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Computer Forensics Course Reinvigorated by Professor Dan Pittman

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Aurora VanDam

Ritchie School Student Reporter

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Associate Professor, Dan Pittman, PhD, began teaching the Computer Forensics class this Winter Quarter in the Ritchie School of Engineering & Computer Science. Wanting to bring industry knowledge into the classroom using his experience from thirteen years in the software industry, Pittman has been able to restructure the class to include more real-life examples and projects.

The course teaches students to investigate a computer system for how hackers or thieves might have broken into or spammed the system. The class at its core teaches cyber security. Students learn to ask questions like, “how did someone break into a tech space? What footprint was left behind? How does one minimize their own digital footprint?” Through asking these types of questions students can learn to navigate a tech space with a minimal digital footprint and forensically image a hard drive disk. Their findings need to be able to hold up in a state of court should the security issue be major enough.

These techniques are taught through a series of problem-solving assignments in class. Professor Pittman performs live demonstration examples with the students so they are able to see the process in real-time. Pittman feels like he gets to learn right along with the students by using this real-time teaching method, and students are encouraged when the class can work through the problems together.

There are two major projects throughout the quarter that involve real-life examples to solve. The goal is to have the students be able to apply the concepts they learn into real life analysis within the classroom, rather than simply learning about the concepts without any solid experience executing it. Matt Rennie, a former student of the course said “My favorite part of the course was the group projects. It was one of the more difficult projects I’ve done and was a great test of all the knowledge we learned over the quarter.”

Before Pittman took over the course, there weren’t really any projects or assignments that allowed students to try their hand at applying their coursework concepts. Now under Pittman’s guidance, application of concepts seems to be the main focus of the course and the students seem to be enjoying the new structure.

The course is available every Winter Quarter for registration and is typically an evening class. Rennie said about Pittman “[He] is a great instructor. He explains things clearly and has lots of patience. He’s readily available outside of class and will help you even if it’s not office hours.” While teaching in a hands-on environment can be more challenging for an instructor, Pittman said “I enjoy helping people. There is more satisfaction teaching students, it’s fulfilling in a way that industry isn’t.”