Speers Returns, Brewing with Telecom, Intellectual Circuits, Brown Bags

Guest Feature: Laura Speers Returns from London

It was great to come back and visit Bloomington after leaving 10 months ago. Catching up with friends and professors and attending T600 provided much food for thought for reflecting on my time as an MA student at IU and for drawing comparisons between the Telecom graduate program and my current PhD program at King’s College London.

The T600 seminar given by Harmeet last Friday was very poignant for me in emphasizing the key factors that lead to success in one’s program of study. It is easy to get lost in the demands and pressures of classes and the various responsibilities of being an AI or RA, so much so that you lose sight of the big picture of where you are heading and the crucial thesis/project/dissertation at the end of your program. Instead, we should be aiming for ‘flow’, a current that guides and feeds into the big picture of where we are going and who we want to be. Throughout our time in grad school, it is important to focus on the bigger, over-arching aspects of being a researcher. Questions such as what kind of researcher do I want to be and why? What are my motivations and what type of research do I want to do? This kind of meta-analysing and reflecting some people do naturally with no prompts but others need to be pushed to think about and answer those types of questions.

Professional and personal relationships are an important part of the graduate program. In Harmeet’s presentation, he focused a lot on the role of the committee and the graduate student, but one of the most crucial relationships is with the advisor. Choosing the right advisor in my opinion is the key to success. It is not just about liking a particular professor, because you have to be able to build a rapport and maintain a dialogue with that person, almost like a partnership. An ideal advisor keeps you on track yet provides the flexibility and freedom to pursue what you want to do. Having a committee (unique to the North American graduate system) offers grad students amazing professors, essentially there for your disposal so make use of them. The committee meeting isn’t something to dread, or worse a bureaucratic procedure, but a time and place where some brilliant minds are focusing all their attention on you and your ideas, research and progress. Relish it and make the most of it by being prepared.

Since leaving IU and doing my PhD in London, what I have really missed is the sense of community and collegial spirit of the Telecom department where there are an abundance of opportunities to be involved in different projects and to collaborate with others. As Harmeet demonstrated in his presentation, the ‘action’ of the graduate program is not necessarily in classes or the readings. The ‘aha’ moment or intellectual breakthrough happens in between classes, even outside of school, or at a seminar or conference, in a professor’s office, and talking to fellow students informally at the winery in my case. An openness to the opportunities and conversations around you results in the cross-fertilization of new ideas, new questions and different ways of learning. These tend to always be more enlightening and powerful when student-driven rather than top-down. This shared space cohabited by grad students pushes you intellectually but also provides support.

After experiencing this at IU, I’m working to create this kind of environment in my new department.  British PhD programs have no coursework, so from the outset you have to conduct independent research, which was difficult to adjust to after experiencing the highly structured US system. However, it is wonderful to not have the pressures of classes or teaching as it allows for freedom, reflection and flexibility in research and also time and energy to address the important over-arching questions mentioned above. Perhaps the American system could create more space and time to reflect on what constitutes success and how our goals feed into Harmeet’s idea of ‘flow’.

– Laura Speers

Brewing with Telecom

We’ve got more than just ideas fermenting here at Telecom. Two of our grad students, Nic Matthews and Lindsay Ems, have been trying their hand at brewing beer and making wine. For them, it’s a simple hobby that takes relatively little time and produces rich rewards.

Grad student Nic Matthews pours some of his homebrew.

After receiving a Mr. Beer home brew kit as a Valentine’s Day gift this year, Nic got started right away, choosing a lager mix from the kit for his first trial run. It failed. “Apparently sanitation is a lot more important that I initially thought. An improperly sanitized can opener might have killed my first batch,” he says. Nic recalls leaving the bottles alone for days at a time hoping the batch would get better with age. At first, he thought its unusual flavor might have been planned. “I asked myself, ‘Does this taste like wine, or is it a really sophisticated beer flavor?’ And then I determined that it was just really bad beer,” he explained. Nic’s second batch has been a success, and he hopes to upgrade to a bigger brewing kit in the future. “It’s kind of like brewing with training wheels, and I can’t wait to graduate from that when I’m good enough.”

