Education Visualization Lab Celebrates Grand Opening - February 8, 2011

Jay Boisseau, Director, TACC; Paul Resta, Director, Learning Technology Center; Kelly Gaither, Director of Visualization, TACC; and Manuel Justiz, Dean, College of Education celebrate the opening of the COE Education Visualization Lab.

The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education celebrated the grand opening of its visualization laboratory and partnership with the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) with an open house on Feb. 3.

University administrators, faculty and staff as well as Austin business leaders attended the event, viewing demonstrations of the lab’s state-of-the-art technology and learning more about the practical applications for its resources.

The College of Education enjoys the distinction of being the only college or school of education in the nation to have a dedicated visualization laboratory of this caliber. The facility was made possible through funding from the College of Education and the design assistance of the TACC, which also is providing staff who will be onsite at the lab to help researchers.

"We are drowning in an ocean of educational data. The quantity and complexity of all of this data make it difficult to view, analyze and understand from the usual representations such as a graph, table or spreadsheet. With the amounts of demographic, student performance and contextual data that we now have at our fingertips, it really takes a resource like the visualization laboratory to allow researchers to see emerging trends and patterns. This is going to be a powerful tool for critical discoveries."

— Dr. Paul Resta

The EdVisLab, located in the college’s Learning Technology Center (LTC), is a satellite facility of the TACC, one of the leading advanced computing centers in the world. The new lab boasts a tiled array of 15 30-inch high-resolution (64 million pixels total) monitors, specialized software and an intuitive graphical interface, as well as a 73-inch, stereoscopic 3-D monitor where users can create and manipulate 3-D simulations.

“At the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), we’ve always been aware of just how important visualization is to the creating and learning processes,” said Dr. Jay Boisseau, TACC director. “Most of us comprehend and understand from visualization, but it’s such a fundamental human capability that we often take it for granted. Using high-end visualization to communicate concepts and conclusions that can’t be communicated in any other way has the potential to help researchers develop improved education programs. TACC also will be able to learn a great deal from how the College of Education uses this lab and from what education faculty and students develop.”

Brandt Westing, TACC Research Engineer, shows visitors how visualization can help researchers detect trends and patterns in large amounts of data.

According to LTC director Dr. Paul Resta, the new lab will be particularly useful to faculty and graduate students who are working with massive data sets, allowing them to use high-powered, detailed graphical representations to better comprehend a deluge of digital information. Visual organization of the data should help researchers recognize previously undetected patterns and trends in the data and gain new insights into learning processes.

“Data collection has become an increasingly sophisticated process over the past two decades,” said Ken Tothero, LTC Coordinator for External and Special Projects. “When high stakes testing was first implemented, for example, researchers could only look at how well a school district or state performed over the course of the previous year and that’s about as specific as they could get.

"The germ of a notion for this began around 21 years ago and back then the Learning Technology Center was really just a shell. Now, two decades later, this area has become a showcase and national model. This is thanks to Dr. Resta’s leadership and vision – we owe him much thanks for making this lab a reality."

— Dean Manual Justíz

“Now, however, greater amounts and more kinds of data are pouring in. You have students using electronic devices in class to offer constant feedback and responses, and they’re blogging and taking weekly or daily online quizzes, so you end up with an absolutely huge body of data. It can be mined to find out how students are learning, where they’re running into problems and how to improve the whole education process. We can, basically, monitor learning on a continuous basis, and we can visually present those enormous data sets in a way that makes the information understandable.”

The EdVisLab is now open and available to College of Education faculty and graduate students. To make an appointment to use the lab or get more information on the lab, contact Ken Tothero at ktothero@austin.utexas.edu.

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Last updated on February 9, 2012