Prof. Henri Casanova, in collaboration with Prof. Rafael Ferreira da Silva at USC, has received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for supporting a project entitled: “Integrating Core CI Literacy and Skills into University Curricula via Simulation-driven Activities”.
Project abstract: Years of Cyberinfrastructure research and development have resulted in a rich set of abstractions and interoperable software implementations that can leverage a wide range of hardware platforms to support data-driven applications in all fields of science and engineering. It is crucial to provide students with hands-on pedagogic activities through which they can acquire the Parallel and Distributed Computing (PDC) conceptual and practical knowledge necessary for them to join a workforce that develops and uses this Cyberinfrastructure. Requiring that these activities be conducted on actual hardware and software stacks limits participation because only few institutions have access to secure representative, stable, and possibly large deployments that can be used for educational purposes. It also limits the effectiveness of pedagogy because executions on such deployments are labor- and time-intensive, can be costly, and importantly are limited to the particular software and hardware configurations at hand. The main insight behind this work is that simulation promotes both participation and pedagogy because it allows students to experience arbitrary Cyberinfrastructure scenarios, only requiring that they have access to, say, a standard laptop computer. This is only feasible due to the recent development of simulation frameworks for easily developing simulators of complex distributed systems that afford simulations that are both accurate and scalable. Given this insight and this recent development, this project develops simulation-driven interactive pedagogic activities for a spectrum of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), ranging from standard PDC SLOs as well as SLOs relevant to current and emerging Cyberinfrastructure practices. The activities are organized in modules with a prerequisite structure, and come with guidelines for integration into existing university courses, starting at freshman levels. Several pedagogic strategies are employed through which students execute interactive simulations with configurable levels of details along various narrative paths. Research questions include determining which strategies, with which levels of simulation details, work best for which SLOs. Answers to such questions, and determination of the overall effectiveness of simulation-driven pedagogy for PDC and Cyberinfrastructure SLOs, are derived from qualitative and quantitative data collected from students in focus groups and university courses, and from instructors of these courses.