Using games to teach parallelism to undergraduate students

Hello world! I am an Engineer in the Visual Computing Software Enabling (VCSE) at Intel, working with game companies to optimize their games for Intel platforms. VCSE also publishes graphics samples as a part of our outreach to game developers. One of the samples, Ticker Tape, was modified to make it suitable for teaching parallelism topics to undergraduate students.

I attended the First NSF/TCPP Workshop on Parallel and Distributed Computing Education (EduPar-11) as a part of 25th IEEE International Parallel & Distributed Processing Symposium (IPDPS) in Anchorage, AK. The focus of the workshop was on teaching parallelism at the undergraduate level, the challenges faced and suggested changes to introduce parallelism topics earlier in undergraduate coursework. I presented a talk on modifications to Ticker Tape to make it more suitable for inclusion in undergraduate curriculum and encourage faculty to include game demos in undergraduate courses.

This has been an interesting workshop to attend, with faculty and academic collaborators debating (sometimes vigorously) issues that crop up in changing curriculum to include parallelism topics. As one of the session presenters mentioned, students are loathe to wait 15 secs to see the serial implementation of a program run, and then compare it to a parallel implementation that took 4 secs to complete. Two messages from the keynote that I found interesting: performance tuning is key and faculty are looking for more workloads to make these courses interesting.

Game demos are ideal to overcome these issues. Performance tuning a demo using profiling tools is the first step in identifying where the program is spending the most time (hotspots). Once identified, some of these hotspots can be addressed by changing the algorithm, looking for data parallel sections and moving from serial to parallel implementation. Increased parallelism manifests itself in real-time through the game usually via increased frames per second (fps).

If you are interested in evaluating Ticker Tape in your classroom, feel free to download a copy from here. The Intel Academic Community has a lot of resources to teach parallelism topics here and if you are an academic institute interested in the latest tools and software, do join today!