I am going to teach myself to administer linux. I want to be able to run both windows and linux. Before I install ubuntu on my laptop, I was wondering if I should partition my drive first, and if so how much room is recommended?
Yes. You must have to create a separate partition(not a drive) for ubuntu installation. Room size is up to you. If are planning to use it for long time give some 40GB space. When you install ubuntu it will ask for a partition and select the new partition.
PS: You must not keep any data/files inside that new partition thinking it can be accessed once you are done with ubuntu installation. It will be formatted into a new file system itself. (You may know this but just in case if you don't note this down.)
Your question as currently asked is impossible to answer in any way other than by guessing at might be "good" for you. I can tell you that you can install Ubuntu in as small as a 4.5 GB partition with no swap space, if you want to do that.
You provided no information about what type of a computer you are using. Factors such as how much RAM it has and how large the hard drive is would help us to provide better recommendations.
It would also help to have more specifics about what you think you might do after you have installed Ubuntu. If all you want to do is learn how to "administer" Ubuntu, then perhaps all you need is a 4.5 GB partition.
If your computer has hardware support for virtualization then I would recommend that you completely avoid doing a dual-boot. Instead run Ubuntu inside a virtual machine using, for example, VirtualBox, installed under Windows.
In my opinion, using Ubuntu installed in a VM provides a better learning environment.
One advantage is that while you are still learning how to use Ubuntu you can also work in parallel in the Windows environment you are already familiar with. This actually speeded up the learning process for me.
Another advantage is that you don't have to change the partitioning of your drive. A VM uses a virtual hard disk drive (VHDD) which is, essentially, just a very large Windows file. Also, a VHDD can be dynamic meaning the file increases in size only as you use more disk space within the virtual machine. This makes more efficient use of your hard drive.
But the main advantage of using a VM such as VirtualBox as a learning aid would have to be snapshots. A snapshot captures the the current state of a virtual machine and its virtual hard drives. If you make a change that breaks something, you can completely undo it and return to the previous state of your VM simply by restoring the snapshot.
Snapshots allow you to freely and painlessly experiment. For example, you could
My point is that you can do all of the above without worrying about destroying your install because you can always restore a snapshot you took earlier to completely undo any changes you might have made.
Completely overwrote something on your VHDD and made it unbootable? Restore the snapshot and it never happened.
And while you are doing any of the above, you can also do something in Windows. For example, if you start an install of Ubuntu inside a VM, you don't have to twiddle your thumbs while waiting for it to complete. You can do something else in Windows while you VM completes the install.
But, unfortunately, using a virtual machine only makes sense if your hardware provides support for it and you have enough RAM to allow you to run two operating systems at the same time. You did not tell us anything about your laptop so there is no way of knowing if this would work for you or not.
In the most general use case, you would need two different partitions, for installing Ubuntu. A swap partition is very much advised if you need the hibernate feature[You need to enable it manually in Ubuntu 12.04] or if your RAM is below 8GB.
As to how much space is to be allocated for each and as to how to do it, please refer this post with the exact details and screenshots of the steps to be followed- http://askubuntu.com/a/139273/11932