Friday, January 15, 2010

Report on Web 2.0 in Australian Universities

The UK's Higher Education Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has released a report on Australian universities use of computer networking: "A Landscape Study of Shared Infrastructure Services in the Australian Academic Sector". This concludes that Australia lags the UK a little in the use of Web 2.0, but this may be advantage as new commercial tools can be used in place of early academic bespoke ones.
Executive Summary
The Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) and the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) are administering a number of ANDS [1], ARCS [2] and NeAT (National eResearch Architecture Taskforce) [3]
projects funded through the Platforms for Collaboration [4] component of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) and more recently through the Education Investment Fund (EIF) [5]. A range of e-Research services are being developed and promoted through these programs. Examples of such services include data registration and identification services, authentication services (AAF) [6] – as well as general collaborative services such as the EVO videoconferencing service, and shared content management and messaging services such as Sakai, Drupal, Plone and Jabber [7].

In parallel with these investments, it has become evident that users in the higher education and academic sectors in Australia are choosing to use main stream Web 2.0 technologies in their daily work activities. However there is limited knowledge about who is using which Web 2.0 technologies and for what purposes. Moreover there is little information about why specific tools and services are chosen when institutional or nationally-funded services are available. ...

Although the UK leads Australia in the development of collaborative eResearch services, the results of the survey indicate that the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies in the higher education sector in Australia is not significantly dissimilar to the situation in the UK. Users prefer to use Web-based services that are already adopted by the wider community and that are free, robust, simple to sign on to, and easy to install and use. Examples include: FaceBook, YouTube, Skype and Twitter. Although the most active use of Web 2.0 has been by early adopters (people who are not afraid to try out new tools, experiment with them and promote them to colleagues and peers), this situation is changing as more Web 2.0 technologies are becoming broadly adopted by mainstream users. Because Australia has not had the same level of investment in cyberinfrastructure and lags behind the UK in the development of services, it has been able to take advantage of services developed in the UK and USA (e.g., RoMEO, Shibboleth) – as well as the recent explosion of free, open source Web 2.0 technologies. In some ways, this delayed investment has been an advantage because there is not an established pool of services that is being superseded by commercial and open source Web 2.0 technologies.

The survey has also shown that not all Web 2.0 tools and services are used to the same extent. The most popular services are the current market leaders: Facebook, YouTube, Wikis, Blogs and Twitter. As in the UK, the primary factors governing choice of service are: cost, ease of use/interface design, wide-spread adoption. The important factors in continuing use are reliability, efficacy and how much it is used by the user’s peer group.

The fallout has been that users don’t choose to use technologies that have specifically been developed by and for the eResearch community (e.g., Sakai, EVO) – unless they have been mandated by their research/peer group or institutional IT service providers or if there is nothing else available through the Web. The SWORD APP Profile [8] and RoMEO [9] are examples of such services not available elsewhere. Generally the perception is that services developed by and for the higher education and research sectors are less robust, problematic, difficult to use, poorly documented and not widely interoperable.

The lack of support in universities for freely available Web 2.0 technologies has led to tension between users, IT support and central management. University IT departments are often seen as “controlling” and obstructive. Users want to be able to download, install and use software services such as Skype onto their desktop computers or laptops – but often they do not have administrative rights to do so. There also exists a level of tension between mandated technologies (e.g., EVO) and widely adopted mainstream technologies (Skype) that both serve essentially the same purpose, but have different levels of support and security implications.
Many Australian institutions and faculty IT support are struggling to maintain both the security of content and services whilst also maintaining the flexibility required to support changing users’ needs. Slowly universities in Australia are beginning to adopt and support Web 2.0 services through their libraries and IT service departments. This is expected to grow over time in response to user demand. Universities also realize that although many staff and students are familiar with using Web 2.0 services, there may also be a need to provide training and support in these new technologies to more mature staff members or those staff and students from less technical disciplines. ...

From: "A Landscape Study of Shared Infrastructure Services in the Australian Academic Sector", Jane Hunter, Director of the eResearch Lab, The University of Queensland, for the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the UK Higher and Further Education Funding Councils, December 2009

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Railway standardisation a lesson for the NBN

"The World's First Railway System: Enterprise Competition and Regulation on the Railway Network in Victorian Britain" by Mark Casson, OUP, 2009 looks at how efficient the investment in railways in the the 19th century were. There are lessons in this for Australia's planning for the National Broadband Network.

The conclusion drawn by Casson is that there was duplication of railway infrastructure and some inefficient placement of capacity. He concludes that this was due to a failure of the political process, with MPs not having the courage to make decisions for the good of the national as a whole, unable to choose between competing local interests and so making suboptimal decisions. Casson argues that private enterprise with some government planning could have resulted in a more efficient railway system and that this was done in India. This work provides some insights for Australia, with Casson also commenting that Australia failed to learn from the UK's problems and introduced three different railway gauges, a lack of standardisation which is a problem 100 years later.

The National Broadband Network is similar to the model Casson suggests, with central government planning and private investment. I suggest that the Internet protocols are the equivalent of the standard gauge which was missing from Australian railway planning. With it we will be able to have a meshing of multiple private and public networks, seamlessly carrying data round Australia and around the world. Without it we will have a series of little branch lines, with packets of data having to be loaded and unloaded between different data standards, just as goods still have to be transferred between different gauge railway lines in Australia today.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

ICT Energy, Carbon and Cost Tools from UK

The UK's university ICT consortium (JISC) is providing a free ICT Energy and Carbon Footprinting Tool and a Cost and Carbon Comparison Tool. These were developed for assessing university campuses, but may be more widely applicable. The comparison tool is not as flexible as it may first appear as it just compares desktop PCs with thin clients.

1. An ICT Energy and Carbon Footprinting Tool to estimate the energy and carbon footprint of your ICT estate. Contains a worked example from the University of Sheffield. An updated version (August 2009) is designed to be more user friendly and incorporates changes based on feedback from other institutions. Detailed commentary by Chris Cartledge on how the University of Sheffield's energy and carbon footprint was calculated can also be downloaded.

2. A Cost and Carbon Comparison Tool for thick vs thin clients (Beta Version). An Excel tool designed to help Further and Higher Education Institutions estimate the costs and carbon emissions of thick (PCs) versus thin clients over a given evaluation period. An updated version will be posted by the end of August 2009.

From: Sustainable IT Tools, SusteIT, 2009

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Sustainable ICT in UK Universities

Sustainable ICT in Further and Higher Education: SusteIT Final Report by Peter James  and Lisa HopkinsonThe UK JISC (equivalent to Australia's AARnet, providing ICT services for universities) has issued "Sustainable ICT in Further and Higher Education: SusteIT Final Report" by Peter James and Lisa Hopkinson (14 January 2009). This estimates that UK universities and colleges have 1,470,000 computers, 250,000 printers and 240,000 server, and will produce an electricity bill of £116m and cause 0.5Mt of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2009.

The report recommends ‘Thin client’, distributed/outsourced/shared services, information on life cycle management, sustainable data, consolidation and virtualisation. The full report is 137 pages of PDF (891 kbytes).

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