New spins on the web

March 14, 1997

HELPING to judge the 1997 UCISA Web Awards was an eye opener. I thought I knew fairly well what British academics are doing on the web. But impressive new sites had appeared. Familiar ones had grown and blossomed.

Web designers were using frames with finesse, and plug-ins with panache. On the downside there were broken links, password problems, and sites which worked fine but lacked visual grace.

My favourite was a runner-up, "Design-it-yourself glycolysis" by Jon Maber of the University of Leeds. This gem of constructivist pedagogy invites you to reinvent, in 20 minutes or so, a metabolic pathway that presumably took evolution millions of years.

Newcastle's tutorial on the anatomy of the knee, another runner-up, likewise inspires awe at the subtlety of nature's engineering.

But the two prizes rightly went to projects where many people had worked together to create something big. Birkbeck College's Principles of Protein Structure course, which deploys the Internet's capabilities imaginatively and always with precise educational purpose. rose to the top of the teaching and learning category.

The prize for information dissemination went to the University of Westminster for the M25 guide to higher education libraries in the London area. It is a truly collaborative effort of 34 institutions, each maintaining its own data locally.

The runners-up in this section could not have been more different: St Andrews brings the history of mathematics to life. Glamorgan's prospectus looks more professional than many company web sites: the design is lavish, though a shade conservative.

Links to all these sites are at www.ucisa.ac.uk/.

Media lab for Melbourne

Peter Thomas, professor of information management at the University of the West of England, is off to Australia to head the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's Interactive Information Institute (I-cubed), a new research hothouse which will bring more than 100 communications, media and software projects under one roof. Located in Melbourne's central business district, I-cubed will work with Netscape and other companies which have chosen the city for their Asia-Pacific headquarters.

Education gets industry vote

Education issues dominate the ten-point IT manifesto signed by 36 computing industry executives and presented to the three main political parties last month. The manifesto calls for national targets for IT training for all members of society, and a plan to provide every school teacher with the skills and support needed to utilise IT.

Charity hilarity

Lectures on the trendy Java programming language tend to be packed. Rob Miles of the University of Hull may have found a way to keep numbers under control by threatening to deliver his lecture entirely in verse. Still curious? Hasten to Hull's Hardy 1 lecture theatre at 12.25 today, and be ready to give generously to Comic Relief.

Outsourced

Succour may be at hand for academics who feel they spend too much time preparing proposals and too little on research. Nottingham Trent University turned to management consultants French Thornton to prepare its information technology strategy. The university had to submit one to the Higher Education Funding Council for England before it would pay for its new network infrastructure. The consultants claim to have helped academics and administrators agree IT investment priorities.

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