This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
Project Hypatia Brings Cutting
Edge Technology To Campus
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: Nov. 20, 1997

EAU CLAIRE -- In recent years the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has become a leader in technology with a computer-to-student ratio surpassing most national benchmarks. Now a major new technology initiative on campus is pushing the envelope even further when it comes to providing information technology resources to students and faculty.
Known as Project Hypatia, the new technology has the power to transform the way teachers teach and students learn by giving them access to the latest software applications as well as a world of images, research, and information increasingly available in electronic format.
"We're in a unique position to make the most of this new environment for teaching and learning," says Chancellor Larry Schnack, who committed $250,000 from the university's planning reserve funds to the project's first phase. "At the same time fiber optic connections on the desk top are becoming more affordable, we're implementing our new baccalaureate degree with its emphasis on individual learning opportunities."
Paul Thomas, one of Project Hypatia's faculty leaders, believes the development of cutting-edge technology is essential to the future of faculty-student collaborative research projects and other scholarly activity at UW-Eau Claire.
"This university has a great student recruitment history, but many things are happening at other universities that threaten to erode our lead," says Thomas, a member of the physics and astronomy faculty. "If we're to be a player, we need to establish a strong record in individualized instruction, and technology is one of the keys to that effort."
Project Hypatia is now under way with selected faculty and in certain laboratories and lecture halls in Phillips Science Hall, according to David Hart, assistant chancellor for information and technology management. This creative new environment offers fiber optic network connections capable of running advanced applications for research and teaching.
"To begin with, 20 faculty in Phillips Science Hall together with selected laboratories and lecture halls will have direct access to a new campus ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) network," Hart said. "This will provide unparalleled network speed for their computational applications and fast access to large data sets, 3-D color graphic models and simulations with animation, and other sophisticated tools for use in lectures and class work."
The benefits of these new applications (and in some cases yet-to-be discovered applications) are indeed significant, Hart adds. "As our faculty students and staff open this first phase of the Hypatia Project, our campus takes a clear leadership position in using state-of-the-art networks and PCs to strengthen teaching and learning. We are beginning a very important journey into high performance networking."
This kind of access will affect instruction in many ways, according to Thomas. "From a technology standpoint, it allows the transfer of live streaming video, 3-D interactive animations and other very high bandwidth applications," Thomas says. "Faculty will use these applications in preparing class lectures, designing out-of-class assignments, and for on-going research."
Thomas compares the fiber optic connections to large capacity pipes, capable of carrying huge amounts of information to desk tops and laboratories. The "pipes" will enable faculty to develop state-of-the-art classroom presentations using 3-D color graphics, animation, high-performance computer modeling, voice, video, and high-end group ware such as Lotus Notes.
For example, the ATM network will permit fast and dependable access to large image sets from electron microscopes or telescopes in computer labs or interactive sharing of 3-D molecular biology models and other simulations. A chemistry professor, for example, could create a laboratory experiment on line so that students can rehearse via computer what they will do in their chemistry lab later in the week. A biology student group might work together on line, dissecting a 3-D anatomical diagram constructed by their professor to communicate a theory or concept. Student-faculty collaborative research teams will be able to access high-resolution, 3-D graphics that are increasingly available on the Internet.
ATM is important to these applications because it permits students, faculty and staff to lock in an assured bandwidth which they can then count on for an extended period, such as during a particular class period. Without this feature, heavy network use elsewhere can shut down network applications and leave an instructor without access to the material planned for a class session.
"One of the biggest achievements of Hypatia, in my mind, will be when faculty can prepare a multimedia work for a class in absolute confidence it will work as planned," Thomas said. "Most people buy into using multimedia down the line, but no one trusts it in the classroom right now because it is so unreliable. These tools have a golden future in teaching and this project positions us as leaders in the effort."
The 20 faculty involved in the Hypatia pilot will be working both independently and together to figure out and model how the network tools can be used in teaching. "This is very new. Most universities aren't yet doing this unless they are research centers," Thomas said.
The benefits to students can't be overstated, he adds. High-speed labs will enable them to access and exchange large amounts of data, such as remote sensing data from aircraft or satellites. Students in the new interdisciplinary computational science program will be able to participate in complicated laboratory exercises as they learn the methods to solve problems such as those inherent in the human genome project, or to create systems that model global warming, or to study Geographic Information Systems. Students in the same course will be able to share learning experiences through high-end group ware, which offers a far richer environment for communication than currently available through bulletin board discussions.
The project is named after Hypatia of Alexandria, a leading intellectual of her time who taught mathematics, astronomy and philosophy at the Great Library of Alexandria around the year 400. Hypatia strongly encouraged her students to follow their own paths of inquiry, while providing a strong critical commentary.
"She speaks to us over this gap of one and a half millennia of a truly singular intellect who attracted students from a wide area of North Africa and as such is the perfect model for us as we work toward providing our students with opportunities for individualized instruction," Thomas says.
After Hypatia's pilot phase this year, the model will be considered for the rest of the campus. "As funding becomes available, and we will be looking for external funding as well, the fiber-optic network will be extended to other academic buildings on campus," Schnack said.


UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: Nov. 20, 1997