Cultural library to gauge how Canadians use technology

The University of Prince Edward Island Tuesday said it will be the first organization in Canada to use an IBM-built digital library to study how culture influences

the way people can use technology to learn.

A custom-configured system, built on an IBM eServer Bladecenter running Content Manager and a number of applications out of the vendor’s research division, is expected to arrive from IBM’s Vancouver lab sometime later this month. IBM also announced a $1.3 million in-kind contribution to the project as part of a five-year agreement with the university.

The project is two-fold. Researchers within UPEI’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Culture, Multimedia, Technology and Cognition will create the library with cultural artifacts from PEI and New Brunswick. They will then use this material in multimedia teaching environments and study how effective they are, developing courseware and methods of evaluation. Items in the library may include local folklore, musical literature and oral histories.

“”We look at behaviour patterns, literally watching people learn,”” said Richard Kurial, dean of faculty of arts at PEIU. “”Whether it’s brain waves, heart beat, eye motion — all of the kind of stuff that brings a certain psychological rigour.””

Kurial said the research team hopes to put together audio/visual records of how people learn to create exercises in positive teaching that will capture the nuances of Atlantic Canada.

“”Even with the Canadian context it works well politically, because we have a very strong French component culture here, Acadian culture, English culture,”” he said.

The idea is that best practices taken from the UPEI research could be used to help educators around the world, Kurial said. The school will host an annual forum that will outline how far its work has progressed.

Big Blue employs specialists at an IBM Innovation Centre in Burnaby, B.C., that focus on digital library solutions, according to the firm’s Canadian general manager of education industry John Kutcy. IBM has been working on digital library projects since it helped digitize artwork in the Vatican in the mid-1990s, and has since done similar, if slightly less complex projects with other post-secondary institutions.

Kurial said the key to the library will be IBM software that helps detect correlations between the material inside it and the way it is used. Kutcy said this is where Content Manager will play a key role.

“”It’s one thing to have a container to store it all in,”” he said. “”It’s another thing to build a search engine that can effectively retrieve information on demand as you need it in the future.””

The project is an exercise in being able to enhance the knowledge economy for an area that needs it, Kurial said.

“”You can’t just live on potatoes and lobsters forever,”” he said. “”You have to be able to bring something to the table, and you can’t live in isolation. One of the things to bring to the table is a smart, educated population.””

The biggest challenge for vendors on these projects, Kutcy said, is to ensure digital libraries will have the longevity of their paper-based counterparts. “”One of the issues we were asked to solve from a research perspective was, ‘Fine, you have give me a solution that’s going to work today, with today’s operating system . . . how do I know I’m going to be able to access that stuff 50 years from now?'”” he said. “”If you’re going to digitize the Vatican artworks or some other very precious materials, you want to be able to only do it once and not have to worry about it for a long time.””

The digital library will also be accessible to partner schools, including the University of Moncton, and the University of New Brunswick, which Kurial said would also be supplying content. The other schools mean there could be about 50 researchers working on the library, he said.

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