Associate Professor and Chair of Computer Science David Bunde has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to expand undergraduate computer science curriculum in the emerging area of heterogeneous computing (HC). Bunde will work with one student each year to develop learning modules, as well as with a team of students who will test those modules and provide feedback.
The project, entitled "Widening the CI Workforce On-ramp by Exposing Undergraduates to Heterogeneous Computing," addresses a gap in computer science education by pioneering a method of teaching HC at the undergraduate level.
In addition to students and faculty at Knox College, Bunde will be conferring with fellow principal investigators (PIs) at Texas State University and Concordia University Texas who will be carrying out similar testing at their respective institutions.
CI refers to cyberinfrastructure, and HC refers to the use of multiple types of computer processors simultaneously. Today, computers and smart devices increasingly rely on multiple processors, with each processor specialized for executing different operations, such as solving simple mathematical problems or displaying graphics. By writing instructions that help processors split up a task and work simultaneously, software engineers can increase the efficiency of computers by exponential measures.
HC topics are often covered as upper level electives at research universities, which means that most undergraduates have little exposure to the field.
Bunde's proposal highlights that students working on the project will acquire knowledge and skills that improve their employability in the broader computing industry.
"Heterogeneity really became a big consideration in the supercomputing world and now we're thinking about how to teach it more widely," says Bunde. "A key benefit of this work is that it can introduce students to new material without increasing their time to degree."
Students in Bunde's research cohort will work on integrating HC with the curriculum of existing courses, as well as developing immersive "boot camps" to cover additional material.
Bunde notes that his students will have an even deeper engagement than traditional classroom learning: "They'll have to not only think about the content, but also about how it should be presented and demonstrated. What order makes sense for the topics? What examples are particularly illustrative?"
Beyond fostering community between the three institutions carrying out the research, the project will also forge alliances with industry experts, who will provide feedback on the training modules.
Eight NSF grants totalling more than $1.5 million have been awarded to Knox College in the past eight years. Last year, an award of $188,000 supported the purchase of a Scanning Electron Microscope.