April 2001

From University of Michigan

Information Revolution Commission at U-M releases report

ANN ARBOR---The information revolution, which has profoundly affected everything from the economy to interpersonal relationships, is transforming higher education as well, changing the ways information is conveyed, organized, stored and retrieved; blurring lines between teacher and learner; breaking down some barriers while erecting others. Now, more than ever, universities need to examine their place in the ever-evolving information environment.

Responding to that need, the University of Michigan's Information Revolution Commission today (April 27) issued a report that calls for creating a "living laboratory" in which all members of the university community can use, experiment with and study new technologies. The "living laboratory" concept is part of a comprehensive strategy to continually enhance information and communication technology in education and research, to develop and study the use of these technologies in the university setting and in everyday life, and to investigate the impact of the information revolution on human experience, society and the world.

"We are at a time unlike any other, when technology is fundamentally changing how the university operates," says Commission Co-chair Stephen Director, dean of the College of Engineering. "We're seeing changes not only in teaching and research, but also in interactions with colleagues here and on other campuses, among departments, and between faculty and administration. Other kinds of communities are being developed, and that's a new idea for us.

"What has been exciting about serving on the commission is that people have been willing to throw away preconceived notions and ask very fundamental questions about what it means to be an educated person and what it means to be an educator in the 21st century."

Appointed in February 2000 by U-M President Lee C. Bollinger and co-chaired by Engineering Dean Stephen Director and School of Information Dean John L. King, the commission was asked to think broadly about how the University should respond to the information revolution. In addition to assessing the University's information and communication technology needs, the 27-member commission and its four subcommissions surveyed existing strengths and weaknesses in the University community's use of the technology in research and education, and in understanding its social, political, economic, legal, cultural and psychological implications. The commission also explored how the basic missions of a university can be realized in an age of information explosion.

Because the information revolution is bringing about such rapid and unpredictable changes, the commission advises a flexible, but coordinated and systematic approach in an environment in which students, faculty and staff are encouraged to experiment with new technologies and share their experiences.

"There are no 'best practices' available, because the technology and our approaches to using it are all new and constantly changing," says King. "We will have to learn by doing, through experimentation."

A major challenge to the university community is the creation of knowledge from the deluge of unfiltered information that inundates us all daily.

"Literacy in the 21st century is not just being able to read, but being able to discern what's worth retaining," says King. "The University's role is to help students, faculty and everyone else in this environment become more sophisticated consumers of digital information, sorting through and interpreting massive amounts of information, deciding what is of value, and using it to create real knowledge through research and scholarship."

In announcing the release of the report, Bollinger commented that the U-M's breadth and depth "make an ideal setting not only for developing and using new technologies in research and scholarship, but also for studying how the information revolution affects every aspect of our lives---from politics to science, from technology to culture."

The commission identified several areas where U-M can build on existing strengths in information and communication technology and go on to achieve new levels of excellence:

--Developing, deploying and exploring innovative uses of technology-mediated research environments, sometimes called "knowledge networks" or "collaboratories."

--Expanding the definition of an educated person in the information age by assuring that students not only know how to use information and communication technologies, but also know how to think critically about their impact on the world.

--Integrating information and communication technologies throughout the University and across the curriculum.

--Extending learning opportunities to communities beyond the traditional boundaries of the University, including alumni and prospective students.

However, significant improvements in infrastructure---broadly defined to include highly skilled professional support staff, well thought-out policies, and efficient management structures, as well as wiring---are essential. Bollinger said he is prepared to begin committing resources to dramatically upgrading infrastructure over the next five years. He also plans to initiate campus-wide discussions of the commission's recommendations and perhaps to establish advisory groups to help guide and organize the University's efforts.

The commission's full report is available at on the Web at http://www.umich.edu/pres/inforev. Paper copies of the report are available from the President's Office, 2074 Fleming Administration Building, 734-764-6270 or by sending an e-mail request to pirc.report@umich.edu.

U-M projects illustrate potential of information and communication technology

Computer-based tools that allow users to "fly through" the human body; a course that teams up students in Michigan, Korea and the Netherlands to design and produce products

---any number of projects already under way at the University of Michigan demonstrate the impressive potential of information and communication technology in teaching, research and outreach. Here are just a few examples:


Instead of looking at pictures in a textbook, anatomy students may soon be able to "fly through" 3-D computer images of the human body, clicking on a specific organ to learn more about it or see how it interacts with other parts of the body. That is the goal of the Visible Human Project, a long-term effort to create complete, anatomically detailed, 3-D representations of the normal male and female human bodies. Video, audio, text and graphics are linked to the 3-D representation to explain and expand on the images. Eventually, the Visible Human will be delivered with Next Generation Internet technology, allowing hundreds of students simultaneously to use the learning tool. The project is a joint effort involving the University of Michigan, NASA Ames Research Center, the University of California-San Diego, Stanford University, University of Colorado Health Sciences, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences, with fund! ing from the National Institutes of Health/National Library of Medicine. (http://vhp.med.umich.edu)


Motivated by industry's need for engineers who can think globally to develop products for a world market, U-M mechanical engineering Prof. Debasish Dutta has created a course that teaches such skills simultaneously to students in North America, Europe and Asia. The real-time course, offered for the first time during the fall 2000 term, involves students and instructors from the U-M, the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands and Seoul National University in South Korea. The students are divided into six-person project teams with two members from each site. Teams use videoconferencing, e-mail, telephones, faxes and interactive Web tools to collaborate on the design and fabrication of a product for the global marketplace.


In a project that combines immersive virtual reality environments, virtual video conferencing and other advanced technologies, U-M researchers are developing a highly realistic virtual medical theater that can be used to train emergency personnel in a variety of situations, both common and extreme. For example, without endangering any real patients, interns can be immersed in the chaotic, fatigue-laden environment of an emergency room to test their ability to rapidly develop and carry out a plan of action. The ongoing project is an interdisciplinary effort involving the Medical Center, the Department of Emergency Medicine, the Media Union and the Virtual Reality Laboratory at the College of Engineering. (http://www-VRL.umich.edu/mrt/index.html)


Two or three times each year, this project allows more than 10,000 fourth- through ninth-graders throughout North America to study science first-hand---tracking and predicting hurricanes along with National Hurricane Center scientists, for example. Using CD-ROMs and network-based learning and collaboration tools, the students learn traditional science material, but also experience the power and excitement of following and studying phenomena as they are unfolding. (http://www.onesky.umich.edu)


A joint project of the Center for Performing Arts and Technology (School of Music) and the College of Engineering, MusEn seeks to apply new digital signal technology to the study and performance of music. One goal is to develop a signal-processing tool that converts an acoustic music recording into a musical score. This tool not only would be useful in music composition and scoring, it could also help musicologists study improvisation in jazz performance, transcribe archived recordings of early American blues and folk songs or create notational systems from recordings of non-Western forms of music. (www.music.umich.edu/departments/cpat/MusEn.html)


AIDS researchers based at the U-M and three other Midwestern universities share and discuss data and even hold "virtual lab meetings" through the use of collaborative technology. The researchers, who received a joint National Institutes of Health grant to establish a virtual Center for AIDS Research, meet in cyberspace to decide what kinds of data to collect, how to collect and analyze the data and how to display their results. By collaborating in this way, the researchers say they gain fresh perspectives that sometimes lead their research in whole new directions. In addition, the project yields insights of other kinds: as researchers at the U-M School of Information coordinate the scientists' use of collaborative technology, they also study how it helps or hinders their ability to work together.

This article comes from Science Blog. Copyright 2004

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