Tenth Brown Bag of the Semester – November 30, 2012

The audio from last Friday’s seminar can be found here: Brown Bag 10 (Lindsay and David)

Lindsay Ems

What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in the modern world.

Today, all kinds of subcultures are congealing online—from fan groups to protest movements, to knitters, political ideologues, runners, tinkerers, and foodies, etc. Prior to industrialization, humans largely lived in and made sense of the world through an association to a tribe or small group, so this tendency may not be surprising. The reasons people are drawn into subcultural associations today, however, are different from before. In addition to kinship ties, styles of dress, and language, today, shared technological practice acts to identify members as part of a subculture. The dynamic process of subcultural boundary-making through technology use are illuminated in this project by drawing on ethnographic data collected on preliminary site visits to Indiana Amish communities. The Amish provide a particularly illustrative example of the dynamic mechanisms that govern subcultural boundary-making today because of their history of developing (often enigmatic) rules about technology use that govern their interactions with people outside their subculture.

Lindsay Ems is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Telecommunications at IU. Her research is aimed at understanding subversive uses of communication technologies by small clusters of people like hackers, protesters and the Amish.

David Nemer

Digital Inclusion Practices in Vitoria, Brazil

David Nemer’s research critically investigates Brazil’s access to digital technologies (DT) programs. Brazilian policy has recently been informed by a techno-enthusiastic vision, emphasizing access to digital technologies (DTs) as a right of citizenship in the information age. Consequently, a number of programs have been instituted to promote access to DT use and decrease a perceived “digital divide.” Scholars have disputed such technological deterministic visions, which presume that mere access to DTs is sufficient to promote digital inclusion leading to social and economic transformation. They argue that such approaches simply reflect pre-existing social divides and, sometime, even widen them. In his investigation of Brazil’s access to DTs programs, David explores both potential and pitfalls they entail in practice. He is particularly concerned to illuminate the complex relationship between digital and social inclusion—whether such programs actually lead to social inclusion of the marginalized, if so, how, and in which dimensions (health, education, democracy, financial, etc.). His method is qualitative exploration of state-supported LAN Houses and Telecentros located inside slums and low-income neighborhoods in the city of Vitoria.

David Nemer is a PhD student at Indiana University at the School of Informatics and Computing, concentrating in Social Informatics. He received a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from Saarland University, Germany and also hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from FAESA, Brazil and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from UFES, Brazil.

Production at IU: New and Improved!

by Ken Rosenberg

Professor John Walsh shows off the revamped layout of RTV 250.

Professor John Walsh has secured new equipment for the Telecom department. It is his vision that all students to be able to produce professional-quality media: video, audio, digital games, and other forms of new media. Towards that end, John has worked with other departmental colleagues to improve upon the production gear with which we work. We now have new light kits and grip equipment; our labs are now licensed to use Unity 3, a popular new game engine; we’ve updated the audio software from ProTools 8 to ProTools 10; and the computers in RTV 250 have been rearranged to enhance collaborative learning. A few years ago, Professor Ron Osgood brought the studio into high-definition era. Now, John and others have helped move our media-creation capabilities forward yet again. For a department that has partnerships with professional media outlets, including our in-house PBS affiliate WTIU, it isn’t enough to simply have equipment fit to learn – we need to impress real audiences.

The most immediately noticeable advancement is the new equipment. The cameras in the production lab were already more than adequate for most shoots and, as John pointed out, basic video gear has become cheap enough to the point where many students come to class with their own cameras. What most people do not invest in, however, is proper lighting – and control of the light. Earlier the lab was not equipped with grip gear. Now, we have the basic complement required for shooting on set – light kits and grip equipment. Lighting and grip work are very separate tasks on set, as John explained, and the new gear will allow students to specialize. Next Fall, in the T436: Advanced Production Workshop in Multi-Camera Performance Production, some students will arrange lights, while others will use flags and scrims to optimize the light. John says the new light kits will help students make documentaries, as well as indie narratives.

This summer John worked with Telecom professors and UITS to improve the production functionality of RTV 250. They purchased licenses for the video game engine Unity 3; a very expensive buy, but wholly necessary to stay current in game development. Game engines are the static (yet malleable) building blocks for games, establishing basics like physics, lighting, and textures. Unity goes even further, offering enough ready-made coding to bring the process of creating a game much closer to the fun (and, more importantly, “ease”) of playing a game. It is software like this that helps researchers make their own experimental treatments. It’s also a great set of training wheels for burgeoning designers, most of whom – even and especially in big, multi-million dollar studios – will use engines for the rest of their lives. Asking an M.S. student to create a game without an existent engine is akin to having an M.A. student build a typewriter to complete a term paper. In other words, this license acquisition is a glorious addition for our gaming-minded grads.

