by Taha Sabih | 11 November 2013
It has been widely accepted that technology now plays a very important role in education delivery and retention. In the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE), Dr. Vincent Tam and Dr. Edmund Lam have been doing extensive research on e-learning deliverable. They discussed with us their projects. A light and fun one called PETAL over the summer; and a larger-scaled research COMPAD+ which has been applied in the learning of all EEE students since last year.
COMPAD+ is a computer architecture simulator developed in collaboration with colleagues from the Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the Computer Science departments, with funding from Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA).
COMPAD, short for Learning Pad for Computers, is a project that started a few years ago. It makes EEE classes more interactive by letting students doodle system architecture sketches on a windows CE tablet and generate digital diagrams with handwriting recognition. Handwritten symbols such as μP for micro-processor, I/O for input/output are readily recognized.
COMPAD+ is a continuation of the project on a new platform — the Windows Azure Cloud — to build a flexible and interactive simulator to work on any platform and operating system through your browser.
The support from MSRA is important here; the Azure platform would cost US$1500 a year if industrial pricing applies.
COMPAD+ is now being used for the Computer Architecture and Microprocessors course for engineering freshmen. Dr. Tam talked about how the simulator could be used for other courses as well, “the simulator architecture is applicable to more advanced simulations as well, such as the graduate level course, High Performance Computer Architecture. We have made a library of different architecture models, and the system can do the retrieval of these different models as required from the cloud.”
The prototype has already been released to freshmen last year, and has been used with very positive reviews.
Furthermore, Dr. Tam has also collaborated with the university’s Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning – CETL to conduct evaluation of the COMPAD+ platform. The team has already published two papers on the platform (Building an Interactive Simulator on A Cloud Computing Platform to Enhance Students’ Understanding of Computer Systems, 2013 IEEE 13th International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies) and hope to go on further from this point.
Since everything is done on the cloud, it gives rise to interesting ways the software can be used. One such approach might be for high-frequency trading. The software can access and deliver information from the cloud at very high speeds, and aid in simulation for such trades on the stock market.
It is interesting to note that in the COMPAD+ simulator, one can vary the speed of the simulation, but in the case of applications in trading, the simulation speeds are much higher, in the order of hundreds of transactions per second.
This kind of scaling possibilities demonstrates the industry-university collaboration that can be achieved with in-house developed products.