News Update :: Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Ohio, Michigan Set Sights for Midwest Regional Super Net

The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) and Merit Network, Inc., research and education networks operated by Ohio State University and the University of Michigan, said they would jointly acquire additional fiber acquisitions to enhance the Midwest’s regional networking capabilities. To do so, the partners said they would acquire managed fiber from Toledo, Ohio, to Chicago, Ill., and will consider further acquisitions east of Ohio. They also said they want to eventually create a Network Operations Center to support a Regional Optical Network (RON) in the Midwest.

Pankaj Shah, director of OARnet, OSC's networking division, said “such partnerships can redesign the optical networking landscape for the entire region." Mary McLaughlin, Merit’s networking director, said the collaboration sets the course for “achieving a RON reaching from Chicago to New York."

The partnership provides OSC with connectivity via owned fiber into Chicago, which has become a major crossroads for most national and international research and education networks (NREN). Merit will extend its connectivity into Pittsburgh, Pa., providing its constituents with direct high performance connectivity to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

Regional network planners envision faster applications between more remote educational institutions as a result of the partnership. They pointed to the example of the Interlochen Center for the Arts, a music academy in rural northern Michigan, which would be better able to provide virtual instruction to students at the Cleveland Institute of Music via high performance videoconferencing. Previously, this required that students physically travel to Cleveland.

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ETS Study Recommends Higher Education Accountability

Researchers at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) have recommended adopting a national system to assess learning outcomes among students taking basic coursework at two-and four-year colleges and universities. Without such tools, according to ETS, higher education has scant evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of their work.

The ETS’s recommendations are included in a report, "A Culture of Evidence: Postsecondary Assessment and Learning Outcomes." The report recommends focusing on four parts of student learning: workplace readiness and general skills; domain-specific knowledge; and soft skills such as teamwork and communications.

"Colleges and universities face continued pressure to prove their effectiveness in an increasingly difficult fiscal environment," said Mari Pearlman, senior vice president of higher education at ETS. "We hope this paper will further the discussion about how our system of higher education might respond to this challenge." It recommends a systematic, data-driven approach to measuring student learning with direct, reliable measures.

"Most of the information we use today consists of either input measures such as grades and test scores, or output measures such as number of degrees granted or students employed," said report co-author Carol Dwyer. "We need to start addressing what student competencies are when they've arrived and what they are after they've departed college."

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UC Profs Invent Wearable Emergency Response System

Computer science researchers at the University of California at Irvine have developed a wearable-computing device designed to allow emergency first responders to maintain constant contact with rescue coordinators and data sources at emergency control centers. The “Evac-Pack” was created as part of a National Science Foundation project called ResCUE (Responding to Crises and Unexpected Events) by UCI computer science professor Sharad Mehrotra and Chris Davison, the project's test-bed manager.

The two researchers assembled the apparatus from off-the-shelf components, including a backpack-transported computer, video camera, a wearable keyboard, and a wireless mouse. An eyeglass-mounted visual display and full-duplex audio microphone and earpiece allow updated real-time situation awareness. A sensor detects levels of dangerous gases present in an environment, and an avionics-designed helmet incorporates a compass, accelerometer, and thermometer to transmit images and data to the control center.

The “human-as-sensor” technology helps “get important information to the right people as quickly as possible,” said Mehrotra, who noted that in buildings equipped with an 802.11 network layer, the system can "push" a map of each floor into the wearer's eyepiece, eliminating unnecessary room-to-room searches.

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Chattanooga State to Offer Truckers ‘InCab’ College Degree

Have some Pi, good buddy. Chattanooga State, one of the Southeast's largest community college systems, has partnered with a firm specializing in communications systems for trucking companies. The goal is to establish a distance education system for truckers while they are on the road. Called InCab University, the program will use a special network to offer truck drivers access to Chattanooga State’s online class library while they are driving.

The school, with its partner TransMarkets Technologies, said the courses would be designed with “the driver's needs in mind, with professors that are empathetic to the driving lifestyle, and with flexible scheduling that is accommodative to drivers.” The program would include classes from subjects that range from small business management to criminal justice.

"It is important for the program professors to understand the challenges drivers face over-the-road,” James Langley, vice president of information technology and program development for InCab University, told “Driving is not your average career, and can be difficult and less structured than most jobs with long-hours and changing schedules. We have worked hard to ensure that the drivers have a pleasant and rewarding experience, while gaining a valuable set of skills that can take them far in life."

Craig Fuller, chief executive officer of InCab University, said the program is being modeled on the success of the GI Bill, which offered education benefits to military veterans. “We believe that trucking can be attractive in the same way, by opening up college education as a recruiting tool for fleets,” he said. “This is perfect for folks that wish to earn a college degree, make a good living, and see the country.”

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MIT Researchers Develop ‘Seeing’ Network Technology

MIT researchers have developed an optical system made of mesh-like light-detecting fibers that they expect will lead to improved space telescopes to clothing that provides situational awareness for soldiers or even the visually impaired. The fiber mesh, which has a number of advantages over lens-based systems, can measure the direction, intensity, and phase of light without the lenses or filters that are the basic elements of eyes or cameras.

The transparent fiber-webs could enable huge computer screens to be activated with beams of light instead of the touch of a finger. "We could use light to enhance interaction with computers and even gaming systems," said the team’s leader, Professor Y'el Fink of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Research Lab of Electronics. "It's intriguing – the idea of touching with light."

The human eye, as well as digital and film cameras, rely on lenses and detector surfaces (like the retina) to make images. But these systems are constrained by their size, weight, fragility, and limited field of view. In contrast, the fiber webs are flexible and lightweight. Plus, a fiber web in the shape of a sphere can sense the entire volume of space around it, according to Fink.

"When you're looking at something with your eyes, there's a particular direction you're looking in," says Ayman Abouraddy, a research scientist in Fink's lab. "The field of view is defined around that direction. Depending on the lens, you may be able to capture a certain field of view around that direction, but that's it. Until now, most every optical system was limited by an optical axis or direction."

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