The web-site is now in readonly mode. Login and registration are disabled. (28 June 2019)

Francis Morrissey's design narrative: Using a £25 Raspberry Pi as a Web Server and Educational Platform

Cloud created by:

Francis Morrissey
11 April 2014

Title Using a £25 Raspberry Pi as a Web Server and Educational Platform

Narrator

In this situation, I was teaching a Level 3 Information Technology course - Server- Side Scripting

 

Situation

The challenge was rapidly immersing students in a new Operating System environment where they had to apply several concepts that they had previously learned in other modules (such as networking and computing hardware) with many new concepts.

This class had no prior practical knowledge of Raspberry Pis and were unfamiliar with the process of connecting them with the other hardware components.

Further, the majority of students were only familiar with the existence of one major Operating System environment - Windows, and had never heard about, let alone encountered Linux.

This lesson was to take place in a relatively small classroom which would hinder my ability to circulate and support.

The complexity of this lesson would be compounded by the necessity of the students to connect the new Raspberry Pis with a mix of existing fixed computer hardware such as monitors, with other components such as usb keyboards/mice and networking cables. This would present health and safety risks if students do not adhere to correct procedures for connecting equipment and ensuring cables are routed in a safe manner

The majority of the students are adventurous and welcome challenges, however the remainder like to stay within their 'comfort zone'. The positive aspect is that the class is generally very supportive of each other.

 

Task

The overall objective of the Unit is to have students effectively programming using PHP, a web scripting language over the course of 60 guided learning hours.

The objective of this lesson was to install software packages to create a Database-driven Web Server environment based on LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) using Raspberry Pis.

To do this:

  • Students needed to become familiar with quickly setting up hardware (Raspberry Pis) which they will be using, while following safety procedures.

  • Students needed to install the Linux Operating System themselves and understand how to fix it in the future if they encounter errors relating to file system corruption.

  • Students needed to understand and correctly use various Linux commands in order to correctly navigate and install software and updates.

  • Students needed to install and test software packages to create a Database-driven Web Server environment based on LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP).

  • Students needed to create a simple web page and share it with others using their web server by the end of the lesson.

Actions

  • At the beginning of the lesson, all required hardware components was made available, but not set-up since a part of the learning objectives was to have students become familiar with that process.

     

  • Students had been previously briefed on the goals of the lesson so they ensured they were punctual. 

  • I explained the purpose of each hardware component and how they should attach it to the existing systems components. An obstacle that as present was the physical size of the room. This provided difficulty in circulating to ensure that students had all connected equipment as instructed. To overcome, I requested that each student check the adjacent student's set-up before 'powering up'. 

  • Many students were able to successfully connect hardware, others required assistance. I had those who were finished help others while I checked to ensure students adhered to the safety guidelines. 

  • When students powered on their Raspberry Pis, I had already provided the instructions for installing the OS enabling me to provide direct assistance for those who encountered difficulty. 

  • I used the time that the OS was being installed to discuss theory regarding web servers - the Linux OS and the opportunities challenges using Raspberry Pis as the platform for this project. 

  • One of the issues encountered was that some students' installations and upgrades were being completed at a faster rate than others. I had subsequent task instructions ready and available to ensure there was no 'idle' time. 

  • Students researched how to install security updates while others were waiting for OS installation to complete. 

  • Students moved on to installing the LAMP server. Many expressed scepticism that the plan would work based on the size of the Raspberry Pis, and the seemingly mammoth task we would ask of it. 

  • Students successfully installed required software packages and ran supplied and self-researched commands to test functionality. 

  • Students started scripting a HTML page to display as the home page for their web server. HTML web development was the previous unit done by the students and they were already familiar with its syntax. 

  • While students were scripting and exploring, I assisted a few who had difficulties.

 Results

  • Students were all able to set-up and connect Raspberry Pis while adhering to safety guidelines. Evidenced by personal and peer checks before initial start-up. 

  • Student were able to install Operating System, and based on that process, understood the procedure for restore in the event of a file system corruption. 

  • Through self-directed learning and some guidance, students all installed latest security updates and new packages. Most students were able to explain how the commands worked and why packages were needed. 

  • After an initial tutorial, students all gained a familiarity with navigation through a somewhat alien command-driven OS environment. This was evidenced by completion of tasks for which complete information for each step was purposely withheld, except for few who were struggling. 

  • Students were able to complete installation of LAMP server and created their 'home page' using HTML scripting. This was evidenced by sharing IP addresses and each student viewing each other's server page.

 Reflections

 

  • This task was ambitious primarily due to the time constraints of the lesson. Students were very responsible and enthused. This experience provided an understanding of how other student groups would react to similar tasks. I had always been very hesitant introducing this technology because I assumed that students would be irresponsible and not focused due to lack of familiarity. 
  • Students were comfortable exploring an operating system alien to them, much more comfortable than my first encounter which supports that it is better to introduce new concepts while students are younger. 
  • There was a sense of accomplishment evident after students completed each task. They became very competitive and researched how to do tasks which were valuable though not directly related to achieving lesson objectives. 
  • There were other teachers who heard about the lesson activities. They were intrigued and asked as many questions as the students.

Extra content

Embedded Content

Contribute

Contribute to the discussion

Please log in to post a comment. Register here if you haven't signed up yet.