The 2012 Harvey Spangler Award
for Technology-enhanced Instruction
In 2008, anticipating a greater need for access to high-performance computing and an increasing demand for large-scale modeling and simulation, Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Dan Negrut created a course specifically to give students hands-on experience with supercomputing clusters.
The course, High Performance Computing for Engineering Applications (ME 964), has drawn students from students in departments all over campus.
To teach it, Negrut adopted an innovative approach, establishing a website as the center of the course, making course materials available to anyone in the world. Students can access classroom presentations, homework assignments, the syllabus, and a daily video of Negrut’s lectures, learning at times and at a pace that works best for them. “In my academic career, my student experience in Dan’s course stands out for its smoothly implemented, high-impact use of technology to support and facilitate the learning process,” says one former student. “He effectively set up an environment for success of the student beyond traditional classroom time by providing an easily accessible web-based hub for attaining all course materials, communication with peers and the course instructor, and referencing audio recordings of lectures.”
Students as far away as China, India, Brazil and Japan have downloaded course materials. A web forum on the site also allows students to interact and share knowledge with each other, leaving Negrut free to spend more time on lecture preparation and other activities. Thousands have viewed this forum since 2008.
Furthermore, for their course projects, students have access to the third-fastest supercomputer on campus, which Negrut built himself using grants from the Army Research Office, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and AMD. They can access the computer from anywhere, including smartphones. “This (course) speaks to Mr. Negrut’s drive in professing to students the knowledge he has obtained in programming for GPUs at a time where GPU programming is a revolution, not evolution, in computing technology,” says another former student.
Mechanical Engineering Professor and Chair Roxann Engelstad says another measure of the value of Negrut’s teaching methods are his evaluations, which year after year have ranked among the top three in the department. “The method he has developed has the potential to change our approach to teaching highly-specialized, advanced courses,” she says.