The University continues to offer alumni excellent learning opportunities through its range of free massive open online courses (MOOCs). And starting on 6 March, the Supercomputing course promises to reveal how supercomputers are powering real-life scientific breakthroughs. We speak to its coordinator, Dr David Henty.
Tell us about the upcoming Supercomputing MOOC.
The course is designed to explain what supercomputing is all about: how supercomputers are built, how they are programmed and how they are used to advance our knowledge of the world around us through large-scale computer simulations. Along the way we also try to explain the workings of a modern laptop or home PC. You may know that your machine has a quadcore processor, but what does this mean and why is it useful?
I work within the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) – which is part of the University – and we operate and support the UK national supercomputer known as ARCHER. This makes us best placed to answer those questions.
Is computing experience needed to join your MOOC?
Not at all. All the technical aspects are covered at a conceptual level and there is no requirement to be able to write computer programs. However, anyone with existing programming experience will be able to appreciate how programming modern supercomputers differs from a home PC.
What should a learner expect from the MOOC mode of study?
Like many of the University's MOOCs, we use the FutureLearn platform which has its origins in the Open University. The courses are designed to be easily accessible, fun to study and to promote the maximum possible interaction between learners. We use a combination of articles, videos, quizzes and discussion topics to explain the fundamental concepts of supercomputing.
Although it is split into five weeks, you have access to all the material from the outset so you can go at your own pace.
What are the course outcomes?
This course is designed for anyone interested in cutting-edge computing technology, supercomputers or the role that computer simulation takes in modern science and engineering. We hope that many people will just enjoy learning about this world-leading computer technology and its applications. The weather forecast you see on the evening news requires a supercomputer to produce it: why is it needed and how is it done?
Are there opportunities for further study after completion of the MOOC?
If you want to learn more technical details, EPCC offers a fully accredited online course - "Practical Introduction to High Performance Computing (HPC)" - where learners have access to ARCHER for all the hands-on practical examples. We also offer a traditional one-year campus-based masters course in HPC.
Edinburgh was the first UK university to offer MOOCs, and more than 1.5 million learners have joined these online courses.
The free Supercomputing MOOC begins on 6 March.
Enrol at the FutureLearn website: Supercomputing MOOC