Dr. Xie boosting older adults' eHealth skillsFerguson, John  | Mar 08, 2017
Associate Professor Bo Xie is working on a project that will help older adults use the Internet to make informed choices about health and medicine.
Dr. Xie received a $426,127 grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Aging for the study, which is titled “Boosting Older Adults’ Cognition by Training Real-World eHealth Skills.”
“Older adults face a range of medical decisions,” Dr. Xie said. “The Internet has the potential to meet their needs for a diverse range of health information.”
However, age-related declines in attention, memory and reasoning can make it challenging for the elderly to take full advantage of online resources, she said. Older people also tend to be less familiar with new technology.
To help them overcome these obstacles, Dr. Xie is collaborating with older adults to develop a three-month curriculum that incorporates problem sets and activities that relate to their everyday life decisions.
“There is a dire need for intervention that can improve older adults’ ability to obtain and evaluate online health information and strengthen cognitive processes that are key to daily health-related behaviors,” she said.
Dr. Xie is principal investigator of the project, which began in September 2016 and is scheduled to end in May 2018.
Professors receive funding to digitize historical records on asylumFernandes, Allen  | Nov 19, 2015
Three faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin's School of Information have received a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to develop and field test a digital infrastructure for preserving and managing the historical public records from the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane in Petersburg, Virginia.
King Davis, Patricia Galloway and Unmil Karadkar will use the $763,000 to develop methods and tools for critical policy analysis, digital technology and archival preservation methods to increase access to historical mental health records and documents while still protecting privacy.
The project is expected to begin this month and end in 2018.
"Families and scholars have requested access to these records for many years to enable them to conduct genealogical and academic research. However, most states limit access to such records based in part on historical precedents and concerns about stigma and privacy," said Davis, a former commissioner of mental health for the Commonwealth of Virginia and current professor of research in the School of Information and professor emeritus in African and African Diaspora Studies.
The asylum was established in 1868 and was the first of its kind in the United States. It has maintained over 800,000 public records that detail the origins of the hospital and the racially segregated services provided for almost 100 years.
From 2008 to 2012, the UT Austin research project received planning support from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors to digitize and stabilize the majority of the asylum's public records, which are the most complete set of archival-quality records in the United States, according to Davis.
"I'm proud of professors Davis, Galloway, and Karadkar for attracting this important grant," said Bill Powers, the university's president. "To better preserve and manage records like these is to open a door to a better understanding of how issues of race and mental health were dealt with in the past. And understanding the past is a critical step to improving the future."
The Mellon Foundation grant will enable the researchers to create a protected digital preservation archive of the asylum records and a mechanism for releasing records that have been made anonymous as well as patterns for supporting research in areas such as history, mental health and health policy.
Karadkar and students in the School of Information are developing methods to extract computable data and patterns from hand-written documents, which will be scaled to accommodate the large volume of records from the asylum.
"The software we develop will be broadly applicable to digital collections with similar characteristics, especially for records of mental health institutions in other southern states that were once segregated by race," said Karadkar.
Galloway will work with postdoctoral students and families of the institution's patients to ensure that the new digital library is easy to access.
"Providing possible solutions to both mental health providers and archival custodians of these records can both help guarantee their preservation and enable their lawful release for research by scholars and families," Galloway said. "However, opening access to families and scholars must still abide by the prevailing state and federal laws on privacy."
Matt Lease receives grant from QNRF to improve Arabic language search engine technologyZhang, Yang  | Nov 04, 2015
While search engines have become incredibly accurate for navigating through websites written in English, finding relevant webpages in other languages is often more difficult.
UT iSchool Associate Professor Matthew Lease and Qatar University Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tamer Elsayed are collaborating together to improve current search engine technology for the Arabic-language Web. Lease and Elsayed received an $884,000 grant from the Qatar National Research Fund for three years for their project “Efficient and Scalable Evaluation for Searching Massive Arabic Social Media and Web Collections.”
“In addition to significantly less research and development investment having been made, the non-English Web is smaller in size for many languages, making it harder to find a relevant needle in a haystack,” Lease said. “Linguistic differences from English can further require tuning search algorithms for each language of interest, and some human populations are inherently polylingual. For example, Arabic is not a single language, but rather a collection of closely-related languages, from Modern Standard Arabic - used for formal writing - to several regional dialects - used in conversation and informal writing.”
To create a controlled environment for search engine experimentation, the professors will crawl the Arabic Web to collect a massive dataset “snapshot”. They will use crowdsourcing to reach Arabic speakers around the world and collect diverse search queries to evaluate the effectiveness of search algorithms developed.
The project also includes significant funding for Lease to fully support doctorate student research assistants as part of his Information Retrieval and Crowdsourcing Research Lab.
“Student research is essential to scientific progress, and I look forward to seeing the amazing things my future research assistants will accomplish on this project,” he said. “It’s been a great pleasure getting to know and help mentor Tamer’s students at Qatar University, and vice versa for him helping mentor students working on the project here at UT-Austin.”
The two professors met at the University of Maryland School of Information while Lease was interviewing for a post-doctorate opportunity and Elsayed was finishing his doctoral degree.
“We were excited to reconnect and renew our iSchool ties across our separate continents,” Lease said. “This project idea provided the perfect opportunity to work together on a problem of mutual interest which is of great practical importance to society and presents us with plenty of tough technical challenges to make it all work.”