RTV 250 also got a much more tangible upgrade: a rearrangement of desks that eschews a lecture-style layout in favor of a setting conducive for group learning. The old setup was standard fare, with rows of desks facing the main projector. Anyone who has used a computer for more than checking email can tell you that learning about interactive media is a socially interactive affair. Often students learn as much from their classmates as from the teacher. Now, a four-pod desk sits up front, while most of the other desks are pressed against the walls.  That creates a roundtable-style classroom. John worked with Professor Ted Castronova and UITS to conceptualize and implement this new design. There will also be a large table for more organized collaboration. It will over the holiday break. The room is now easier for teachers too, John explained, because the new design permits a panopticon-esque method of observation and moderation. “It’s better for everyone,” John said.

Looking forward, John said he wants to look into acquiring a multiplexer. A multiplexer replaces the old-school wall of televisions with one massive screen that can be customized to fit displays for particular shows. “It empowers students,” John said. “Instructors can teach them to design their optimal layout. This is something they will all encounter when they enter the field. It isn’t uncommon for a production assistant to carry around their customized layouts as a file in their pocket, to have with them for implementation wherever they go.”

John would like to remind people that the Telecom production equipment is for the benefit of all students of production – even researchers, even amateurs, and even those who do not belong to the department. “Overall, there are more and more students that are interested in making films,” John said. “The goal is to get the gear into the hands of as many of those students as possible. The production equipment is available to all IU students, regardless of their major.” Of course, priority is given to students enrolled in Telecom production classes; it’s best to request equipment at either the beginning or the end of the semester, or even over the summer, especially for long-term projects. “Anything is up for use,” John said. This includes production spaces like Studio 5, as well.

If you have any desire to work on your own drama, soundtrack, or first-person shooter, talk to John. Anyway, all request forms for use of production facilities and equipment get sent to him. Talk to him about what your project needs – you might find that professional-level production isn’t too hard, after all! You can find out more about the production lab and its facilities, equipment, and people by clicking here.

Ninth Brown Bag of the Semester – November 16, 2012

Jared Lorince

Socially mediated decision making in a collaborative tagging system

The audio from this seminar can be found by clicking here: Brown Bag 9 (Jared Lorince)

Collaborative tagging systems, in which the labels assigned to a collection of information objects by many users are aggregated into “folksonomies”, have become a mainstay of the modern Web. But beyond being useful tools for organizing information, these systems provide rich datasets for exploring the interactions between individual decision-making and higher-level collective behavior. In this talk, Jared presents a research program exploring collaborative tagging from a cognitive science perspective, specifically focused on the social music site Last.fm. He provides an overview of what precisely collaborative tagging entails, detail our data collection methodologies, and present the results of our early explorations of that data.

Jared Lorince is a third-year PhD student in cognitive science and psychology at Indiana University, working in the Adaptive Behavior and Cognition Lab under the direction of Dr. Peter Todd. His research interests draw from several areas, but focus on how people search for information and make decisions in social information environments. He’s especially interested in collaborative tagging systems and the decision-making strategies people use when deciding what and how to tag.

T580: Norb’s “Vacation of Ideas”

by Ken Rosenberg

T580: Interactive Storytelling and Computer Games has been taught by several different professors over the years. This semester it is being taught by Professor Norb Herber, who took the same course 14 years ago under former IU Professor Thom Gillespie. Well, not the exact same course – the course description affords a latitude that allows each instructor to craft the syllabus to fit their unique brand of insight and expertise.  “Anytime I’ve tried to model a class on what its predecessors had done, it’s never gone too well,” Norb said. “It’s like putting their words in your mouth – it just doesn’t work.”

“Thom was eternally optimistic about the creative potential of everyone who was in the class and had unique talent” and that, Norb said, led him “to look at someone’s past experiences and automatically find five or six things that they could be doing with what they already knew how to do, in a new way, given what current technologies and software made possible. He would cheerlead people, in that way.”  While Norb does not see himself as a cheerleader, he says “I would hope that the way I work with students is constructive. I try to find a way to support what they’re doing, and help them do it in a way that’s going to be sustainable for the future.”

Over the years most students in T580 have been interested in some aspect of game development. However, Norb’s eclectic group is also interested in camerawork and other types of production work. Since he had been on the graduate committee, Norb had a sense of the mix of interests of the new class.

“People are coming here with an idea of what they want to study,” Norb said, “but, at the same time, they want to do something new. In graduate school, you always get turned on to all sorts of new things that you didn’t even know existed before you came here. So, I wanted to try and structure the class in a way that acknowledged and supported that. I had a sense of what I wanted to do, and I thought that the worst thing I could do was to go in there with a confining curriculum, demanding that everybody do the same thing. I didn’t want to say ‘this is what the course is going to be’ and have half the room unhappy or upset.”

