GLASGOW – Half of the lights were turned off in Daren Johnson’s classroom at the Barren County Area Technology Center on Friday, and his students were typing diligently on their respective computers.
Johnson, the Information Technology instructor, was standing in the front of the room next to a smart board which projected a screen that mimicked the screens of his students.
They were creating a virtual local area network (LAN).
“We’re making our network more efficient and more secure,” Johnson said. “In this scenario we’re doing, they’re creating a network for faculty computers, another network that’s separate for students and another one for guests.”
He added that they were also creating a network for management purposes.
“They’re practicing at putting those commands into a switch that will effectively create that kind of a network,” Johnson said.
While the students were running simulations of actual networks on their computers, there are several clusters of computers equipped with real switches and routers at the back of the classroom. Johnson walked over to this area and pointed to the equipment.
“They actually sit here and do the exact same thing, but they’ll do it with real equipment and watch it work,” Johnson said. He then turned on one of the computers and began typing commands.
“I’m in a switch,” he said. “I’m looking at the same command lines that they are, and I have the same set of commands.
“That’s the beauty of that simulator. You can create as small or complex a network as you want and it will function just like this real equipment.”
The simulator the students were using was created by Cisco.
“Cisco does a lot of internet hardware,” Johnson said. “They’re one of the largest providers of servers and switches and equipment that’s used to run networks. And they sponsor a curriculum designed to teach networking.
“And we are what they call a Cisco Academy.”
Johnson said they use a universal curriculum that teaches students how to run networks.
“If they’re taking this class, they’re getting the exact same content they would get at any Cisco Academy anywhere in the world,” he said.
Barren County High School sophomore Tommy Richey has taken four of Johnson’s classes and said he enjoys “getting to work on the computers and learning how to wire stuff and make cables and stuff like that.” He said his dad used to own a business and did computer repair.
“I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Richey said.
BCHS senior Joel Kalwat said he enjoys getting into the hardware.
“I’ve always been a hardware kind of guy,” he said, adding that his father was an electronic engineer and “that’s a viable option for me.”
Johnson, who has taught at the Barren County ATC since 1999, said his program is a “foundation for entry-level certifications and a basis for further advancement.”
He said the program offers two pathways: “Network Administration Cisco Pathway” and “Information Support and Services.”
The former allows his students to earn a certification for the first two entry-level courses of the Cisco curriculum, which they can later build upon. Johnson said this pathway can lead into “an environment where they are administering networks or doing support services, working with an administrator to support a network, configuring switches and routers and even implementing and building networks.”
Johnson described the Information Support and Services pathway as “more of a field tech or bench tech, where they would actually go in and take the industry certification for A+, and be able to go in and work in an IT department and do basic hardware/software support and be able to go in and replace components and build computers and troubleshoot.”
Johnson said he enjoys watching his students learn and pick up the knowledge they need to be successful, not only in future careers, but in everyday situations as well.
“I really enjoy when I have students come back and say, ‘Hey, I was able to fix my computer at home,’ or ‘I was able to put some network cables together for our network at home.’”
He added that many of his students have pursued and are currently in IT careers as well.
BCHS senior Brandon Pipgrass said the IT skills he is learning can lead to a wide range of jobs.
“And you don’t have to go far,” he said. “You don’t have to live in like LA, New York, to find work. You can come around locally and go to people’s houses, and say they have a hardware issue with their computer, you can go out there.
“Say Walmart has a server issue, you can go fix Walmart’s server.”