What Should a Systems Administration Student's Homework Look Like?
When we teach computer programming, we have a pretty good idea of what the homework looks like. We have the students write programs, and then we assess the programs' functionality and quality. But what about systems administration? We could have students configure servers and then assess the configuration, but the real work of systems administration is in operating the servers. How do we evaluate that?
In the systems administration course at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand, students operate a web service using around the clock for two weeks while they are presented with a variety of scenarios and challenges. They are assessed on observed system uptime together with their performance on the problem scenarios. Open source software like Linux, Puppet, and Nagios are used by students and instructors to accomplish this.
In this presentation we will look at lessons learned from running this activity in a recent instance of the course. We will see how the same open source tools used by systems administrators can be used to teach systems administration. We will also discuss work to improve the the delivery and assessment of the activity in the future.
Tom Clark studied mathematics and computer science at Seattle University and Dartmouth College before going on to work in various software development, IT operations, and tertiary teaching roles. Tom joined the staff of Dunedin, New Zealand's Otago Polytechnic in July of 2013 to teach in the Bachelor of Information Technology programme. He teaches papers in programming, networking, and systems administration.