Norb’s T580 is therefore much more about inspiration than dictated direction.  One source of inspiration for Norb was a book lent to him by Professor John Walsh:  Inventing the Medium, by Janet Murray. It hasn’t been quite the hit with students that Norb had hoped for, but it has proved to be sufficient inspiration for class discussions. “She talks about everything I felt would be relevant to people who want to create media at this point in history,” Norb said. “As a survey, the book is great, since it connects current platforms with what came before. It’s been good for reorienting everyone to what’s happening right now, and also in jogging people’s memories to help them remember things they used to play, or tools they used to use, or software they used to tinker around with. In that respect, it’s worked well.”

Really, though, the book is “just a springboard,” Norb said. Students are supposed to read the chapter assigned for the week and post their contributions on the class’ Tumblr – and they can post anything: a quote, a passage, an image, a link, even “an old website they used to visit in high school,” Norb said. Discussions can start with alert messages in apps, and end with airplanes and pilots’ use of autopilot features. Murray’s books also inspired the first two of the class’ three projects, which could be either a paper or a production piece. Norb asked his students to stretch, just a bit, in that two projects can be of one type, but one must be of the other – meaning directors have to research, and scholars must get their hands dirty in the media they more often observe.

The first two projects are due early in the semester, while students have significantly more time to work on the third one. Many students have chosen to make one semester-long, three-part project: design, draft, and prototype. People have turned in game design documents, immersive virtual environments made from photos (as opposed to 3D models), mini documentaries, Flash games, interactive fiction, mobile games, and even a card game. One of the main requirements is that, due to the short three-month turnaround, projects should be small; students should be able to complete something, to add it to their portfolio.

“The idea behind doing all this stuff,” Norb said, “is to try to help people connect what they’ve been doing, with what they think they’re going to be doing, with what they will ultimately end up doing. When they look back and someone asks them what they did in their master’s program, they’ll be telling a story about how they came in hoping to do one thing, and ending up someplace else. I hope that this class will play some part in students’ zeroing in on what they’re finally going to present in their M.S. exam.”

As Norb said at orientation this year, this class was made to be a “vacation of ideas.” As with most vacations, the schedule is tight, but there is plenty of room for play and exploration. Norb is scheduled to teach the class again, next Fall term – so, if you need a vacation to work on your ideas, take his brand of T580.

Eighth Brown Bag of the Semester – November 9, 2012

Barbara Cherry

Further Erosion of Consumer Protection Remedies for U.S. Telecommunications: Flawed Federal Preemption Under AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion

Deregulatory policies have shifted reliance from industry-specific regulation of telecommunications and broadband access services to economic competition and legal remedies under other bodies of law.  In the U.S. this shift has created legal gaps, eroding availability of consumer protection remedies. In a recent controversial 5-4 decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (2011), the U.S. Supreme Court further narrowed the scope of available state judicial remedies for consumers of telecommunications services by interpreting the Federal Arbitration Act to enforce a mandatory arbitration clause and a class arbitration waiver in consumer contracts against a challenge of unconscionability.

Barbara’s presentation examined numerous flaws of the majority’s analysis in this case.  The analysis reflects a complexity theory perspective by looking beyond the flaws identified by the dissenting justices and stressing the Court’s failure to consider the systemic effects of its decision to undermine the role of private enforcement mechanisms both generally under the American legal regime and specifically within the telecommunications sector. The analysis also provides insights for other nations by demonstrating the need to understand the systemic impacts of changes in regulatory policy and governance. Illustratively, the Canadian Supreme Court effectively reached the opposite result in Seidel v TELUS Communications Inc.,expressly recognizing the importance of private enforcement mechanisms in the public interest to increase the effectiveness of the British Columbia Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act.

Barbara A. Cherry (Ph.D., Northwestern University; J.D. Harvard Law School) is Professor of Telecommunications at Indiana University. Her research is primarily focused on evaluation of deregulatory policies, governance structures, comparative analysis of infrastructure industries, and framing of analyses from a complexity theory perspective as applied to telecommunications public policy issues.

Demystifying the ICR

by Ken Rosenberg

Lab meetings are a good way to keep current on everyone’s projects … and a great way to make sure YOU keep current on your own!

Last Wednesday, our resident satirist, Edo Steinberg, wrote about weekly lab meetings as if they were a coping group for social science junkies. There is always that haunting nugget of truth at the core of all comedy but, generally speaking, it’s not so bad to be a lab rat. The Institute for Communication Research (ICR) is open to all Telecom grad students. It’s a unique facility and a precious resource for those looking for an appropriate workspace – regardless of career trajectory, chosen methodologies, or level of current expertise. It is run by ICR Director Professor Rob Potter and Lab Manager Sharon Mayell.  Even though it’s practically on the other side of campus, it’s worth the trip.

