Photo by Derek Swanson.
Juniors, Adrian Siwi and Jeff Pumaras, work at the recently installed Netlab facility.
Lewis University became the first four-year university in the region to institute an actively running Netlab service for students in IT and Security Networking majors. The project was spearheaded by Eric Spangler, an adjunct instructor and with the help of volunteer IT students, the service was installed in early 2018. According to Spangler, the system is “fully operational for all students,” although he emphasized that the program is still a work-in-progress.
A Netlab is an online facility that allows students to conduct experiments in a way that wasn’t possible before. A student can access the lab from anywhere in the world by visiting netlabs.cs.lewisu.edu and will be able to complete experiments that are being implemented into courses from a range of majors. There is also a physical lab on campus in the Arts and Sciences building that students can access on campus, with the same benefits that would be had from using a student’s own device.
Students will select a time block of their choice for up to four hours at a time to complete any labs they have been assigned, from anywhere they like. An administrator has access to any Netlab that is in use at any given time and is allowed the ability to walk students through experiments remotely. In previous years, software was sent out to students to be installed on their own devices, which often lead to compatibility issues, keeping students from being able to fulfill the goals of the course.
“The biggest benefit is that almost all of our courses are offered online now,” said Spangler. “The question was, how many students in our department alone can’t come to campus?”
Spangler emphasized that the program will have campus-wide benefits, and envisions that the Netlab will go on to help students in biology, chemistry and physics in conducting their own experiments. Beyond that, eventually students in aviation and nearly any degree will have access to the lab.
The project is currently in phase one, which began in October 2017 with a grant for the hardware and facility being approved. Construction began with Spangler and several students at the start of the spring semester and finished at the end of the first week of class.
Phase two will begin at the end of the spring 2018 semester, welcoming the addition of more servers to the lab, more programs that will be available to a greater range of STEM majors, a new facility that will be split into two rooms with windows to view either side and a new home for the university’s Supercomputer.
“The permanent facility will be a draw for the department,” said Spangler. “Currently, the Supercomputer is in a room where nobody can see it, but it will be on display to everybody.”
After becoming a Cisco Networking Academy last year and switching the security to Palo Alto firewalls, students now have the ability to take more courses that will better prepare them for the CCNA certification, which tests a student’s skills to operate and manage a network. With the addition of Netlab, these same courses can be offered to students with more restrictive schedules and even those who live out of state.
“We are constantly striving to provide our students with as much of a real-world experience as we can,” said Dr. Ray Klump, chair of the computer and mathematical sciences department. “When they go out into their careers, they’re going to have to know how to do the kinds of things that Netlab is now affording them an opportunity to learn.”
Lewis joins Moraine Valley and College of DuPage as the only schools in the region to have a Netlab, while Lewis is the only full-scale university to offer the program. “It is a huge opportunity for all online classes,” said Spangler.