Lindsay’s first attempt at wine about five years ago met a similar fate. Her grandmother grew Concord grapes, and she borrowed her mother’s juicer to use them for wine making. Her mother, allergic to grape seeds, broke out in a rash while helping with the process. Then Lindsay added too much sugar to the bottles, which made many of them explode. “A few survived, so I gave them away as gifts. I tried some of the wine later, and it was terrible,” she laments.

She purchased a user-friendly wine kit shortly after that, and eventually added a beer kit. “I’ve made about 4 batches in the year-and-a-half since I received it, and it’s turned out really well every time,” she explains. Lindsay’s beer kit is similar to Nic’s, but she’s modified the barrel to say “Ms. Beer” instead. She’s working through the last of the mixes from the kit, and then she plans to upgrade to a more complex system.

For both of them, the appeal of brewing is in the process. “There are steps to follow, and it’s fun. Six weeks later you have free beer,” says Lindsay, who will start brewing a new batch after has she’s worked her way through her last batch. “It’s a good sit-in-your-closet type of thing,” adds Nic. “You just have to check up on it from time to time, and then it rewards you with beer.”

Intellectual Circuits, Part 4: Kinsey and Social Informatics

The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

Of all the inter-disciplinary links featured in the Intellectual Circuits series, the relationship between Department of Telecommunications and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction is one that is seeing quantum development.  Its roots were planted with a Ford Foundation study on how sex research is covered in the media, where Professors Bryant Paul and Betsi Grabe served as advisors.  The study resulted in a mini-conference and laid the groundwork for further collaboration between Telecom and Kinsey.

While the relationship lacks true formality, Bryant Paul currently serves as a Kinsey Faculty Fellow and Appointee at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.  Bryant explains that due to the sensitive nature of the content that Kinsey researches, they have to be extremely careful with whom they associate.  “The Kinsey Institute is an easy target for a lot of groups who are concerned with what they research.  They conducted mostly survey research over the past 10 years and  have steered recently towards experimental research, which opens doors for more criticism.”

In addition to its scientific activities as research center, the Kinsey Institute serves as a information resource.  It boasts an extensive library and art collection.  With regard to course work, the Kinsey Institute offers a minor in Human Sexuality at the undergraduate and graduate level.  Bryant’s Sex and the Media course is one of the courses in the minor. There is considerable potential for further growth in the collaboration between Telecom and Kinsey.  Bryant explains, “The Institute itself only has three faculty members, but it serves as a jumping off point for getting great research ideas.  I have had the opportunity to work with a number of people from different schools and departments.”

Doctor student Lelia Samson came to Kinsey by way of her interest in gender studies.  She took a course called ‘Concepts of Gender’ in the fall of 2008, which was held at the Kinsey Institute.  This opened her awareness to other Kinsey courses and research.  She was intrigued in particular by a course called ‘K690 Sexual Science Research Methods.’  It was this course that truly expanded her thinking about the scientific study of sexuality and useful employment of multidisciplinary research methods.  She saw how beneficial it is to approach a topic from a variety of perspectives and employ a variety of methods. “The KI researchers manage to overcome any tributary allegiances to their maternal field and collaborate across disciplines to better understand their variables of interest.”

Lelia was awarded one of the Kinsey Institute Student Research Grants for 2010 – 2011.  She says this grant had much to do with her ongoing collaboration with Dr. Erick Janssen, which started with a paper she wrote for K690.  Janssen, Lelia’s mentor at the Kinsey Institute, encourages students to think in creative and progressive ways.  He also serves as faculty in Cognitive Science, another program with strong ties to the Department of Telecommunications.  Lelia hopes that these connections with the Kinsey Institute are only the beginning.  “I hope that more and more students will pursue the studies of sexual mediated messages.  The research questions raised appeal to our basic drives as human beings and serve as socialization and information agents in today’s society.”  The Department of Telecommunications is indeed building on this collaboration with the addition of faculty member Prof. Paul Wright in the fall.

See more information about the Kinsey Institute Student Research Grant here.

Social Informatics

Social Informatics is a multi-disciplinary route for those interested in the way people interact with technologies and the ways those technologies interact with them. “The term ‘social informatics’ does not really exist outside of a few schools,” explains PhD candidate Ratan Suri, adding that the late Rob Kling, renowned scholar at the School of Library and Information Science coined the term.