Professor Rob Potter attaches electrodes to the face of Telecom grad Sean Connolly … without IRB approval! *gasp* (It’s not necessary for fun little demonstrations like this.)

The lab is open to all graduate students and can be a resource for all kinds of scholarship. This includes:

People who are new to lab research. As long as you have IRB approval, you can observe any study in progress. Go behind the scenes and watch researchers collect data from participants – just ask the principal investigator on the study, first.

People who are curious enough to pretest. If you have a research question, you might have a study. Still, it could be wasteful to go forward with a full-fledged IRB-approved experiment without first conducting a smaller version with a handful of people. Fun fact: you don’t need IRB approval to hook up your colleagues to equipment and expose them to media. If you have a few friends in the department who, in turn, have a couple of hours to spare, bring them to the ICR and pre-test your hypotheses … or just have fun learning how to use the equipment. Rob believes that the lab can and should always be running. With plenty of time between ongoing studies, there’s always an opening for curious minds.

People who don’t use physiological measures. The ICR is great for all grads, regardless of their preferred methodologies. The ICR uses MediaLab, which is a great software tool for administering basic audiovisual treatments and questionnaires. Lab software can even be used for content analysis. A multipurpose room can serve as a neutral setting for some in-depth interviews. There are computer labs for research with stacks of methodology handbooks.

People who are new to the program. Don’t have a solidified research question? Need to know how to craft a solid survey? Not sure which classes to take next semester? As they get further into the program, many Telecom grads make the ICR their second home. Even if you’re not there to use the facilities, you can bet that someone will be there – someone with experience and good advice. Seek them out!

People who just need a break. The grad-only rooms in RTV are wonderful havens.  However, if you need an even quieter setting with fewer distractions and a slightly more serious tonality, ask Rob for a key to the ICR and have just the right place to study.

People who want to go places.  Sharon has been long helping people conduct their studies.  Recently, her contributions led to her first publication as a co-author. Rob, an alumnus of our PhD program, went to his first lab meeting at IU a long time ago and met with Professor Annie Lang and a few grad-level colleagues. Now, he is a tenured professor who literally wrote the book on psychophysiological measures in communications research.

If you want to find out more about the ICR, check out the website (props to grad Nic Matthews for his assistance in the design). Rob is also happy to give tours. Additionally, attending the brown bags on Fridays can provide glimpses into the ongoing research at the ICR and the forthcoming publications.

Rob sends out an email at the beginning of each semester. Sharon recommends getting on the mailing list, even and especially if you don’t intend to regularly attend lab meetings (she sends out notes from each meeting).

The ICR is not some imposing laboratory, it’s a resource for all Telecom students. So, head over to Eigenmann Hall (6th floor—take the elevators on the right) and see what the ICR can do for your academic career. Who knows … maybe, in time, you could be running the lab!

Students in Rob’s psychophysiology course begin to turn the tables and test his eye-blink startle response.

Seventh Brown Bag of the Semester – November 2, 2012

The audio from last Friday’s seminar can be found here: Brown Bag 7 (Nicole and Jennifer).

Nicole Martins and Jennifer Bute

Public Discourses about Teenage Pregnancy and the Impact of Teen Pregnancy Programming on Adolescent Viewers

Dr. Jennifer Bute and Dr. Nicole Martins presented the results of two separate studies that have examined the role of the media in reflecting and shaping ideological assumptions and attitudes about teen pregnancy and parenthood in the United States.

Dr. Jennifer Bute presented an examination of public discourses about adolescent childbearing.  As the media, political pundits, and private citizens pondered the meaning of recent events (e.g., the pregnancies of Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears), they expressed viewpoints, explanations, and possible solutions in mass-mediated outlets. This study examined the discourses communicated in such outlets to understand how public discussion of teenage pregnancy reveals ideological assumptions about reproductive health, ideal family forms, and the expected life course.

Dr. Martins discussed the results of a recent survey she conducted with 185 United States high school students (M = 16.57 years of age) to examine whether exposure to “teen mom” reality programming was related to teens’ perceptions of teen parenthood.  The results of the survey revealed a significant relationship between exposure to teen mom reality programs and unrealistic expectations of teen parenthood for both males and females. In particular, viewing teen mom reality programming was related to an increased tendency to believe that teen mothers have an enviable quality of life, a high income, and involved fathers.  The results of this study also revealed that across the three outcome variables of interest, perceived reality significantly interacted with this relationship, but only for females and not for males.


Nicole Martins (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University. Her research interests focus on the psychological and emotional impact of the mass media on children and adolescents.

Jennifer Bute (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Her research interests concern communication about health in interpersonal relationships, and public discourses about women’s health.