Can a video series help you learn Win2K at the same time it prepares you for MCSE certification?

Windows 2000 at the Movies

Can a video series help you learn Win2K at the same time it prepares you for MCSE certification?

Working by sitting in front of the TV with the remote in hand may seem like a dream come true for your average couch potato, but the time I spent in front of the tube preparing this month’s review was all business. No time to switch over to the daytime soaps or watch my favorite reruns of Seinfeld. I was evaluating Specialized Solutions’ new five-part video series, “Windows 2000 MCSE Upgrade,” to ascertain if it’s an effective tool to help MCPs achieve the coveted new Windows 2000 MCSE certification.

This was my first experience with video-based computer training, since I’ve spent most of my career delving into books, CBT-based media, and instructor-led classroom training. But I’ve used enough video-based instruction for other subject matter to know what essential ingredients I require. Knowledge building can come from many sources, so I was eager to find out whether or not this form of self-study would be up to the task. I slipped in the first video, pressed play, and kicked up my feet with a cup of coffee in hand. You don’t need a surround-sound home theater for an event like this, but a steady supply of caffeine helps.

Product Information
Windows 2000 MCSE Upgrade
Specialized Solutions, Inc.
5 videos, 420 minutes, $995
www.specializedsolutions.com

The series starts off as you’d expect, with a discussion of the various versions of Windows 2000 and their relative similarities and differences. But from there, MCSE and instructor Ross Brunson jumps into a haphazard overview of the various new technologies integrated into Win2K. True to a general overview, he promises to elaborate later on the various products and services, but I couldn’t find a logical flow to the way in which each technology was introduced. Imagine taking a beginner’s automotive class in which the car mechanic opens up the hood of the car and says, “OK, class, we have spark plugs, an air filter, timing belt, water pump, pistons, hubcaps… ” but doesn’t take the time to progress logically through the engine, or explain how these pieces relate to each other. You can skip the “overview” in this series; it’s nothing more than a whirlwind monologue of concepts and lingo presented too quickly and with no apparent roadmap to let you know where you’ll end up.

OK, so the introduction bombed, I thought. Let’s see if the “detail” is any better. After the intro, the instructor discusses the Win2K installation process and follows this with a demonstration of an installation. That went smoothly, though I thought too much time was spent exploring the minutiae of dialog box options. End of tape one, start of tape two. Maybe it would pick up from here.

No such luck. The remaining tapes are a lesson in boredom, with the instructor limited to sitting at his desk, throwing out numerous concepts, quoting RFCs, and plugging third-party products. The logic of the discussion escaped me. A minute counter is shown at the bottom right corner of the screen, so you can take a break and return to the frame where you left off. But with no study guide, index, or roadmap, you’re left wondering where you are in the knowledge-building process. The instructor limits his demonstration of DNS, DHCP, Active Directory, and the like by working at two computers. Configuring two Win2K computers is insufficient to demonstrate the various configurations required for a good understanding of these products in a working environment. I would have suggested producing the video in a classroom setting with whiteboards to explain concepts and a plethora of machines to demonstrate the configuration of a multi-domain environment.

The instructor was technically accurate 99 percent of the time, letting slip this mistake: “The global catalog server will contain all the active directory objects and all object attributes.” In reality, the GC will store only a subset of the attributes. In another series of frames he comments that Windows NT 4.0 had to follow the security concept of AGLP strictly—meaning placing user accounts in global groups, which are placed in local groups, which are granted permissions to a resource. But even in NT 4.0, you could bypass some of these steps and grant a user or global group direct and explicit permissions to a resource. While I can forgive these rare technical mistakes, it’s tougher to dismiss the poorly organized content.

The instructor offers numerous hands-on demonstrations of installing and configuring various Windows 2000 services, namely DHCP, DNS, disk management, setting up a domain controller, setting up a Dfs root, Terminal Services, and RAS. But here too the videos fall short. Any MCP can finagle their way through Microsoft wizards to configure a service he or she has already been exposed to in NT. The true challenge lies in teaching these MCPs the nuances of Active Directory, Group Policy, NT to Win2K planning and migration, Remote Installation Services (RIS), Internet Connection Sharing, Knowledge Consistency Checker connection objects, site link establishment and optimization, and the Internet Printing Protocol.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s important to learn how the “old services” work in the new Win2K environment; but with a limited amount of videotape and attention span, it’s more important to learn the new features of Win2K. In other words, this series should have been structured to not dwell on the old but to delve into the new, explaining how these new services work and how they integrate with each other. The instruction should follow up with hands-on demonstrations that the viewer can perform at the same time.

The folks at Specialized Solutions didn’t spend a lot of time on multimedia content; few slides or graphics show up in the series. Out of the handful shown, one is technically incorrect, showing a RAID 5 volume with all the parity data on a single drive instead of staggered throughout the array. Remember the old saying that the most important thing in retail business is, “location, location, location”? In video training, the most important thing should be “content, content, content.” All you have to do is watch channels like the Discovery Channel and the History Channel to know that multimedia content is paramount in bringing knowledge to the home viewer. This holds true for computer training as well.

I see a plethora of these “quick-to-market” products blossoming to fill the need for Win2K training, especially as upgrade fever reaches its peak. But that doesn’t mean quality and sound training practices must be sacrificed. My recommendation? If this is your preferred learning mode, wait for a video series that offers a more structured learning format. It should be complete with a guide or index, true interactive exercises where you as the learner actively participate, rich multimedia content, and “whiteboard-based” conceptual instruction. Watching someone sit at a desk and talk for hours isn’t my idea of fun learning. In today’s workforce, “on demand” training must have robust content and be structured to infuse you with excitement about learning, and techniques to help you retain knowledge. Simple armchair instruction won’t make the cut in today’s high-tech training digital production studio.

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