Monday, February 21, 2011

Online Collaboration for Science in Canada

Greetings from the famous room N101 at the ANU, where Dr. Brian Corrie, Technical Director IRMACS, is talking on collaboration infrastructure in Canada. The Interdisciplinary Research in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Centre (IRMACS) provides rooms equipped with computer technology for people to work together remotely.

The IRMACS Centre is 2,300 square meters, with offices, meeting and conference rooms: 100 seat Presentation Studio, Boardroom, meeting rooms (10908, 10940, 10917.2) and breakout rooms. Also there is the "lab space" and visualization lab. In his presentation, Dr. Corrie emphasises the availability of support staff, to make sure the equipment works when needed. Support is also provided for administering research grants.

The IRMACS floor plan provides an interesting template for such a facility. While intended for research, not teaching, the rooms are also used for conferences and workshops, meetings, colloquiums, seminars (and social functions), as well as training, thesis defence and live performances.

Dr. Corrie has published research detailing how collaboration using technology works. He has found that even experienced users were not using the advanced technology to transmit gestures effectively. It occurred to me that what was needed was something like a large iPad. This is more than just an interactive whiteboard. The iPad has a surface which invites touch, whereas the average interactive whiteboard required the user to press. One way around this might be t provide a smaller more comfortable touch screen for the presenter and then relay that to a large non-interactive screen and remotely. We used something like this for the ACS Canberra 1995 Conference.

Dr. Corrie pointed out that as well as IRMACS being used for scientists to collaborate with each other it has been used for collaboration between scientists and government on policy. He also suggested colloboration between IRMACS and ANU. This might provide a useful model for a centre in Canberra to provide a place for public policy discussion, as envisaged by the Australia Forum and the ANU's Australian Centre for Dialogue.

Title: Collaboration in the Computational Sciences: Why, Where, What, and How

Abstract: Research, as an activity, is fundamentally collaborative in nature. Driven by the massive amounts of data that are produced by computational simulations and high resolution scientific sensors, data-driven collaboration is of particular importance in the
computational sciences. In this talk, I will discuss our experiences in designing, deploying, and operating a Canada wide advanced collaboration infrastructure in the support of the computational sciences. In particular, I will focus on the importance of data in such collaborations and discuss how current collaboration tools are sorely lacking in their support of data-centric collaboration.

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