A Proposal for an Application of

Learning Technologies in Higher Education
at the University of Illinois

by George Francis,

1 October 1995.


We propose to create the studioCAVE, a student-centered environment for the transfer of new knowledge generated in the Virtual Environments Group (VEG) of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL) at UIC, into the regular curriculum of the Mathematics Department.


The PI of this grant is a professor of Mathematics, of Supercomputing Applications, and of the Campus Honors Program (CHP) at UIUC. He has published extensively in geometry; his Topological Picturebook, Springer 1987, has been translated into Russian and Japanese. He received an AMOCO award in 1994 recognizing his innovations in computer based undergraduate education, notably the UIMATH.APPLE.LAB project, and the ``Hypergraphics'' seminar in the CHP. He was a co-investigator on the original 1989 grant of the Renaissance Experimental Laboratory (REL) of the NCSA from Silicon Graphics Industries (SGI).

In the Applelab, and the REL, he has taught an undergraduate honors seminar (Math198), an inservice teacher's course (Math 351), and a graduate elective (Math 428), in annual rotation since 1984. Former and present students in these courses, supported by his NSF grant in Numerical Geometry for the past two summers, brought the visualization of mathematical research to the CAVE(TM) at the Siggraph'94

We are, moreover, the dozen or so undergraduate and graduate students in these courses and on these projects, who have continued to apply our considerable talents to software, hardware, parallel computation and especially net-ware development which we propose to transfer to the service of undergraduate computer based instruction in the studioCAVE.

Our collaborators are the NCSA, EVLand CHP at Illinois, and The Geometry Center at the University of Minnesota.


We shall create the software, courseware, netware and hardware infrastructure for a new instructional computer classroom, the uimath.grafiXlab. Obsolescence and machine fatigue require that the Mathematics Department close its 12 year old experiment in computer based instruction using Apple IIgs computers. We must re-engineer this experiment to use equally inexpensive PCs, namely generic (Intel Pentium based) computers running a public-domain unix system (Linux). Only this way will we be fully engaged in the gobal information web, not only today, but also tomorrow. These workstations currently cost less than $2200. With the best, carefully matched third party monitors, communications, graphics and soundcards they rival the performance of SGIs or SUNs costing four times their $4500.

We intend to make the re-engineering stage of the grafiXlab happen in an exciting and productive laboratory which is a ``scale-model'' of the CAVE(TM). It will be the place where the best undergraduates in mathematics, computer science, computer and electrical engineering, physics, etc. can work in close collaboration with mathematics faculty and graduate students on projects that interest them, but which are also directed towards the ultimate configuration of the grafiXlab. This way, the author of each project, be it software, courseware, netware or hardware, will also be learning professionally useful mathematics.


With a succession of generous hardware grants, and a tremendously prolific, almost entirely student based custom software development in the eighties, the Applelab reached its final configuration in the early nineties. Then, 3 regular and 3 sporadic professors taught four semester and two summerschool courses annually, to as many as 155 students. We intend to do this again, and more, once the grafiXlab is completed.

Elementary and Secondary Education students in Math 200 ``Experimental Arithmetic'' and Math 305 ``Teacher's Course'' learned simple algorithms and elementary numerical analysis in BASIC on Apples. In the grafiXlab these future teachers will have powerful, fast and impressive real time interactive computer animations (RTICA) to manipulate and modify. We hope to revive Math 351 for inservice teachers (summer school) working on their masters requirements. Once again, they will learn on computer resources of the future, not the past. In addition, all math courses can benefit from sporadic visits to the grafiXlab to use packages of appropriate software specially assembled from the world wide web, and custom built by students associated with the studioCAVE project.

All this is possible, as it was before with the Applelab, provided we can attract the talent, industry and ingenuity of highly motivated engineering and science students to our ``Hypergraphics'' honors seminar, Math 198, and graduate ``Geometrical Graphics'' course, Math 428. As programmers, lab assistants and summer employees, these students will create a body of instructional materials no university budget can afford to buy from commercial vendors. The studioCAVE will be such an attraction.


A number of courses once taught in the Applelab are now obsolete ond will be replaced. For example, Math 200, which was reserved for students in Education, will be replaced by Math 117, open to all students as a quantitative reasoning option. A high profile faculty associate, a Presidential Award winner, has been hired by the Department to develop and teach this course. While the Applelab courses taught rudimentary programming in BASIC, we expect to use more modern and flexible high level languages running under Unix, as well as user-friendly, non-extensible applications developed here and elsewhere on the Web.

We will however provide the unique service of custom software to those instructors who plan to take their regular classes to the grafiXlab only occasionally. Our experience with such ``re-usable'' software modules in NCSA projects will make this quite easy.


The renovation of the facilities for the studioCAVE in the Department is already underway. The Apples have been ``recycled'' to two local elementary schools. The Department has purchased two (of the eventual 20) Pentium-based Linux boxes, and the NCSA has transferred four ``hand-me-down'' SGI 4D/25TG Personal Iris graphics workstations to our use. The NCSA has provided free assistance in reformatting the disk and reinstalling an older, more appropriate operating system. We have figured out how to connect our ancient Sony RGB projector to the PIs to show CAVE animations ... soundless, in slow-motion and not stereo, but only for now!

