Faculty Research: Gerald Benoit

benoit2011_rdax_382x266.jpg"Technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the result that makes our hearts sing," said Steve Jobs, Apple's founder. As a polyglot and technology specialist, Associate Professor Gerald Benoit exemplifies this statement as he integrates an ability to communicate in nine languages with visual arts and technology expertise to develop tools that can help users collect, share, organize, retrieve, and access information effectively across multiple platforms and languages.

Recognizing the difficulties associated with language translation, workflow management, and existing platform integration, Benoit has created Aurora DL, a "customizable record creation and digital object management tool" that will ultimately enable information retrieval across several languages. Although similar existing programs often require management by programmers "behind the scenes," Aurora DL enables users to make update modifications in a text file that result in the user's preferred language appearing immediately on the computer screen. Benoit has also developed a medical database syntactic parser, a tool that can analyze and then extract all noun phrases from a document collection. The phrases can be searched as queries themselves or mapped to controlled vocabularies, such as Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). For example, medical school researchers have collected 10,000 questions about diabetes research over the years to facilitate creating protocols and grant writing. The parser facilitates identifying questions for protocols. As a result, the parser could extract the questions and context, using the data to potentially create evidence-based protocols quickly.

Benoit aims to change the power dynamic of computing by helping people describe and retrieve digital resources from texts of any language, as well as images of all kinds, regardless of technical obstacles. Critical thinking needs to be applied to technology "to know what's possible and to think about what's possible," says Benoit.

For instance, Benoit realizes a lack of awareness about the various technologies available and rudimentary knowledge of record organization and thesauri by corporate executive management can have costly consequences. In the 2011 article "Repurposing Digital Projects: Case Studies Across the Publishing Industry," published in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Benoit collaborated with Assistant Professor Lisa Hussey to learn how organizations respond cost efficiently to publishing, marketing, and information needs when attempting to digitally repurpose their extensive data collections. Some management executives were found to falsely assume that a content-management system would automatically address the workflow and technical issues.

They examined four cases, which suggested the various technical, organizational, and management barriers to "digital object repurposing." They consistently found across the cases that executive management was often unaware of the technology needs of such initiatives. Technology was often isolated to one or a few people in the company with little or no training materials available. As a result, Benoit and Hussey learned that the organization's technology infrastructure is highly dependent on one or a few people, potentially causing the system to become ignored if the technologists leave the company. In addition, such a system does not allow for a meaningful critique of the technologist's work or exposure to weaknesses in the technology system's infrastructure. Benoit and Hussey look forward to conducting future research to learn about interventions that may overcome these barriers.

Information about Dr. Benoit's research, projects, freely available software source code, and classes can be found at http://web.simmons.edu/~benoit/.

Article by Jennifer Moyer

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