Awardee: Tom Yeh, Visiting Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Research Assistant: Max Sterner (Occidental College ’21)
Title: Visualization of Computer Hardware to Facilitate Computer Architecture Education in Liberal Arts Colleges
Goal: To redesign the CS 181: Computer Organization and Design course to utilize open-source tools, such as Logism Evolution, and open source modules for heterogeneous computing concepts
Literature has shown that having a solid mental model of computer architecture facilitates a greater understanding of computer science concepts. Based on Tom Yeh’s experience teaching computer organization and computer architecture courses, he knows that visualization is crucial for students to learn computer architecture concepts. Because many of Yeh’s students do not have an engineering background and typically are not familiar with logic design, his goal was to help students construct a visual model of computer architecture.
In previous iterations of his computer architecture courses, Yeh utilized the open-source tool Logisim to create visual models of CPUs to augment the textbook. With that as his jumping-off point, Yeh’s Hahn Teaching with Technology project focused on designing a new course for Fall 2021, CS 181: Computer Organization and Design. He also plans to implement some of the same technologies in future courses.
To achieve his multifaceted goal, Yeh had students create a visual model of a Central Processing Unit, extend that understanding to advanced architectural techniques, and finally, integrate heterogeneous computing concepts. As part of this large undertaking, Yeh composed a class project involving five student groups who were each responsible for implementing a specific part of a CPU as a means of bridging the all-too-often disconnect between learning and actively practicing concepts.
The benefits to students have been clear. They have a more solid mental model of computer architecture, creating higher quality CPU components compared to previous classes. Furthermore, students are better prepared for future endeavors.
Yeh, too, has benefited from the project—able to fully leverage his CPU design experience in teaching computer organization and computer architecture classes.
As Yeh continues his work, he hopes to inspire more students to study computer architecture. He is also enthusiastic about sharing the heterogeneous computing material with other faculty members who might find them useful.