My senior capstone project centered on increasing the accessibility of the CUAHSI JupyterHub platform with the HydroShare data sharing repository. Both of these services help hydrologists to conduct reproducible research, collaborate with others, and share models and data with each other and the world. However, the integration of the two services is currently very rough. A National Science Foundation grant enabled my team to spend our senior year conducting user research and prototyping a refined integration of the system.
In the end, we provided CUAHSI with an alpha version of an improved file management experience. This alpha system is in the process of being deployed by CUAHSI for initial testing.
CUAHSI Compute is a free collection of web-based computing platforms that are actively developed and maintained by the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc (CUAHSI) with the goal of making cloud-based education and water science research more accessible to members of the hydrology community. It offers a means of running code written in various software languages right in a web browser without any laborious or frustrating setup process. Additionally, its integration with HydroShare, a water data and model repository, allows users to easily reproduce work done by others and smoothly share their own work with others. The oldest and most widely used compute platform of this collection is called CUAHSI JupyterHub.
While CUAHSI JupyterHub offers great promise, its evolution thus far has centered largely on technical functionality. Ease of use, including the user interface and user experience, has yet to be fully refined, particularly with regard to the integration with HydroShare. This has left the system in a state where it is accessible to its creators but much less so to new users. CUAHSI recognizes this shortcoming and has partnered with an Olin College of Engineering SCOPE team in order to address it. The Olin College of Engineering SCOPE program is a senior capstone program which seeks to give students experience working on “real-world” problems. Groups of four to five undergraduate engineering seniors are paired with a sponsoring company or organization for one academic year to work on a project with implications beyond Olin. We, the 2019-2020 CUAHSI SCOPE team, have spent the past eight months working with CUAHSI in order to use our experience in user design and software development to improve the user experience of the CUAHSI JupyterHub platform.
To identify the needs of potential users and the current gaps in CUAHSI JupyterHub, we interviewed hydrologists and conducted co-design activities both virtually and in-person. We then used our insights to develop a web app, called CUAHSI JupyterHub Sync, that better integrates the CUAHSI JupyterHub platform with the HydroShare repository. The app allows users to easily work with a HydroShare resource’s data with the tools in CUAHSI JupyterHub and to intuitively synchronize data between CUAHSI JupyterHub and HydroShare, making the integration of CUAHSI JupyterHub with HydroShare more seamless. It also drastically reduces the number of steps needed to synchronize data between the two from six or more steps down to only a single step. An alpha version of this app is in the process of being deployed by CUAHSI for preliminary testing by members of the hydrology community.
In summary, our user research has unearthed novel insights into how hydrologists interact with existing cyberinfrastructure and what needs are still going unmet. We used these insights to develop a working prototype of CUAHSI JupyterHub Sync, which provides an improved data management interface for the JupyterHub component of CUAHSI JupyterHub. We have taken the first steps toward implementing a more seamless web-based computing experience and believe we have laid the groundwork for CUAHSI to take its offerings to the next level.