Prof. Harsha Madhyastha has been selected to receive the Neil Van Eenam Memorial Undergraduate Teaching Award for 2020-21 from the College of Engineering. This award recognizes an innovative and outstanding teacher in undergraduate education. Madhyastha has focused on making undergraduate upper level courses reflect the changing needs of industry, and has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students for his efforts.
Madhyastha joined the CSE Division in 2014, and ever since has focused his teaching efforts on upper-level CS courses for undergraduates. In 2017, Madhyastha developed and taught EECS 491: Introduction to Distributed Systems. As mobile and computer applications increasingly rely on services running in the cloud, demand has grown for developers who can build scalable and fault-tolerant services that run across thousands of servers in large data centers.
Madhyastha sought to prepare students for that change in the industry with EECS 491. The course covers the fundamental principles behind developing abstractions that simplify the construction of distributed systems, and has students apply these principles in four projects. Distributed systems courses are typically offered only at the graduate level at most universities because of their difficulty, which means that U-M undergraduates who take EECS 491 will have an edge in the job market.
In addition to designing EECS 491, Madhyastha has taught EECS 482: Introduction to Operating Systems five times and introduced several changes to make the course’s large lectures more accessible to students. In 2015, he developed lecture slides for the course from scratch, after its traditional whiteboard instruction became too difficult for the 300-person lectures to follow. His slides were used by five other instructors of the course after the change garnered positive reception from students, and proved especially useful during the move to remote education in 2020.
After the shift to remote instruction in the midst of the Winter 2020 semester, Madhyastha developed a Google Docs based infrastructure for administering remote exams, which is now in use both in EECS 491 and EECS 482.
Outside the classroom, Madhyastha has mentored several undergraduate researchers, two of whom co-authored publications with him at top-tier venues. Five of the undergraduates who did research in his lab are now pursuing PhDs.