John Hurst's Research Interests

Research Interests and Areas

Potential Projects available

These projects are not classified by level, but could be undertaken at a range of levels: Honours, Masters, Doctorate; depending upon aims and scoping.

Potential Projects available

Unless otherwise stated, these projects are appropriate to be undertaken at a range of levels: Honours, Masters, Doctorate; depending upon aims and scoping.

Formal Specification of Course Structures

As part of an on-going process to better utilize the advantages of information technology in a university learning environment, a recent student project looked at ways of extracting course and unit information from publically available handbooks, and turning this into an "expert system" that could provide course advice to students.

One outcome from this project was the automatic rendition of a Prolog program that was tailored to a given student at some arbitrary point in his or her course. Knowing what units had been completed, what units the course structure required, and what units might be undertaken in the next semester, the program would not only supply the student with a list of possible units that could be taken over the next semester, but also would show what units had to be taken in order to complete the course with (say) a specialization in a particular field.

The project showed the feasibility of this approach, but did not deliver a workable prototype. This project would be to take the existing work, and (re)engineer it to the point of completing a workable prototype that could be employed via say a web interface, or faculty kiosk.

Knowledge of Prolog would be useful, although not essential. A copy of the thesis is available on line at Patrick Frey's thesis.

Integration of the web-based and client-based PIAVEE models

The PIAVEE (Platform Independent Agent-based Virtual Educational Environment) project aims to provide a flexible learning management system that uses agents to perform a lot of the tedious housekeeping chores associated with such systems, such as learning object indexing, link management, access control and IP issues. (See the PIAVEE website for more information.)

Two models of the project have arisen: the first (original) one, in which client side activities are handled by an installed client, communicating with a central server through the use of agents, and a second (derived) one, based upon a web browser running Java applets under the Laszlo execution system to provide an installation-free client-side model, with relatively minimal reliance upon agents.

The project is to look at integrating the two models, so that they can be used interchangeably, sharing common file formats, and allowing the use of the system on platforms that have only a web browser installed (with possible performance limitations).

Literate Programming as M+N UNCOL rather than M*N (Honours or Masters)

The most expensive phase in the software life cycle is program maintenance, during which programs typically get modified so frequently that this phase may account for up to 70% of their total development cost. A major factor in this cost is the need for software engineers to re-engineer some (rarely all) of the program code to either fix bugs, or to develop new functionality. In both of these cases, having access to the design decisions made during initial and subsequent program development can be invaluable in terms of understanding the code.

Literate Programming offers a mechanism to maintain such information. Originally proposed by Donald Knuth in 1984, the original model required N*M processing tools, where N is the number of programming languages handled, and M is the number of documentation presentation forms required. The idea has seen a resurgence of activity with the advent of "second generation" (language independent) and "third generation" (WEB based) literate programming tools, both of which eliminate the dependency upon N.

The use of advanced macro processing features also eases the program maintenance task, through appropriate revision control and platform independence mechanisms.

A tool to implement literate programming using XML has been developed (see research/literate/index.xml), and currently supports documentation in HTML and TeX.

In this tool, diverse documentation forms are handled by first translating the literate program to an intermediate form, which is then subsequently translated according to the document layout and presentation rules of the final form. This means that M translators for each of M different presentation forms must be developed.

The difficulty with the second and third generation tools are that they are language independent, and thus cannot exploit knowledge of the language structure. This means that issues like variable recognition and markup, keyword highlighting, and so on, cannot be addressed either within the tangle or weave stages of processing.

The project is about building translators for each of the N language forms (in practice, only one or two will be required to show the feasibility of the approach). This reduces the original model from an N*M problem to a N+M one, without sacrificing some of the advantages of the original Knuth model.

Namespaces and XML Literate Programming (Honours)

The initial implementation of XLP uses default namespaces. This has the difficulty that the coding and documentation markups may overlap, leading to confusion and ambiguity in constructing literate programs.

This project is to implement a range of namespaces within XLP, in order to separate the coding and documentation domains, thus improving the generality of the tool.

Identifier Cross Referencing

Because the literate programming model described above is language agnostic, it does not know how to cross reference identifiers used within the program. It is suggested that this could be done by an indepenet processor, that marks up the text with appropriate information that could be used by the weave phase of the processing to provide cross referencing of identifiers. The markup processor could be language sensitive, thus allowing it to determine the lexical rules pertaining to the relevant identifiers.

The project is to define the architecture of such a processor, and to implement it.

Recent Publications

  1. Sheard, J., Postema, M., Markham, S. and Hurst, J., Time versus utility: What IT staff say about the educational use of the Web, Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2001, Tampere, Finland, June/July 2001.
  2. Carbone, A., Mitchell, I., Gunstone, R., Hurst, A.J., Designing Programming Tasks to Elicit Self-management Metacognitive Behaviour, International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE2002), Auckland, New Zealand, December 2002.
  3. Sheard, J., Ceddia, J., Tuovinen, J., and Hurst, A.J., Determining Website usage time from interactions: data preparation and analysis, Journal of Educational Technology Systems vol.32, no.1, pp.101-121, 2003.
  4. Sheard, J., Ceddia, J., Tuovinen, J., and Hurst, A.J., Inferring student learning behaviour from website interactions: A usage analysis, Education and Information Technology, vol.8, no.3, pp.245-266, Sep 2003.
  5. Hurst, A.J., MonAtar: The Monash Unit Description Avatar , International Conference on Computers in Education, Hong Kong, Dec 2003.
  6. Markham, S., Krishnamurthy, S., Casey, D., Hurst, A.J., Chetty, M., PIAVEE - A Pedagogy-Independent Education Environment, International Conference on A Learning and Teaching, IEEE Computer Society Press, 2004.

Recent Seminars

  1. Experiences with the Monash Avatar Seminar presented at the Faculty of Communication and Information Technologies, Swinburne University, Hawthorn, on 4 Nov 2005.
  2. Peer Review of Teaching Seminar presented at the Caulfield campus of the Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, Caulfield, on 1 April 2005; subsequently repeated at RMIT, Melbourne, on 20 May 2005.

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