Over the summer an enthusiastic ``founders'' group for the grafiXlab was formed. It consists of 5 undergraduate engineers in the Campus Honors Program who took Math 198 last spring, two graduate students currently working with the PI on NCSA projects (TAs for Math 198 and Math 200 in the past, and who took Math 428) have volunteered their time and expertise. Already, we are fully networked, going public with our netpages soon. We have installed public software from The Geometry Center in Minneapolis. We are transferring illiView RTICAs (one-by-one). The NCSA has kindly allowed us to recompile the experimental networking software (DTM) in a project to make a functional ``scale model'' of what we are developing between the parallel supercomputing cluster and the CAVE display computers for Supercomputing 95.

Our idea is once again to attract, as we did 10 years ago, the brightest and most industrious undergraduate students, the most generous assistance with recycled equipment from our wealthier collaborators, and the most innovative experimental ideas from the world-wide information web.


1. Two undergraduate hourlies at 20 hrs/week for 2 semesters....... 9 600
2. Two 1/2 time graduate teaching assistants for two semesters..... 24 200
3. One Silicon Graphics Indigo-2 Impact computer. ................. 26 000
4. Two undergraduate summer research assistants, 8 weeks 1/1 time.. 10 000
5. Two 1/1 time graduate research assistants for 8 summer weeks.... 10 500
7. Travel allowance and registration at Siggraph'96................ 4 000
8. One portable Pentium/Linux based notebook computer.............. 4 500


To create the studioCAVE, which, in turn will prepare the grafiXlab we need more than hardware. Indeed, machines are obtainable once their effective, efficient and economical use can be guaranteed. We first need to build the human infrastructure consisting of undergraduate and graduate assistants, and of students in experimental courses. No faculty release time from teaching is requested. It is precisely by teaching that we expect to achieve our goals. But, we should not exploit the enthusiasm and free help from our undergraduate and graduate volunteers beyond reason. We need assistance from the Campus to pay for undergraduate hourlies and graduate assistants, items 1,2,4,5.

We need one very powerful graphics computer (#3) to serve the studioCAVE. The SGI Impact is just coming on the market and we must remain compatible with the NCSA and EVL, who will be using these computers to run CAVE applications. With it, we will also be able to display graphics generated on the Power Challenge cluster of supercomputers at the NCSA. We will also be able to perform CAVE-CAVE experiments with EVL in Chicago.

We need the generosity of the NCSA for hand-me-down equipment, for technical advice and software support as needed. In addition, the NCSA will give Math 428 and Math 198 a high priority in assigning classes in REL. The NCSA will permit our collaborators to develop software and gain experience in the CAVE(TM), on the ImmersaDesk(TM) and the PowerWall(TM). The NCSA will also assist with the production of digital audio-visual media for public dissemination of our educational products.

The Electronic Visualization Laboratory on the UIC campus (where these advanced concepts in virtual environments were developed) will help us set up the studioCAVE to serve also as a remote, interactive classroom. This entails not just closed circuit TV, computer-to-computer connections, but motion and gesture detection, and sound synthesis appropriate for direction-localizable sound.

The Campus Honors Program will encourage its students to take the experimental courses in the grafiXlab, and encourage those able to contribute to the studioCAVE effort.


Spring 1996:

Math 198 ``Hypergraphics'' honors seminar (CHP) will meet in the studioCAVE as well as in REL at Beckman. Special projects, such as Engineering Open House (EOH'96) and the Electronic Visualization Event (EVE'96) will include the grafiXlab.

Spring 1996:

Math 305 ``Teacher's Course'' will participate in the transfer and modernisation of its course-ware from the Apple to the Linux platforms.

Spring 1996:

Math 490/CS 290 Individual undergraduate research projects are directed to transferring illiView software from REL to the studioCAVE, beginning with those among the 100 odd animations produced in Math 428 and 198 since 1989 that can run in the grafiXlab. A number of hardware options and experiments will be settled in a weekly seminar of paid and volunteer project collaborators.

Spring 1996:

Experiments with remote teaching at NCSA, EVL, The Geometry Center; later at UIS and (hopefully) at UMass, UIowa, Technical University of Berlin and U Heidelberg will be initiated.

Summer 1996:

Further development of software. Public demonstrations of the studioCAVE concept at Siggraph'96 and other conference. Webwide experiments using VRML and Java software. Installation of the next 8 Pentium/Linux systems.

Fall 1996:

Operational studioCAVE plus half-sized grafiXlab. Integration of Math 117 ``Experimental Arithmetic'', and Math 302 ``Post-Euclidean Geometry'' in the grafiXlab curriculum. Regular demos of the studioCAVE to visitors.

Spring 1997:

Steady-state achieved with 20 generic Linux systems used 18 hours/day in a multi-purpose, multi-media classroom.


Each of the individual courses using the products of the studioCAVE in the grafiXlab will be evaluated by their proper standards. For example, that of Math 117 by the School of Education.

The success of the studioCAVE project will be its own short run evaluation. In the long run, we will repeat what we did for the earlier effort in the Applelab. We shall gather letters of support and appreciation from its collaborators once they have been out in the computing industry for a while.

We expect to measure our popularity on the WWW in the usual way. We shall report on the amount of software, courseware, netware and expertise exchanged with other, similar labs world wide.


George Francis, Prof.
Mathematics Department, UIUC
Principal Investigator

Gerald Janusz, Prof.
Mathematics Department, UIUC

Thomas DeFanti, Prof.
Electrical Engineering, UIC
Associate Director, VEG
National Center for Supercomputing
and Director
Electronic Visualization Laboratory, UIC

Richard Burkhardt, Prof.
History Department, UIUC
Campus Honors Program, UIUC