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UW-Eau Claire Computer Science Professor
Receives $404,305 NSF Grant

RELEASED: Aug. 26, 2008

Dr. Paul Wagner
Dr. Paul Wagner

EAU CLAIRE — Dr. Paul Wagner, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire associate professor of computer science, has received a $404,305 National Science Foundation grant to develop portable and customizable software for hands-on, computer-intensive educational workshops.

The three-year NSF grant is a phase-two grant that builds on work Wagner completed through a previous NSF grant to create a laptop-based computer security workshop program. Working with UW-Eau Claire Learning and Technology Services staff Tom Paine, Daren Bauer and Jamison Schmidt; former LTS staff member Jason Wudi; and computer science faculty member Dr. Andrew Phillips, Wagner's team devised a program that would allow an instructor to control file downloads, run programs and monitor laptops in a workshop setting. The program was run on a group of laptops that Wagner's team would bring to a workshop and connect by cables.

"Before that workshops had to be done at various universities using their own computer systems, and there were problems with being allowed to put new software on other university systems and with programs not being compatible," Wagner said. "Using our software on the laptops we provided avoided these problems."

The new NSF grant will allow Wagner and the LTS staff to take the next step and go wireless, allowing workshop participants to use their own laptop computers, which will be connected together in a small network.

"The tricky thing to do is to run our program without destroying or damaging other files or programs people have on their laptops and to do this in an isolated environment so the workshop environment is protected from the outside world and the outside world is protected from the workshop," Wagner said.

Going wireless will greatly expand the uses of the program, Wagner said. Now used just for workshops on computer security, once wireless the program also will be usable for workshops on other computer science topics as well as for more general education uses, he said.

"No one else has developed a computer program that will allow one presenter to singlehandedly prepare the material, set up an environment and run the workshop," Wagner said.

The team plans to implement the program in the next year and will submit a proposal to roll it out at the 40th Association of Computing Machinery Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, to be held in Chattanooga, Tenn., in March. During the second and third years of the grant, workshops on how to use the software will be offered at UW-Eau Claire.

"An important part of the grant is disseminating information on the software," Wagner said. "We will be releasing it as open source software on the Internet."

The grant also provides funding for three students each year to work on the project.

"This will be a great opportunity for students to see how a large project is put together and to be a part of the research doing it," Wagner said. "It fits in with UW-Eau Claire's view of education, getting students involved in research and helping them to see how that can make a difference in the real world."

Wagner said the project also is a collaborative effort involving work across the academic disciplines and administrative offices at UW-Eau Claire.

"Working with LTS has taught those of us in computer science a lot about portable workshop systems, and LTS people say they have learned more about computer security as a result of computer science's input," Wagner said. "In addition, we will be working with Susan Harrison in mathematics. She has experience with user interfaces and will evaluate the best way of making this software intuitive to use."

The exciting thing about the software is it can make learning anything more of a hands-on experience, said Wagner.

"People learn so much better when they learn by doing," he said.

-30-

KH

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