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6.896 Topics in Computer Networks

Tcl-me LCS
(6.0 5.0 6.0)

Lecturer: H. Balakrishnan
Next Term: Not Offered
Lecturer's Rating: 6.0/7.0
Prerequisites: Probability background, 6.033 or 6.853
Response rate: 24 out of 35
Difficulty: 6.5/7.0
Overall Rating: 6.0/7.0
Term Evaluated: Fall 98

Lecturer's Comments:

6.896 covers recent and classic research topics in computer networks and the Internet. Students should take this course to learn how to do research, especially in networking, to understand the state-of-the-art in network protocols, architectures, and applications, and to investigate novel ideas in the area via semester-long research projects. The prerequisite for this class is a systems background with exposure to networking, elementary probabilistic analysis, and the ability to critique work.

Students in 6.896 "became familiar with the state-of-the-art in networks." The students agreed that this is a survey course that teaches "just about everything in (Internet) networking research... but not any one topic in any great detail." Students also commented that the course does not teach the fundamentals, or background material, such as probability, for instance. Most students were very interested in the subject material.

6.856 is mostly made up of M.Eng and graduate course VI students, with about equal VI-1, VI-2, and VI-3 representation. Students agreed that much more time is spent on practicalities, rather than on any rigorous theory. However, they still praised the depth of content in 6.896.

Students found lectures very useful in learning the material, often ranking them as the best way to learn. Readings and problem sets were second and third, respectively.

Students recommend taking 6.896 to learn about current research topics in computer networks. Students interested in computer architecture and implementations will also be interested. The class covers a lot of material, so students should have a solid background in computer architecture and networks. Students also suggested knowing awk, perl, tcl, and C++. The only consistent complaint that students have of the course is that it tends to gloss over important points in its survey-style treatment of the material. "The content is very good, but there is too much jumping around between different areas. It would be better to narrow the content and go in some areas with more focus."

Lecturer H. Balakrishnan received positive comments for encouraging students to pursue their own research projects outside of class. Students also praised his enthusiasm and well-prepared lectures: "His lecture is very well-prepared and full of insightful comments." Most students suggested that the lecturer slow his pace down considerably; "he does lecture at a very fast pace." Students also commented that his pace quickens later into lecture. A few students felt that he did a good job at conveying the material, but that there was too much material to fit into one lecture. Students complimented his good use of the blackboard.

Some students found the 6.896 problem set very useful for learning the material; all found it very long. Students also complained about administrative problems, such as delays in assigning the problem set, "poor timing", and "not returning" the problem sets. Some students did not approve of the content of the problem sets, saying they "did not shed much knowledge," and "needed much background" to complete. Students estimated that about one third of the work involved "mindless grunge." There was only one problem set at the time of the review, and students spent 20-50 hours working on it. The problem set was assigned in teams of two, which students seemed to appreciate: "without the psychological support, it would have been hard." Students did not use bibles, as 6.896 was a new course this semester.

"Hari is a networking god!"

"Basically, what this class needs is more support staff and it has the potential to become a classic."

Dated: December 1, 1998
Eta Kappa Nu, MIT