The interdisciplinary nature of Social Informatics is reflected in the range of schools and departments whose courses are included in the PhD Minor in Social Informatics:  School of Library and Information Science, School of Informatics and Computing, Department of Communication and Culture, Kelley School of Business, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, School of Education, Department of Geography, Department of Political Science, and Department of Telecommunications. “Classically, social informatics is the study of the computerization of social structures,” explains PhD candidate Mark Bell. “It’s a school of thought essentially brought about by Rob Kling, who thought people were getting hyperbolic views of technology and said, ‘Whoa. We need to take an empirical look at this.'”

PhD student Lindsay Ems explains that Telecom and SI are intrinsically linked to one another. “It’s really a better question to ask how the two aren’t related,” she says. “Social informatics is the nexus of technology and people, and everything we study in our own department falls under that.” In addition, the two complement each other by allowing a researcher to study the same phenomenon from different angles. “Telecom people might look at technology and media in a broader sense, CMCL (Communication and Culture) might look at technology and lifestyle, and people in Informatics might see technology and work, and by studying social informatics, we get to see all of that,” Lindsay explains. Ratan adds that it’s good to get a sampling of how each department approaches the study of technology.

The Social Informatics courses are good vehicles for extending viewpoints beyond what many Telecom courses offer, but having a background in Telecom classes also helps bring a unique perspective to a Social Informatics class. “I think that in Social Informatics, sometimes the quantitative side of research can get forgotten, and so taking my social science stuff from here helps over there. I also think that we live in our cave of social science too often, and it’s good to get out every now and then,” Mark says.

Recommended courses: S513:  Organizational Informatics, S514: Computerization in Society, S518:  Communication in Electronic Environments, C626: Digital Cultures, I709: Social Informatics, T551: Communication, Technology, and Society

Brown Bags 

Measuring Motivation Activation in a Virtual World: Predicting Individual Differences of Appetitive and Aversive Measures

Mark Bell, PhD Candidate, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University

Abstract:  This presentation describes research that extends previous work on motivational activation systems linking Approach System Activation (ASA) and Defense System Activation (DSA) levels to media use, gender and age. This study collects individual Motivational Activation Measures of virtual world residents (N= 480), using the Virtual Data Collection Interface (VDCI) developed in the Indiana University Department of Telecommunications, and compares them to previous results. The results show the virtual world residents as higher in both ASA and DSA with larger than normal proportions of co-activating and inactive individuals. This work helps validate the MAM by expanding the pool of participants.

You can access the audio for Mark’s T600 talk here: Mark Bell T600 Audio

Applying a Socio-technical Lens to Study the Influence of GIS  on Historical Research Practices and Outcomes

Ratan Suri, PhD candidate, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University

Abstract:  The last decade or so has seen the uptake and use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) by an enterprising group of researchers interested in applying this technology to study historical events. This presentation reports the preliminary results of a two year ethnographic research study of a Community of Practitioners (Lave & Wenger,1991) using GIS for researching historical events from a spatio-temporal perspective. Using two case studies, ‘Ghettoization of Budapest, and ‘Role of railroads in shaping the spatial politics in wheat growing districts in California in 19 Century’, the study showcases how use of GIS is not only transforming how historical research is being done, but also tries to capture through explicit examples, how a spatio-temporal approach sheds new light on historical events.

You can access the audio to Ratan’s T600 talk here: Ratan Suri T600 Audio


Katie Birge:  Brewing with Telecom, Social Informatics Intellectual Circuit, and Brown Bags

Nicky Lewis:  Speer Returns and  Kinsey Intellectual Circuit

Special Thanks

Laura Speers:  Guest Feature


Distinguished Alumni Award for Jim Webster, Graduate Student Day, Rob Potter’s B-School Collaboration, Ratan Receives Honors

Jim Webster Returns to Bloomington, Distinguished Alumni Award, Brown Bag

For the first time in about 20 years, IU Telecom Grad Program alum Jim Webster (IU PhD ’80) made his way back to his roots. Currently teaching at Northwestern University, Jim took some time out of his schedule on Friday to reminisce about his days as a Hoosier. And how much has the campus and town changed since he last visited? “Honestly, it’s pretty much the same,” Jim says. “The faculty are much nicer now,” he adds with a smile. Jim recalled being a research assistant in the early days of the department’s Institute for Communication Research.

