This section of TLR Innovations provides short updates on UIT Academic Technology projects, partnerships, and services.

Research Technology

Super-fast link established between the Research cluster and the “Viswall”
In May 2009, UIT Academic Technology supervised the installation of a new and dedicated 10Gig fiber network link between the Tufts High Performance Computing (HPC) research cluster in TAB and the Center for Scientific Visualization (aka “Viswall”) in Anderson Hall.

This link provides Tufts researchers and students with a novel and very high-speed connection which they can use to leverage the computing power of the cluster to render complex graphics in real time. This link also makes it possible to move massive amounts of data between research storage volumes and the visualization wall graphics workstation. This is good news for cluster users wishing to make use of the Viswall, and vice versa. Fine-tuning of this link will take place this fall to optimize performance. UIT Academic Technology is interested in identifying scalable faculty or graduate student HPC jobs that may take advantage of this link. If you think you might have such a project, please visit http://go.tufts.edu/cluster and click the Visualization link to learn more.

Sharing private nodes on the cluster benefits faculty and the community

When we purchased the new Tufts High Performance Computing (HPC) research cluster in June 2008, we designed it to allow individual research groups to contribute their own computing nodes if they had the funding to do so. The idea behind this was to allow researchers to have their own dedicated HPC resources, while simultaneously benefiting from use of this shared resource.

Here’s how it works: a faculty member purchases a certain number of nodes to be integrated into the cluster at a discounted price negotiated with IBM; UIT is responsible for installing, maintaining, and supporting these nodes; special queues with priority and preemption privileges are created for each faculty group; CPU time that is unused by the faculty owner is given back to the community thus increasing our shared computing capacity. The benefits are immediate: node contributors gain their own dedicated hardware for which they do not have to compete with other users, as is the case for the public side of the research cluster; when capacity is not being used on the dedicated nodes, the community gains additional computing power (12% at the moment). After a year, six private nodes have been contributed by faculty in four research groups, and these nodes are being used to help the groups perform their research more efficiently. The participating research groups are: Dean Linda Abriola, School of Engineering: 1 node Professor Roni Khardon, Computer Science: 2 nodes Professor Eric Miller, Electrical & Computer Engineering: 2 nodes Professor Lenore Cowen, Computer Science: 1 node Interest in contributing private nodes has been high. Also, the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) legislation has provided an unprecedented level of funding ($8.2 billion in extramural funding) to the NIH to help stimulate the US economy through the support and advancement of scientific research. There are many pending individual ARRA grants that have budgeted for such nodes, so we expect to see additional growth if those grants come through. Overall, the cluster includes 45 public nodes and 6 private nodes with 8 cores each for a total of 408 cores.

Mathematica for Tufts Students

Recently UIT Academic Technology upgraded its research cluster Mathematica license to allow currently enrolled students to install and use Mathematica on student-owned computers.

Prior to this effort, the software could be installed only on Tufts-owned hardware. Starting in fall 2009, students may download the current version of Mathematica and install it on their computers. Once Mathematica is installed on a personal computer, the computer must be on the Tufts network domain in order for the installation to authenticate against Tufts’ license. Tufts’ license allows for 15 concurrent users. For further information, please see the “Network Concurrent Licenses” link on http://go.tufts.edu/cluster.

Teaching and Learning Technology

New Academic Continuity Resource Site

As part of the university’s pandemic planning, Tufts CIO David Kahle and Associate Provost Mary Lee asked the UIT Academic Technology group to create a simple information site for faculty describing technologies that can be used to support academic continuity, focusing especially on ways to record lectures ahead of time so that students can access them remotely if need be.

The “Tools to Support Academic Continuity” resource site is now ready and accessible by everyone in the Tufts community via Spark (login is UTLN and webmail password): http://go.tufts.edu/academiccontinuity.

This was a generous cross-university team effort, including contributions from UIT, ITS in Medford, Cummings, Fletcher, Friedman, and School of Medicine colleagues, all of whom assisted with information and resource links. Thanks to this shared effort, we now have a simple resource site that can be used across contexts by faculty who want to prepare for potential pandemic (or just to provide asynchronous access to course lectures and materials). With suggestions and new options, we can continue to build on the initial resource site over time. Please share this link with faculty and academic resource colleagues in your area as desired.

