Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist

Learn to write battery-saving code in new moocs on computer architecture

Better code can help reduce power consumption in computers and mobile phones. But how? And why is it important? Professor Per Stenström will teach two brand new moocs from ChalmersX, the digital campus of Chalmers University of Technology, where the curious can learn how to write effective programs that save battery time and make server halls more environmentally friendly.

​Our smartphones, tablets and computers are filled with applications and functions that make everyday life a little easier. This is hardly more noticeable than when the battery runs out at the worst possible moment and you’re suddenly stranded without access to your internet bank, map or camera. Unfortunately, all of these new technical wonders consume relatively large amounts of power, a side-effect which has escalated as the technology has gotten more advanced. However, there is still hope to be found. In the first out of two moocs developed by ChalmersX, Per Stenström, Professor in Computer science, will teach participants how to code more efficiently, take full advantage of the performance of today’s computers – and save energy.
“The course is aimed at anyone possessing basic programming skills who wants to learn how to enhance programs to make them run faster while consuming less energy. Some prior knowledge is required, but you don’t need to be an expert to keep up. High school students who’ve studied programming could definitely benefit from the course. We start with the very basics, like how long it takes a computer to perform a simple addition”, says Per Stenström.

Interplay between software and hardware

The most important message that Per Stenström hopes will resonate with the participants from the moocs is that computer architecture concerns not only hardware or software, but both. A computer system gets its characteristics from the interplay between the two.
    “All aspects must be considered for the result to be successful. Just like when building a bridge and one needs to consider both the inherent strength of the materials and the laws of physics, you need to code in a manner that balances your program to the performance and conditions of the intended hardware,” says Per Stenström.
Per Stenström started
out studying electrical engineering. He discovered his passion for computers at Lund University, where he became a pioneer in the field and initiated their very first courses in computer science. In 1995 he became a professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg.
“I started building my own computers at home early in the game and I’ve always found the subject to be magically fascinating! My research is focused on finding new principles for computer construction, to get the machines to calculate quicker. Parallel to that I am interested in innovation. The best way to put research results to use is through companies. Hence, I’ve been involved in plenty of start-ups and incubators,” says Per Stenström.

Positive to new educational tools and methods

In addition to his research and mentoring a group of PhD-students at Chalmers, Per Stenström teaches at least one course in computer science per term.
“Honestly, I have enough on my plate as it is, but I really don’t want to give up teaching – it’s just too much fun. So this mooc-project is right up my alley, and a proper challenge at that,” says Per Stenström.
In the last few years, Per Stenström has used the educational method known as the ‘flipped classroom’, in which lectures are recorded beforehand and scheduled time in the classroom is used for interactivity between students and teacher. A method that lends itself well to being appropriated in moocs.
    “It’ll be interesting to see what the exchange with the participants will be like when there are so many of them, from all over the world, and you don’t meet face-to-face, only through the computer.”
A mooc (Massive Open Online Course) is a course offered via an online platform in the form of recorded lectures, course texts and assignments and quizzes for the participants to complete during the run of the course. It’s open to anyone with a computer, smartphone or tablet and access to the internet. Computer System Design is divided into two parts: Improving Energy Efficiency and Performance starting November 1st 2016 and Advanced Concepts of Modern Microprocessors starting January 4th 2017.
Text: Carolina Svensson
Pictures: Anna-Lena Lundqvist

Published: Tue 25 Oct 2016.