality copper or high-speed wireless protocols. This is because the connection coming into the house creates a 'bottleneck' in the network – as soon as traffic passes through that bottleneck, the maximum bandwidth is restricted by that possible through the ADSL2+ connection, no matter what might be possible down the fibre connection. 

      If, however, the communication is purely between devices on the same side of the router, the full speed of the fibre could be realised (for example, backing up to another computer on the home network). What needs to be weighed up now is whether the ability to back up your computer at high speed is worth the cost of the fibre, or if the much more affordable copper or wireless is sufficient for your typical use.

      This is also a good opportunity to introduce the following terms:

    6. Have students consider how each of these terms can be used in their explanation for each ranking, and how the terms might align with the criteria we have used on the sheet.
    7. Here are some useful analogies to help students understand these terms.
    8. Through this exercise, students should begin to see the merits of the various types of networking infrastructure in use today. This will also create opportunities for debate on issues such as long-term infrastructure investment, such as the decision between a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) NBN vs fibre-to-the-node (FTTN).
      Given that one aspect of the technologies learning area is that of students exploring preferred futures, having them understand the difference between an expense and an investment (in terms of short-term cost and long-term benefit) is an important concept that is directly applicable to decision-making and policy in this space.
      If students are having these conversations in their groups, encourage them to explore these ideas. Consider bringing them together for a whole class discussion of the issues if there is interest and merit in doing so.

    Learning demo

    Whole class activity

    1. Write this statement on the board:
    2. With recent developments in WiFi technology, there is no longer an urgent need for a fibre-to-the-premises network in Australia. This is because WiFi speeds are now more than adequate to handle the bulk of data transfer needs.

    3. Students do a 'Think, pair, share' activity using a 'Futures wheel' template. (Instructions on use can be found here). Have students use what they've learned so far about the different types of network infrastructure to decide whether or not they agree or disagree with the statement. 
    4. Students then pair up with another member of the class (ideally someone who holds a different view, but that’s not necessary) and discuss their position. Compare their reasons with the reasons of the other person.
      • Which of the reasons from someone in your group is the most compelling?
      • What changes might occur in technology and/or society that would make you reconsider your position?
    5. Finally, have each pair share their answers to the questions above with the whole class. Students could formally record their reflection and explanation – it could be on their device, through a blog post which they then share with others, or using an online discussion forum.

    Learning reflection

    1. Students identify something they have learned in the lesson, and how that has changed their outlook on some other aspect of society.
    2. This is an effective way to see how students can take the concepts they have learned and see the implications these may have on other areas of the students’ lives. You can scaffold this process by providing them with the following statement:

      Today, I learned that _______ . Because of this, I now see that _______ .

      An example might be:

      Today I learned that fibre optic cable can transfer data at really fast speeds. Because of this, I now see that doctors in rural areas could benefit from the NBN by having real-time access to specialists in cities to assist with their diagnosis and surgeries.

    3. Encourage students to think about aspects of their lives and society beyond those directly applicable to the learning they've done. It may be useful to provide them with an example. Students can begin to strengthen their understanding of the interdependent relationships that exist between learning in various disciplines in school. They can draw on their interests and passions to see how ICT has wide-ranging impacts on all aspects of society, and identify the value of the skills and knowledge they learn through the Digital Technologies curriculum.
      It could be useful to stimulate this thinking with a 'CS+X' story from the Careers with Code magazine. High schools across Australia were sent copies of the Careers with Code magazine – see if your Careers Adviser has a copy. There have been two editions released, one in 2014 and one in 2015.