Learning Management System (LMS) Project Updates

UIT Academic Technology continues to facilitate the Tufts University LMS project in partnership with the LMS Advisory and Core Teams and associated working groups. The outcome of the project this year will be a recommendation for comprehensive next-generation Tufts University learning management system strategy, including a focus on effective service and support models to enable meaningful use of course tools to support teaching, learning, and collaboration.

In 2008-09, the project team interviewed faculty, students, and staff across Schools and programs to understand how they are currently using the available platforms at Tufts (Blackboard, TUSK, ANGEL Learning, Moodle, Spark, etc.), and the desired and required features they would like in a new platform. The team defined functional requirements for a next-generation Tufts platform over the summer, sent a Request for Information (RFI) to leading LMS service providers in August, and is reviewing responses currently. Accessibility, security, and student information system (SIS) integration working groups have contributed research and analysis to inform the process. The architecture working group has reviewed technical design of the leading LMS platforms under consideration and reported on affordances of the respective architectures. The Core Team has been synthesizing the range of data, interviewing colleagues at peer institutions to learn from their LMS strategies and service models, and beginning to evaluate potential strategy scenarios for the Tufts context. This year members of the community will be invited to participate in demos and usability testing of the leading platforms as we move toward refining the Tufts LMS strategy recommendations. Please visit the project site to learn more: http://go.tufts.edu/lms.

Tufts Web Conferencing Project

After a successful completion of a one-year pilot using Adobe Connect, UIT is moving toward a university-wide implementation.

Implementation planning is underway, led by John McKeigue, manager of UIT’s telecommunications group. The goal is to bring Adobe Connect onto local servers and increase capacity initially to 100 concurrent seats, increasing this number as demand warrants over time. Meanwhile, and to avoid disruption of service, UIT has renewed the hosted pilot subscription with 50 concurrent seats. If you would like to have more information or request an account, please contact UIT via webmeetings@elist.tufts.edu

VUE Update

The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) team of UIT Academic Technology is gearing up for their November 17th VUE 3.0 Release. This is the third major release of the Mellon-funded project, and focuses on an innovative approach to the analysis of research data.

While VUE 2.0 addressed the ability to access digital repositories and provide visual tools for presentation of content maps, VUE 3.0 concentrates on extending the application to support dynamic maps of research data for interactive visual analysis and annotation. Users will be able to import datasets into a map, to manipulate the ways in which the content is viewed, and to immediately define associations among multiple datasets. Especially when one is dealing with large amounts of data, the ability to visually organize and analyze the data is crucial in efforts to understand and convey ideas. Also included in this release is the integration of VUE with the Zotero and SEASR platforms. A new VUE applet will allow users to manage their content within Zotero and directly access VUE to further analyze and visually present their data. Additionally, VUE components will be packaged to be used in the Software Environment for the Advancement of Scholarly Research (SEASR) framework for the purpose of bringing additional value to research processes in the humanities. VUE 3.0 will also include enhancements to current features, based on our users’ requests. During VUE’s lifespan, its user base has expanded across educational and research areas into a plethora of exciting fields. Innovators in the field of creative problem solving and creative thinking are using VUE as a way to digitally illustrate and facilitate their processes. Musicians, artists, and writers are using VUE to develop themes and ideas. We are especially excited about our international user community. With the volunteer efforts from our international users, VUE 3.0 will include interface translations for the following languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, German, Chinese, Greek, and Portuguese! A beta release of VUE 3.0 is now available in the Download section of the VUE website: http://vue.tufts.edu/download.

Teaching, Learning, and Research

Faculty Research & Teaching Study

During academic year 2008-09, Laura Walters, Associate Librarian for Research, Teaching, and Information Resources at Tisch Library, led a research study in which colleagues from Tisch Library, UIT Academic Technology, Digital Collections & Archives, and Information Technology Services (ITS) interviewed 40 faculty from across Arts & Sciences and Engineering departments to learn about their research and teaching practices in order to inform future planning for enhanced faculty and student services.

The report includes broad lessons learned from current practices and the articulation of significant needs in the areas of multimedia production services and classroom technology infrastructure and support. The report also provides a synopsis of additional trends and interests related to academic technologies, information resources, modes of communicating research, Blackboard/learning management systems, and the Tufts institutional repository. Findings are summarized for the full group of study interviews, and also more specifically synthesized to present areas of focus within the humanities, social sciences, and sciences/engineering. Look out for more news and information about the Tisch Library-led Faculty Research Study throughout the year.
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