C2 Wednesday February 8 2006

C2 Strategic C-level Discussions on Technology

February 8, 2006

From the Top

Digitizing the Treasures


Excerpted from a recent Campus Technology magazine interview with
Dan Updegrove
Vice President of IT
University of Texas-Austin

The University of Texas holds vast and diverse library and museum collections, research and scholarly materials, and many other knowledge assets. What if they could be leveraged among all the citizens of the State of Texas and beyond? This is the vision underlying UTOPIA, an expanding knowledge gateway to university resources conceived in 2002 and launched in 2004 (utopia.utexas.edu). Dan Updegrove, UT Austin's VP of IT is a leader of this ambitious initiative, together with Fred Heath, vice provost for Libraries, Judy Ashcroft, associate VP for Instructional Innovation and Assessment, and Andrew Dillon, dean of the School of Information. Started with a $2 million dollar grant from the Houston Endowment (www.houstonendowment.org), UTOPIA has emphasized K-12 and has been linked to Texas curriculum standards in its initial rollout. But the project will reach other constituencies as it evolves over time. We asked Updegrove for an update:

What are some of the other constituencies or targets for the content of UTOPIA? Independent scholars, for one-those who don't have a great university near at hand. But while some of our work is driven by a desire to reach constituencies, in other cases it's more a question of 'Where do we have great stuff?' For example, we have one of the few complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible, which we've completely digitized; we have a major astronomy facility in West Texas, the McDonald Observatory, with rich content in that domain; we have a distinguished collection of Latin American art in our Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centers; we have the papers of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer and many others, including the recent addition of the Watergate Papers. The goal is to get more of these types of resources into UTOPIA.

There are obviously numerous other institutions putting their information up on the Web, each with a particular strategy. For example, MIT is working on putting all its course materials up on OpenCourseWare (OCW). What is UTOPIA's hallmark, so to speak? It's our view that every distinguished university is putting lots of stuff on the Web, as fast as it can. But often the work is being done by scholars, for scholars. That's enormously helpful for someone like, for example, a doctoral student working on a dissertation. But it's pretty opaque, maybe even intimidating, for the general citizen. So, a key goal of UTOPIA is to demystify the information, curate it, edit it, and provide graphics, illustrations, and formatting to make the resources more acessible to a non-scholarly audience.

UTOPIA is an enormous effort, as you said earlier, with $1.5 million per year in steady state costs. How will you sustain that, and what type of assessment will you do? We understood that this is an ambitious, multi-year, multi-million dollar effort, and that there is no clear exemplar for it-it is critically important that we have some kind of a measurement and assessment model, and that we figure out how to sustain UTOPIA. One response to both of those challenges was to create a national advisory board to critique what we've been doing, and to advise us on the assessment methodology. Also in that regard, some of the earliest conversations that we had with the Houston Endowment focused on the generalizability of UTOPIA-if other universities might find this an appropriate thing to do. While UT has a fine collection of Latin American art, other universities have collections in other areas-maybe African art or Oceanic art, for example. Wouldn't it be terrific if the UTOPIA experience were cloned, so to speak, or if we had a set of interoperating knowledge gateway Web sites, with other universities?

We know that UTOPIA is a big project. How would you characterize its scope in terms of how far you still have to go? We don't want to suggest that UTOPIA is finished, or that we have all the answers about how a public university might strategically use the Web as a citizen outreach vehicle. We understood that this was new and just a beginning. And the breadth and depth of UT's resources, both analog and digital, mean that there's so much more we could offer. The University of Texas has broad academic and research programs, and we have the sixth or seventh largest library collection in the country. And the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center has something like 25 million documents, photographs, and other objects; the opportunities are just fantastic. But, finding the resources and determining how best to digitize all of that information, organize it, curate it; deliver it in multiple languages and multiple technical formats; assess how it's being used; and host and facilitate citizen-to-citizen and citizen-to-scholar collaboration… I think you can quickly see, this looks like a 10-to-20 year challenge.

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Need to Know

Academic Analytics

Most people would agree that academic success is a combination of aptitude and effort. Researchers at Purdue University (IN) hope to correlate information like SAT scores from their student information system-suggesting aptitude-with data leveraged from their course management system-reflecting effort-in order to enable intelligent agents to provide triggers that would direct students to supplemental instruction and other retention initiatives. During a Fall 2005 semester study, they analyzed data from an Oracle backend database connected to their WebCT CMS. This spring, they will work on developing intervention strategies.

DOJ Gives Nod to Blackboard, WebCT

The US Department of Justice announced clearance Monday for Blackboard and WebCT to complete their merger. The DOJ closed out its review of Blackboard¹s proposed acquisition of WebCT, giving the companies a final green light. 'This is particularly relevant and exciting news as we prepare for our biggest annual event (BbWorld '06), our eighth Blackboard users conference,' said Michael Chasen, President and CEO of Blackboard. Blackboard expects to complete the transaction as early as March or April.

Who's Where

Robert Berdahl to Lead AAU

A former chancellor of UC Berkeley as well as a former president of UT Austin, Berdahl will assume his new post as president of the Association of American Universities (AAU) this coming spring, after completing his teaching commitments on the Berkeley campus. 'The partnership between the federal government and our nation's research universities that has resulted in such extraordinary advances in knowledge is threatened by stagnant federal investment in research and intensifying competition from abroad,' Berdahl commented. 'This partnership has been essential to national security and economic growth for more than half a century. I look forward to directing AAU's efforts to reaffirm and strengthen this partnership.'

UCSD Center for Networked Systems Gets New Director

Computer scientist Amin Vahdat, Ph.D., has taken the reins as director of the University of California, San Diego's Center for Networked Systems (CNS). Vahdat is also an academic participant in the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).

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