7. Focal themes for the research strategy
Based on this background analysis, three key themes for OUCS’s future research commitments are proposed. The following paragraphs give a brief definition of each theme and set out the type of research covered, and future developments. These three key themes are considered to be the most important and to range across OUCS reflecting the interests of many groups, sections, and services; and also key strategic priorities for the University. Under these three themes are a further five key activities, which although important, are usually undertaken by specific groups within OUCS. In other words a theme is a specific area of research in IT which reaches across the department; an activity is a smaller research area and can be performed by a single section or group.
The ubiquitous computing theme covers the widespread everyday use of IT across the collegiate University and the increasing importance of the delivery of the core services offered by OUCS in a way that meets user demands. This theme includes both technical and pure research components. The technical areas are: wireless networks, access services, service oriented software architectures, groupware networks, mobile devices, infrastructure, trust and security. The research areas within the ubiquitous theme include underlying architectures, and newer areas such as ‘always on computing and mobiles’, location and context aware/content sensing services, invisible/wearable computers, open platform technologies, and elastic cloud computing resources. The ubiquitous theme is probably the most important one for OUCS, since it concerns deliverables across the whole University. One area of specific interest is to investigate methods of accessing services in new ways. The development of mobile computing and mobile technologies are covered as is the delivery of services to mobile devices. Further development using mobile devices to support teaching and learning activities are being explored such as links into Sakai and specific tools e.g. a tool to facilitate tutorial bookings. Areas that could be developed are: continuous connectivity to the internet while on the move, data security, spontaneous networking, improvements in energy efficiency, interoperability and collaboration between business networks, verification and validation, authorisation/ access controls, and personalisation. Having a comprehensive wireless network, widespread use of mobile communication and a resilient network should allow interactivity and the prediction of future flows and usage as well as allowing OUCS to develop best practice in these areas. Developing mobile devices for teaching and learning with specific tools and facilities, with additional features such as tutorial bookings, student lists, and library information. Exploiting the benefits of Nexus and Sharepoint needs to be fully developed in a research environment and with linking research groups and cross university and multidisciplinary areas, where again communication is essential. The benefits of sharing and versioning research bids for example saves substantial amounts of time.
The new technologies theme refers to emerging user applications, where future development would help both predict and design new services, as well as supporting the present provision or improvements in the existing services. This theme requires a user-centered bottom-up approach, covering the academic, administrative and student communities within the University. The theme involves some future scanning, suitability testing and could benefit from a pilot project approach. This theme has great potential in the creation and testing of new facilities. Such facilities could be tested by small, less complex pilot projects in advance of becoming services. The theme reflects the life cycle or process approach of research, is practical and links the need for iteration, software development and user testing with the user requirements areas of Theme 3. One of the most important elements within this theme is the development of the Semantic web (with the University’s new Institute for Web Science) and OUCS’s own linked data projects, as well as additional Web 2.0 facilities which are very relevant for an increasingly IT-literate student body. The knowledge economy has great need for the use of digital technologies and tools for research. Linking specific tools with both VLEs and VREs should enable further usage of all these systems. Developing Sakai with Exchange and Sharepoint as well as developing new facilities within Sharepoint for project monitoring, project support and support for research groups should further this theme. Using the new technologies to enable more social networking, and social linking, facilitating research and aiding communication is important, and using the new technologies to keep in touch but also to share information rapidly through tweets, blogs, podcasts and images. Developing 3D collaborative worlds is another area for research and for communication.
The user requirements theme enhances and develops the work in human based interaction such as user based requirements, evaluation, and feedback. This is essentially a people-focused theme. User access and identity issues are covered, as well as access management generally. Access management provision and research has some overlap across the key themes as it is also a component of ubiquitous computing. Access management and security are of such importance to OUCS that they are also key activities. Advice on user requirements and the collection of user based information is provided by the OUCS research technologies service and the client relation team. Service evaluation already feeds into computing service provision, but the statistics it provides could be used in research projects as well as for determining future provision (Recommendations 1 and 6). Collecting and collating user requirements, preferences and feedback should inform future research and service provision. Another area of user requirements is in facilitating research linking to mobile communications but also for visualising research outputs, modelling and simulation, data mining and specific tools. Allowing users to try these out and inform them of new developments would help them to assess their requirements and what would be most useful and productive in their research.
The three themes detailed above are intended to be cross-OUCS research themes. In addition to these themes then, there are five key activities, which are more narrowly defined areas for research, and these will probably be led by specific groups or sections within OUCS, but may involve some cross-group activity.