OAC Mission Statement and Strategies
Academic Technology: Strategic Vision
November 1, 2003
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The mission of the Academic Technology (OAC)
is to enhance and sustain an environment within the University of
Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) in which computational,
network and information technologies are developed and integrated
to support the educational, research and service goals of the University.
Role of Academic Technology at UT-Houston
Academic activities in the 21st century are inextricably
dependent on highly integrated information resources. The collaborative
environment which is central to scholarly activities is absolutely
dependent on pervasive, global digital networks that securely interconnect
data archives, information repositories, high-performance computational
systems, smart instruments, e-leaning systems and communication tools
for shared discussions and learning.
Collaboration is no longer only among people, but also
between people and increasingly capable digital assistants as well
as among the digital assistants themselves. Computer-to-computer collaboration
includes distributed processing among massively parallel systems,
information discovery, semantic analysis of Web content, and interactions
among smart agents
The manifestations of scholarly endeavors are increasingly
becoming digital expressions having value-added attributes that greatly
exceed the limitations of paper based materials. Such manifestations
include hyperlinked multimedia objects, advanced computational models
of biological processes, and massive archives of scientific data.
These digital tools are required to expand our conceptual understanding
of molecules, enzymes, receptors, drugs, cells, physiological systems,
environmental interactions and other complex systems. Researchers
depend on these tools, for example, to develop more effective pharmacological
agents and understand how to repair genetic defects based on comparative
analysis of genomes across species and individuals. The common theme
across these examples is the sharing of “grid-based” digital
resources by collaborative research teams.
The role of the Academic Technology includes:
The strategies summarized below build on the existing
IT infrastructure required to support the primary research, education
and service missions of the University. This infrastructure must be
seamlessly integrated to include both the academic and administrative
needs of the University. These strategies identify major activities
required to keep the academic IT capabilities
On-line learning resources, such as e-Learning management systems,
(e.g. Blackboard), Web content servers, Web application servers,
identity management systems and support services for creation of
learning ware is critical to the support of the University’s
academic missions. These services are also required to provide mandated
Grid computing for advanced computational research and scholarly
activitiesA "grid" is an infrastructure enabling the
integrated, collaborative use of high-end computing systems, high
speed networks, data archives and scientific instruments operated
by multiple organizations. Grid applications often involve large
amounts of data and/or advanced computational resources that require
secure resource sharing across organizational boundaries.
The grid infrastructure for science and advanced scholarly activities
typically includes the following elements:
- Smart instruments. Advanced scientific instruments, such
as large scale gene sequencers, micro-arrays for testing gene expression,
environmental monitors, magnetic resonance imaging systems, neural
signal analyzers - coupled with remote supercomputers, users and
databases- to enable interactive collaboration and analysis.
- Data archives. Scientific data produced by large-scale
computations or obtained from high-resolution scientific instruments.
Extracting and correlating data from these distributed archives
is fundamental to making new biomedical discoveries.
- Distributed collaboration. Shared access to data, computing,
and discussion, often via high-bandwidth, audio-video conferencing.
- High performance computing systems. Increasingly, these
systems are based on large number of commercial microprocessors
connected by high-speed local networks and integrated via Linux
and other open source software to function as high-performance computing
systems. Laboratory clusters typically contain tens of processors,
whereas clustered supercomputing systems contain hundreds or thousands
- Intelligent agents. Use of rule and knowledge-based systems
to assist researchers and scholars in the efficient utilization
of extremely large data archives.
Middle ware for securely sharing on-line resources across organizational
Licensing of library resources, grid research collaboration, sharing
educational resources and cross-institutional faculty participation,
as in residency programs and other e-learning activities, require
an inter-institutional system for the identification, authentication
and authorization of individuals. Federated identity is currently
a major national initiative.
Web publishing services for distribution of academic content
Operation of a multitude of Web servers by schools and departments
to distribute academic content is neither operationally nor financially
efficient. Issues pertaining to the need to integrate Web servers
with other systems, provide operating and application software support,
configure multiple application specific security requirements, and
employ standard, user friendly publishing procedures necessitates
operation of a centrally managed publishing service.
Web-application services supporting academic endeavors
The demand for three-tier Web applications (i.e. Web forms, application
logic and relational databases) to support academic functions is
enormous. Central operation of the server and software components
to support this need is critical as is the need to assist in the
development of such applications.
Multimedia and application programming support
Creation of both learning ware and thee-tier Web applications requires
central support by Web designers and application programmers. Most
schools have little or no resources available for the creation of
Web applications. In contrast to the development of Web applications,
schools do and should maintain support staff for creation of Web-based
learning ware. However, a central staff is also needed to assist
these individuals in learning needed new technologies, services
and procedures and to provide advanced development skills when required
by specific projects. This support is also required for development
of Web content by central administration.
Resources for on-demand streaming of audio and video content
Extensive educational material is currently provided as streaming,
on-demand audio and video. The demand for both the delivery of such
material and the need to receive progressively more material at
greater bandwidths via the Internet will increase.
Resource discovery, cataloging and semantic markup of on-line
“Search”, originally a simple keyword-lookup functionality
for files, has become a fundamental Internet service required for
academic endeavors. This discovery process requires the use of both
progressively more sophisticated indexing servers, and the markup
of content with meta-tags for using meta-data to locate desired
content and allowing “intelligent” agents to determine
semantic meaning within documents.
The need for videoconferencing for both academic and administrative
purposes is exploding. Academic Technology currently operates the
H.323 multipoint conferencing unit to support conferences with more
than two participants. This capability needs to be expanded as does
support for coordinating the development of both desktop and conference
room points of origin.
Identification and creation of standards for integrated information
The interactive, collaborative mesh of people and digital assistants
required to support today’s scholarly activities includes
a weave of multiple standards that are constantly evolving. Failure
to understand, incorporate and adapt such standards often results
in the acquisition of systems and creation of digital works which
are incapable of fulfilling the desired expectations of their developers
and users. Such failures significantly hinder the University’s
ability to attain its goals, waste resources and generally frustrate
Training and support for developing skills for learning and working
Training of personnel to use existing IT resources would greatly
enhance productivity throughout the University. The entire fabric
binding scholarly activity today is dependent on knowing how to
learn and work with digital resources in cyberspace. Training needs
to be centrally funded and mandated for certain positions and activities.
Failure to have adequately trained students, faculty and staff significantly
decreases the University’s competitive capability.