The UK Open University has launched an exciting experiment that uses Raspberry Pi clusters to teach parallel and distributed computing to distance learning students. The initiative, which began in 2019, has already been featured in an academic paper and demonstrates the benefits of remote practical activities for teaching PDC concepts. The experiment has received positive feedback from students who appreciate the opportunity to work with physical hardware.
The Raspberry Pi clusters are based on the OctaPi instructions, which were released under a Creative Commons Licence by GCHQ. The clusters consist of eight Raspberry Pis connected in a private network using a router and a switch. One of the Raspberry Pis acts as the lead, while the others are servers providing results back to the lead device. Programs written in Python run on the lead Pi, and the dispy package distributes activities across cores in the cluster.
The three programs developed for the clusters include two text-based programs that are search problems, ideal for teaching PDC concepts, and a graphical program that constructs an image without any obstructions. Remote access to the clusters is via a web interface through the OpenSTEM Labs infrastructure, and students select which program to run and the parameters. The clusters are optional, but students are enjoying the experience of remote access to physical hardware.
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