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As I had mentioned previously, this year, I’m going back to school. Not to take classes but to teach a course at my alma mater, Fanshawe College. I did this about a decade ago and thought it was interesting, so I was excited to give it another go. Additionally, after a friend mentioned that their kid wanted to learn Python, I developed an Intro to Python course aimed at the high school students that I’m teaching weekly. I thought that this would be good fodder for the State of Security. So, whenever I have something interesting to discuss, expect to find it here.

A week of teaching is in the books, and I’ve learned a few things. I am teaching two classes. One contains two adults and three teens. The other contains 20 college students. That’s two unique classes, but a few common lessons. These lessons may seem obvious. In fact, I’ll state that they are all obvious, but I wanted to reiterate them for people that may have forgotten them. I think that these are even more important to keep in mind in a Work From Home world.

  • If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.
  • There’s a learning curve to all new software.
  • Stupid bugs are stupid.
  • Technology just might be more magic than science.

If It Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong.

Things will go wrong. I had students with software that crashed during labs, students with computers that crashed during scheduled times and a student that missed a class because they forgot about it. It’s important in quarantine-life to keep in mind that things are going to go wrong and to be flexible and accepting of problems that pop up. We’re not living in the same world we were last year, and everything works better if we’re all a little more understanding.

This week, for me, that meant hosting a class for a single student who missed the class because they forgot about it. It meant starting up an extra virtual classroom because a student was struggling with software. This is a great reminder to transfer to the workplace. With more students than ever engaged in distance learning and people working from home, a lot more people are dealing with interruptions from their children during the day. A lot more people are waiting for deliveries because they don’t want to venture out as often. There are more interruptions, and refocusing can be more difficult than ever before. It is important that we acknowledge and recognize that as teachers, as managers, as human beings.

There’s a Learning Curve to All New Software.

I’m guilty of this one. I often jump into software that is similar to other products I’ve used and assume that they will function the same way. I’ve used WebEx and Microsoft Teams. I run one of my classes on Zoom, but the other class uses Bongo Virtual Classrooms, a technology I had not used before. First of all, a quick review. Virtual Classrooms are not nearly as full featured as other online conference software. They do, however, have some interesting aspects that the others do not (such as breakout rooms). There were three things, however, that caught me completely off guard.

  1. I assumed that I’d be able to control my own web cam after I turned it on.
    • Interestingly, with the software once I turned on my web cam, the option to disable it disappeared and it was stuck on while other screens were being shared, limiting the space available for the screen sharing to occur.
  2. I assumed that the “time limit” option was the time when people could join the room.
    • As it turns out, Virtual Classrooms automatically terminate when their time limit expires. This meant that while I was mid-question, the room just closed and kicked everyone out. I had to start a new session.
  3. I assumed that I’d be able to change my Microphone and Speaker preferences within the application. In fact, you have to disconnect from the audio, reconnect, tell it that the microphone and speaker test failed, and then you get a dialog to select new input/output devices.

All three of these assumptions made things move slower and definitely caused delays. It is smart to take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with new software, especially if that software is collaboration software and others are expecting it to work.

Stupid Bugs are Stupid

On Monday, a student reached out to me. They had followed all the steps in the lab, but a piece of software – Ghidra – wasn’t working as expected. It gave an error when they tried to run it. I started up a virtual classroom to attempt to solve their problem. It turns out that the problem is that the batch file to start Ghidra on Windows doesn’t like when there are spaces in the path.

They had the file on their desktop, and they had a username with spaces. So when they ran the batch file, it errored out. The solution was simple enough once the problem was identified. We simply moved Ghidra to a path with no spaces… but there’s no denying that was a stupid bug.

It’s an important lesson for that student to learn. Even production-ready software will have defects and issues that don’t always make sense, which makes it a good lesson not to panic when something you create has a flaw.

Technology Just Might Be More Magic Than Science.

I know that technology isn’t magic, but sometimes it feels like it is, and I think that it is important to recognize that feeling. How many times have you worked on something only to have it continuously fail, and then you jump on a call or have someone look over your shoulder, and it suddenly works? It has happened to me, and I know it’s happened to those I work with.

Well, this week it happened to a student. They had a VM that was giving them headaches, so I told them to share their screen and walk me through the process. The VM installed fine, and setup completed successfully. Why did it work that time? The easiest answer is magic. We’ve all had that thought in the past. The reality is likely that you know someone is watching, so you take your time and move a little slower, and that extra thoughtfulness is really what makes the difference. So it’s a good reminder that sometimes you just need to step back and rethink your process.

When I started this, I said I hoped to learn from my students. I have learned from them… one of them recommended Brim, a tool I suspect I’ll talk about in the future. I have also gotten reminders of past lessons… things that we tend to forget overtime.

I think that teaching this class is really eye-opening about the changes we need to make to our work environments in a COVID-19 world. I expect there will be many more technical lessons in the future, but I feel like this week simply reinforced some bullet points that are worth remembering and reiterating.

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