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Feature - First OSG Summer School a success

Feature - OSG Summer School a success

The summer school in progress. Image courtesy of OSG.

Last month, Open Science Grid hosted its first summer school, and by all reports, it was a hit with both teachers and students.

"The OSG Summer School was a great experience," said Vishagan Ratnaswamy, who will begin work on his doctorate in aeronautics this fall at Caltech. "I was able to learn more about the script files I was using as well as the systems I was running my simulations on."

Before attending the summer school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ratnaswamy was already an OSG user. But by attending, he said, he learned more about the available computational resources and the many ways in which grid computing can be applied to various types of research.

Ratnaswamy was one of 17 students chosen from a pool of 45 applicants to receive funding to attend the summer school, the TeraGrid '10 conference, and next year's OSG All-Hands Meeting. At the summer school, participants had the opportunity to learn the basics of grid computing - knowledge they could apply to working within a variety of distributed computing environments.

"Distributed computing is fundamentally complex because you've got resources you don't control; it's a new paradigm of working and so people have to be got over the threshold to use it," said Ruth Pordes, executive director of OSG. "Having an intense collaborative session of a few days where you're resident really helps to get over that threshold."

Although OSG has hosted grid schools in the past, the model for this summer school was aimed at a slightly different audience.

"In the new summer school we focused on use of distributed resources and then bolstered that by foundational methodologies," Pordes said, "whereas in grid schools we talked about the nitty gritty of the underlying software."

In the past, summer school 'faculty' and about ten students would receive sponsorship to attend an international summer school in Europe. This summer, however, the international summer school did not occur. The team at OSG had been working on the idea of a US summer school for several years, Pordes said. Since the international school would not be happening this year, faculty were able to channel the effort normally spent on the international school towards making OSG's new Summer School a reality.

The students who attended the first OSG Summer School pose for a group photo. Image courtesy of OSG.

That effort included the development of the school's curriculum and content.

"We concentrated on providing lots of high-quality hands-on learning activities," said Tim Cartwright, who lead the team that organized the school. "The ultimate goal was to give students the ability to apply the lessons directly to their own research projects. And already, less than a month since the school, we are hearing back from students who are doing just that."

The summer school was co-located with the OSG staff retreat, making it possible for OSG staff to become more involved and interact with the students in both formal and informal settings.

"Having the OSG staff teach the school gave it a credibility and vitality that could not be matched otherwise," Cartwright said. "And it seems clear to me that the students felt this, too."

The summer school team is clearly eager to continually improve the school.

"We asked the students to do daily assessments, and we got very positive feedback and constructive criticism from them," said Alain Roy, the assistant organizer of the school. "We're going to soon have a group discussion to figure out what it is we should be doing next year."

To keep their new knowledge fresh, each student has been paired with a mentor who will serve as a resource over the next year. The mentorship portion of OSG's summer school was modeled after the Department of Energy's computational science graduate fellowship program. As part of the DOE's fellowship, each fellow and his or her supervisor attend an intensive workshop, creating a more cohesive experience; eventually, Pordes hopes to emulate this aspect of the DOE fellowship as well.

According to Pordes, we can expect to see the summer school again someday. Until then, you can view the course materials on the summer school website.

New educational initiatives

iSGTW wants to hear about new educational initiatives in the realm of HTC and HPC. Let us know about new programs that are in the works or began in the last year by sending us an email.

-Miriam Boon, iSGTW

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