SC20 Proceedings

The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis

Strategies for Transitioning to Online HPC Education and Training

Authors: Weronika Filinger (Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC), University of Edinburgh), Julia Mullen (MIT Lincoln Laboratory), Ann Backhaus (Pawsey Supercomputing Center), Mozhgan Kabiri Chimeh (Nvidia Corporation)

Abstract: As the world reacts to the Covd19 pandemic the importance of virtual education and training has been rising. Many educators have been forced to transition online without any prior experience with virtual learning environments. In fact, there is a wealth of experience in online education within the HPC community that can be leveraged in the on-going effort of making the training opportunities available and more accessible. The aim of this session is to discuss what methods work and in what context, and gather the best practices on online HPC education and training, focusing on aspects that are unique to HPC.

Long Description: HPC is lagging behind other disciplines when it comes to uptake of novel teaching and training methodologies. This is mainly due to HPC’s interdisciplinary nature and technological requirements. Although many people within the HPC community were experimenting with online and blended educational approaches (including PRACE and XSEDE) before the pandemic, there hasn’t been much knowledge transfer and sharing of experiences. Now, when virtual teaching is a necessity, it’s crucial for the community to work together towards establishing Best Practices for Online HPC Education and Training. This session aims to bring together everyone involved or interested in taking advantage of the possibilities offered by an online environment in delivering HPC education and training. This applies equally to HPC service providers, academia and industry.

The current landscape of HPC education and training is incredibly diverse and complex. It covers a wide spectrum of training formats, ranging from one-off short sessions to long university courses, in-person and virtual, synchronous and asynchronous, informal and accredited, differing entry levels, and using different technologies. The variety of formats and delivery modes, compounded with the need to meet the learning objectives for different target audiences leads to different technology solutions. There is no one solution that fits all online training events - for the training to be effective it has to use a delivery method that matches its purpose and circumstances. Therefore, it is important to share experiences and insights into solutions that have been shown to work and not to work, emphasising the context they were used in. Approaches that may work for a 2-hour webinar may be unsuitable for a multi-week or multi-month asynchronous course. The session will aim to collect experiences from the participants and collate them into a useful set of guidelines and practices.

The potential discussion topics include:

- Transitioning existing face-to-face content to an online modality – how to effectively reuse existing materials;

- Ensuring the engagement – how to design, develop and deliver the content so learners find it relevant, authentic, and easy to engage with;

- Building interactivity between learners and educators, and amongst learners – covering a variety of communication channels and tools to facilitate the interactions;

- Assessment and feedback - although, traditionally not all of the HPC training events require assessment, it's important to ensure the learning objectives are being achieved and tested when required, in a scalable manner.

- Learning metrics - being able to understand the effectiveness and appropriateness of the provided training is crucial but the metrics used in face-to-face setting usually don’t capture the complexity of the online education.

- Hands-on sessions - the practical sessions are one of the key elements of HPC education and training and so it is crucial they fulfil their role in the online setting.

The leaders of this BoF have decades of combined experience with online teaching using a number of different technologies and delivering a variety of training events in different formats. The formats include MOOCs, SPOCs, ODL university courses, workshops and hybrid virtual/on-site sessions.


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