When networks attack

Preparing for the worst is the key to a successful training class. TechRepublic contributor Schoun Regan shares his networking preparation tactics for off-site training.

I was set to teach a two-day, basic- and intermediate-level networking class. This class was to be held on-site, at the mercy of whatever network the company used. On each day, I planned to cover Internet access, the configuration of the computers, and an in-depth explanation of the Internet. Normally, this kind of class is a walk in the park. Hubs, routers, gateways, Web servers, mail servers, and the like—they're all important to the overall scheme of networking. As it turned out, the classroom’s Internet access ranged from sporadic to nothing. Would you know how to prepare for such an emergency? Read on, and I’ll tell you how I worked this problem out.

The stage
The seminar was to be held at a downtown office tower that was, of course, wired for Internet access. This location was undergoing renovation, however, and the communication lines within the office were still being reconfigured during the two-day class. As a result, the Internet connection was spotty. Luckily, I arrived a day ahead and discovered the situation. I needed to re-engineer my demonstrations in the event that the participants had no Internet access during class. In short, I had my work cut out for me.

The download
To deal with the World Wide Web, access Web pages, and explore links and HTML code, I had just the weapon I needed. The night before the seminar, I connected to the Net from my hotel and used Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.5 for the Macintosh to connect to several sites. I then saved these sites, including all external links, images, sounds, movies, and mail links. That way, I would be able to display entire sites during the seminar even if I couldn’t connect to the Internet.

The movies
How would I be able to show the configuration of TCP/IP, Pop and SMTP settings, router configurations, pinging, tracing, and many other Net related functions if we had no access? I simply logged on at the hotel and used Snapz Pro 2.0.1 from Ambrosia Software to record what I saw on my screen into a movie file. This way I would be able to explain how to configure a TCP/IP account, ping an IP address, trace an IP route, and much more, by playing the movie files in full screen mode. Again, I wouldn’t have to rely on the Internet connection to demonstrate important networking information.

The versatility
By now you might be saying, "That's fine for the Mac, but I teach on a PC, so how would I get around this potential problem?" You'd probably also say, "Schoun, may I buy you dinner next time you're in town?" (Yes, you may.) Well, I had to show not only the Mac, but Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT Server, and DOS. Using a product from Connectix called VirtualPC (current version 3.0), I was able to run all of the flavors of Windows AND record them with the Mac utility Snapz Pro! That meant I could configure the TCP/IP properties, install services for Macintosh for NT, connect to the Net, ping, run trace route, set up domains, and record it all! And since I was running VirtualPC, I was able to capture all of the Windows flavors restarting (i.e., the startup splash screens), something that would be very difficult on a PC without extra equipment. In the event the class had absolutely no network connection, I would still be able to show these Windows networking techniques.

The show
How did the class go? During both days, the Internet connection was sporadic. I was able to connect to the Internet when I needed it most and I ended up using only a few of the movie files I had recorded. When I did use them, however, it was interesting to see the students’ reaction. They understood the problematic connection and were grateful for the supplemental material.

The lesson
While I would prefer to have continuous Internet connection when teaching classes about the Internet and networking, I believe the Mac/movie method is the next best thing. And once you re-engineer your demonstrations for the Mac, you can use them over and over. I have since added recorded files of logging into a Novell environment, using other software that requires additional setup time, and additional Internet-related information to my movies. While I had not intended this to be an article on why Macs are better for training, I guess it turned out to be one. I know it made believers out of some of my students.
Trainers usually experience at least one “near disaster “ during their career. What’s yours? And what did you do to save the day? Please share your story with your fellow trainers by posting it below. If you have any ideas for future training articles that you’d like to share, please send us a note .

Schoun Regan is a consultant to training firms and a writer on Mac and other training-related topics. Mr. Regan travels across North America educating people for Complete Mac Seminars.

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