IMPROVING STUDENTS MOTIVATION FOR THE COMPUTER ARCHITECTURE
1 Almeria University (SPAIN)
2 Granada University (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN14 Proceedings
Publication year: 2014
Conference name: 6th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 7-9 July, 2014
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Abstract:The aim of this work is to motivate the students of Computer Science Degree for the concepts related to the Computer Architecture (AC). This topic is classified as fundamental in these studies and it is developed in several subjects in the early courses. However, a relevant percentage of students are not interested in to analyse the hardware components and their organization to build a modern computer. Many students think AC is focussed on hardware design and it is far of their future professional activity as software developers. The fundamental contents of AC are based on the study of a prototype of simple processor.
This prototype is used to analyze:
(1) the functional units of every processor and
(2) the techniques to improve the performance such as segmentation and multiple emission.
Most subjects related to AC are based on MIPS processor (Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages). MIPS is a RISC processor (Reduced Instruction Set Computing). This prototype has been widespread in the development of these subjects for decades , due to the wide variety of resources available for the study of the theoretical aspects and skills related to AC. However, despite the pedagogical dimension of these resources and the availability of commercial versions of MIPS, students perceive it as an academic example of no practical interest due to its limited use. This perception is enhanced by the fact that practical activities are exclusively based simulator architectures.
Moreover, in recent years has dramatically expanded the use of the ARM processor especially in mobile telephony and embedded systems . The ARM processor is also RISC and is very suitable as an educational prototype like MIPS. In addition, the popularity of this kind of processors has led to the success of initiatives like Raspberry Pi  consisting of a reduced size card with an ARM processor, which has been developed in the UK, by the foundation of the same name, with the intent to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools. Therefore, we are integrating ARM as prototype to develop the contents of AC. because students are interested by processors involved in systems as accessible as mobile phones and also because it possible to design laboratory tasks based on real resources.
Another approach to improve the students’ motivation consists of develop the contents of AC from a point of view of special interest for students of Computer Science Degree. So, these contents underline the keys of the architecture which programmers have to bearing in mind to program codes which can optimally exploit the resources of modern processors. This perspective implies includes the techniques of optimization of code of high level in the contents.
Therefore to improve the motivation of students by the before mentioned approaches it is necessary to develop a set of learning resources, for instance, slices to analyze the contents in the classroom, problems and laboratory exercises focused on ARM, and the optimization of codes. In this work we describe these resources and evaluate their impact in the students’ motivation.
 D A Patterson & J L Hennessy. Computer Organization and Design. The Hardware/Software Interface. 5th Edition. Edit. Morgan Kaufmann 2013.
 Raspberry Pi Wiki url: http://elinux.org/RaspberryPiBoard#Community
Keywords: Learning computer architecture.