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Data-Intensive Computing Environments Applying DICE Technology to Education


ast collections of data are becoming indispensable to the advance of science and education. In addition to its regular research, the Data-Intensive Computing Environments (DICE) thrust area is supporting NPACI education and outreach efforts in a role that will grow and expand in 2001 and beyond. The ultimate goal of the DICE thrust-led by Reagan Moore, SDSC scientist and UCSD adjunct professor of computer science and engineering-is to provide user-friendly online access to large data collections distributed across multiple sites while supporting education for all ages and for many disciplines. One example is SDSC's support of the California Digital Library (CDL) in developing a testbed for the CDL and in assessing various digital library technologies to support CDL's goals. "We're providing the infrastructure that enables educators to access, locate, and deliver knowledge," Moore said. "The technology has evolved from a collection-based data handling system data grid to support for digital libraries and knowledge-based persistent archives."

Figure 1. Sociology Workbench

The Sociology Workbench (SWB)-being developed at the Education Center on Computational Science and Engineering, an NPACI education partner at SDSU-is a collection of online tools for social scientists that enables them to analyze social surveys. The new version of SWB, a result of the Ed Center's collaboration with DICE, relies on the MIX approaches and technology for information management. SWB is used by Urban Studies and Planning (USP) students in the Senior Sequence class taught jointly by Ilya Zaslavsky from SDSC and Keith Pezzoli from the USP program.

The DICE projects have focused on integrating NPACI technology into national-scale data grids. The data-handling infrastructure is based on the SDSC Storage Resource Broker (SRB) and is augmented with information mediation based on XML (Extensible Markup Language). These technologies provide an environment for managing data and information, creating educational opportunities for accessing the data collections organized by scientific disciplines.

The SRB provides a uniform interface for connecting to heterogeneous data resources over a network. For educators, this translates to a convenient environment for data publishing and sharing. XML allows educators to be "on the same page" even when they need to combine data, information, and knowledge from different disciplines. The DICE technology addresses the challenge of integrating multiple information resources such as databases residing on different platforms and storage repositories accessed by incompatible software. According to DICE researcher Ilya Zaslavsky, as many projects-especially DICE software projects-mature and gain recognition and acceptance by the research community, more people will become familiar with them and use them in every day research and education.

"The technology that DICE is developing would allow educators to efficiently integrate different information streams," he said. "One of the more interesting directions for information integration that DICE is now exploring is knowledge-based information mediation. In the education context, a particular curriculum could be represented as a knowledge repository, which can be searched, queried, and re-styled for different target audiences." Currently, such technologies are being used to support digital video archiving and analysis in the University of Wisconsin Digital Insight project, to provide storage repositories for the Alexandria Digital Library Image collection and to provide persistent digital archives for holding data collections for hundreds of years.

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Figure 2. Regional Workbench

Regional Workbench-a project of Urban Studies and Planning, with involvement from DICE researchers Richand Marciano and Ilya Zaslavsky-is an emerging collection of online resources supporting integration of regional information and knowledge. It provides students with access points to regional information infrastructure and online analysis tools, such as the Sociology Workbench and interactive maps.

In the new year, two new projects will become part of the DICE activity, expanding its educational outreach. SDSC researchers Richard Marciano, Amarnath Gupta, Bertram Ludaescher, Ilya Zaslavsky, and Reagan Moore are collaborating on grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). These new projects focus on: (1) developing university courses on the challenges that information technology poses for the community of archivists, special collections librarians and preservation specialists, as well as records creators, resource allocators, and policy makers, and (2) developing educational opportunities for working archivists and their constituencies in the form of workshops.

One project, led by Anne Gilliland-Swetland at UCLA in collaboration with SDSC's Gupta, will look at building curricula for undergraduate and graduate Information Studies programs, focusing on the use of information technology in electronic records management and preservation. Partners will include DICE members and the University of New York at Albany. The project will address a critical responsibility that archivists have discovered in their work with electronic records: the persistent need to educate a variety of constituencies about the principles, products and resources necessary to implement archival considerations in the application of information technology to governmental functions.

Gilliland-Swetland will develop a systematic mechanism for identifying needs and professional requirements, which will then help to develop and evaluate undergraduate and graduate education and training for a range of stakeholders in aspects of electronic records management and preservation. The project will concentrate on how undergraduate and graduate education can be used to prepare the next generation of professionals who will be facing issues associated with electronic records management and information technology implementation.

"These projects will draw upon our research experience in XML-based technologies and our continuing work with the National Archives," Gupta said. "Combining our computer science perspective with UCLA's experience in electronic records management, digital preservation, and metadata definition research, we will identify which aspects of our computational research and related technology should become part of the core knowledge of the future students of archival science and library science, both at the graduate and undergraduate levels."

The other project is aimed specifically at addressing one of the NHPRC's top priority goals: to enable the nation's archivists, records managers, and documentary editors to take advantage of the opportunities posed by electronic technologies. NHPRC funds research and development on appraising, preserving, disseminating, and providing access to important documentary sources in electronic form. The Minnesota Historical Society will partner with DICE members, including Marciano, to create, test, and distribute educational products for practicing professional archivists and their constituencies. "There is a major need for developing educational bridges between archival, information science, and computer science communities," Marciano said. "The challenges and opportunities information technology poses call for collaborative educational partnerships."

Other recent DICE EOT activities have included three well-attended workshops on XML in 2000. Upcoming tutorials on XML and Electronic Records Management and Preservation are scheduled at the Society of California Archivists April 2001 meeting (Marciano) and at the Midwest Archives Conference May 2001 meeting (Moore).

"XML technology is so new and in flux, there is a major need for these tutorials and hands-on workshops," Marciano said. "We're trying to initiate a working relationship between researchers and educators that enables these various communities to learn and understand the building blocks that will allow them to benefit from the technology."

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The DICE group is continually improving the building blocks for environments that support information discovery-in essence, a national digital library. Moore says digital libraries are the mechanisms used to discover, retrieve, and present information, making complex research and discovery possible-much like a domino effect. "The mechanisms either provide access to data and images, or provide the information discovery services to locate the images. New approaches focus on knowledge management for curricula, to provide the access mechanisms for displaying curricula at workstations."

The Digital Libraries project will support EOT-PACI with advanced user interfaces for the Alexandria Digital Library, presentation and annotation technology for scientific data sets and documents (E-lib), Stanford's digital library interoperability protocol, and the California Digital Library. To support classrooms, the EOT Collections project will use the Digital Insight system-being created by Chris Thorn of the University of Wisconsin, Madison-to acquire, manage, analyze, and disseminate digital video for educational research. The eTEACH "Learning on Demand" project led by Greg Moses, the NPACI EOT thrust leader, delivers multiple channels of streaming video for explanatory material in teaching and research. This project with the University of Wisconsin's Center for Education Research uses the Storage Resource Broker for storing and indexing video materials.

"As the conduct of research changes-due to the introduction and proliferation of computing resources and the emerging importance of Internet technologies-scientific education will play a crucial role in tomorrow's information and learning capabilities," Moore said. "DICE technology activities are helping to ensure that the next generation of educators, researchers, archivists, and policy makers, among others, are prepared to comprehend, endorse, and carry forward important knowledge into the future." -LR

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Thrust Area Leader
Reagan Moore

Anne Gilliland-Swetland

Robert Horton
Minnesota Historical Society

Greg Moses
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Ilya Zaslavsky,
Richard Marciano,
Armarnath Gupta,
Bertram Ludaescher