Possible Ph.D. Research Projects

Version 0.401 - 9/26/00

Michael Bieber
Information Systems Department
College of Computing Sciences
New Jersey Institute of Technology

{This document is very much under construction. I've decided to post it now since it at least gives an indication of possible research projects. More details will be forthcoming soon. - MB}

This document presents descriptions of several research projects that Ph.D. students may find interesting doctoral dissertation topics. I would be happy to discuss any of these, as well as other ideas in the area of hypermedia, relationship analysis, information systems, Web applications, virtual documents, digital libraries, education, virtual community support, and many other areas.

Note that I have posted some presentations for some of these topics on my Web site.


Dynamically Generated Hypermedia Services
(Dynamic Hypermedia Engine Project - DHE)

We take a two-stage approach to enhancing Web applications with hypermedia support [Bi98]. First, the developer would perform a Relationship-Navigation Analysis (RNA), analyzing an application or information domain specifically in terms of its intra- and inter-relationships. This leads him or her to better understand the application's complexity and richness, as well as better provide the kind of access and metainformation users desire.

Second, the Dynamic Hypermedia Engine (DHE) automatically generates links for each of these relationships and metadata at run-time. DHE also constructs sophisticated navigation techniques not often found on the Web and other application platforms (e.g., guided tours, overviews, structural query) on top of these links [BVA97]. The links and navigation, as well as annotation features, supplement the application's primary functionality [Bi99, BOB00].

In this project link generation does not result from any type of lexical analysis. Our focus is not on the display content of the link anchor, rather on the application elements underlying each link anchor. A "mapping rule" encodes each relationship found between two elements of interest at the "class level". For example, suppose an application display shows the name of a university department. Departments generally have a Web page, an annual budget (within the accounting system), hires-in-progress (within the personnel system), a location on a map (within a geographic information system), professors and courses taught (based on the standard entity-relationship diagram within a database system), etc. Individual mapping rules would contain an algorithm (set of commands) leading to the appropriate component in these respective systems. When the user selects a particular department, DHE constructs these commands with the actual instance selected and sends them to the appropriate destination system which then retrieves&emdash;or more often generates&emdash;the resulting page. For example, one mapping rule would state that an element of type "department" would be related to an element of type "annual budget" through a relationship with the semantic type "annual budget for" and with the skeleton of the command to retrieve annual budgets from the accounting system.

DHE executes concurrently with these applications such as the accounting system, providing automated link generation and other hypermedia functionality without altering them, by means of independent application "wrappers" written for each. Note that once a wrapper is written and the mapping rules are specified for each type of application (geographic information system, relational database management system, accounting package, etc.), DHE will support all instances of that application in the future (new maps, database contents, budget sheets, etc.).


Supporting complex domains: This project deals with providing direct access to relevant information. Users can build a mental picture of the context surrounding information items in application displays.

One of the project's major niches is studying dynamic aspects of static hypermedia features.

Definition: "Dynamically Generated" refers to the idea that most documents are generated "on the fly" from user queries. Therefore all the anchors, links and metadata must be generated dynamically or "on the fly" over these when they are created. We mean dynamic in real time vs. static or prepared in advance.


Ph.D Projects involving the Dynamic Hypermedia Engine:




Relationship Analysis

Many aspects of information systems concern system understanding and interface design. In Web applications, people interact with links. A link represents the relationships between (or among) its endpoints. Many relationships in information domains are implicit, and only become obvious through a systematic analysis. Therefore, many Web sites and applications are missing useful links, opening up opportunities for enhancing systems or providing third party services.

Most Web design methodologies assume you know the set of objects and links you want to include in your Web site. But coming up with this set is not a straightforward task. Relationship Analysis uniquely focuses on the relationships in a complex system or information domain. It provides a systematic approach to determining the set of relevant objects and links to include in the design of information systems applications, Web sites and Web interfaces to non-Web back-end applications, on-line course materials, educational software, etc.

Relationship Analysis is a practical brainstorming technique, based on a theoretical taxonomy of relationship types. Relationship Analysis helps the analyst determine a cluster of relationships around "elements of interest" in the system's domain. Elements of interest become the objects with anchors on your Web site. The relationships become the set of multiple links users access when clicking on each anchor. Providing a comprehensive "web" of links allows the user to explore the context around a particular element within an application, and thereby construct a more accurate mental model of it. A comprehensive set of links also allows the user to navigate more accurately according to his or her task and interests.

Relationship analysis also serves the system designer. By exploring the relationship structure within a domain, he or she will end up understanding that information domain much more deeply, and thereby should be able to develop a better application design.

In our research, we have found few analysis techniques for understanding complex information domains that focus on the interrelationships in the domain. Those that do are often specific to a particular domain. No broad analysis approach exists. This prompted us to develop the Relationship-Navigation Analysis technique. RNA helps designers and analysts how to focus on interrelationships and through these understand a domain much more deeply and identify a useful set of possible links to include in application design.


Ph.D Projects in Relationship Analysis:




Relationship Analysis for General Systems

The goal of this research would be to determine a general relationship analysis approach to analyzing any complex "system". (An information system is a "system". Can relationship analysis generalize for any system?)


Infrastructures for Future Educational Software

This research will take a long-term view of educational support. Assume that 30 years from now we could have any computer support we want. How will we teach effectively in this environment? How will people learn effectively in this environment?

Back up to today. People developing educational software and multimedia authoring environments are just working on basic technical issues. They are not at all addressing the way people should be learning and teaching. We're not advanced enough yet.

This research would look at cognitive educational theories, as well as the processes involved in learning, teaching and administrating. The result should be a framework for teaching and learning 30+ years from now. The goal would be to produce a solid vision that would guide software development of multimedia authoring tools, educational software environments and collaborative systems in the years to come.


Virtual Community Knowledge Support

This research will develop an architecture for a community knowledge evolution system. We propose augmenting a multimedia document repository (digital library) with innovative knowledge evolution support, including computer-mediated communications, community process support, decision support, advanced hypermedia features, and conceptual knowledge structures. These tools and the techniques developed around them would enable members of a virtual community to learn from, contribute to, and collectively build upon the community's knowledge and improve many member tasks. The resulting Collaborative Knowledge Evolution Support System (CKESS) would provide an enhanced digital library infrastructure serving as an ever-evolving repository of the community's knowledge, which members would actively use in everyday tasks and regularly update.


Proving the Benefits of Hypermedia

Hypertext and hypermedia researchers claim that hypertext is the best way to present information to people. Because a hypermedia structure ("webs" of nodes and links, i.e., elements and interrelationships) reflects the way people think cognitively, people most naturally will be able to understand information when it is presented in this format. The alternative is linear or sequential text, i.e., starting at the top of a document and basically reading straight through to the bottom.

But no one has ever proven this, so basically most people promoting hypermedia are building their research on an unproven assumption.

This dissertation project would be to find the cognitive literature to support such a claim for hypermedia, and to set up some experiments or other methodology to prove it.

If successful, this research should be sited in just about every future hypermedia paper for years to come.


last major update: 3/22/2001
last minor update: 8/21/2002

This page: http://web.njit.edu/~bieber/phd-projects.html