Jim’s path to Bloomington for graduate school was interesting. After graduating with a BA in psychology from Trinity College, Hartford, he secured a job at the Children’s Television Workshop, the organization responsible for Sesame Street and other educational programming. Charged with the task of developing a prime time television series about health and fitness for adults, Jim ran focus groups and met with experts. One such expert was a faculty member at IU Telecom, and when the series ended, he encouraged Jim to apply for Telecom doctoral program. Jim was admitted the following school year and continued to study audiences, now in a theoretically informed way.

Jim has many fond memories of his alma mater. He was here when Breaking Away was being filmed, and he knows many people who were extras.  He also met his wife Debra, an IU Telecom alum, during his time here. In fact, Debra still keeps the ticket stub from their first date – a production at the IU Auditorium – in her wallet. Before leaving town on Saturday, they planned to revisit the Wells Library and Nick’s English Hut, two of their old hangouts. After his brown bag presentation on Friday, Jim made one more memory: he received the department’s Distinguished Alumni Award, presented by department chair Walter Gantz. Only two other alums have received this award thus far.

Jim’s Brown Bag Presentation:

Public Attention in an Age of Digital Media

Abstract:  Digital media offer countless options that compete for a limited supply of public attention. Identifying the forces that shape media use in this environment can inform our understanding of the new “attention economy.” In this talk I consider different ways to explain media use and offer an integrated model of public attention based on the notion of structuration. I report the results of a recent study that applied network analysis metrics to Nielsen data on television and internet use.  These shed light on the nature of audience fragmentation and whether such “long tail” distributions can be taken as evidence of social polarization. I conclude with a discussion of niches, enclaves, and the persistence of popularity.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the presentation:  Jim Webster T600 Audio

IU Telecom Welcomes its Admitted Graduate Students

Last week the department opened its doors to the newly admitted graduate students. Hailing from Florida, California, and in between, the prospective students enjoyed a faculty meet-and-greet breakfast, a brown bag presentation by grad program alum Jim Webster, lunch with faculty and current graduate students, a tour of the facilities, and a relaxing party to conclude the packed day. Check out photos below:

Rob Potter’s Business School Connection

For the past several years, Professor Rob Potter has been working with Professor Alan Dennis, John T. Chambers Chair in Internet Systems, Kelley School of Business.  This meeting of the minds came about through a Kelley doctoral student, Taylor Wells, who informed Rob about the Alan’s interest in psychophysiological measures.  Alan’s research interests involve the neural processes used in decision making.  His current work focuses on decision making in groups meeting face-to-face and in a virtual environment.  He is exploring several dimensions in the decision making process, including the visibility of information, the relevance of information, and how information is used in decision making.

After Rob’s presentation at the Center for Neural Decision Making’s Interdisciplinary Symposium on Decision Neuroscience in September, Alan approached Rob for potential collaboration on research using electroencephalography (EEG) technology.  Rob’s past experience with psychophysiological measures at the Institute of Communication Research was valuable here. Rob and Alan started collaborating, as both of them were inspired by recent innovations in technology involving the use of brain wave activity to communicate with computers, often seen in research with paraplegics.  In the past use of EEG technology in research has been a very expensive endeavor.  However, as the technology advanced, researchers in the gaming industry took note and have developed EEG headsets that are more affordable than those used in medical labs.  Rob and Alan are continuing their collaboration using headsets designed by gaming researchers to deepen our understanding about neural decision making.  As of early March, they had developed a proof concept and are currently working on developing an experimental design.  Much more is to come from these two professors.  For more information on the Center for Neural Decision Making, click here.

Visit the Institute for Communication Research here.

Ratan is Honored with GPSO/UGS Recognition Award

PhD Candidate Ratan Suri received the GPSO / UGS Recognition Award from the Graduate and Professional Student Organization (GPSO) and the University Graduate School (UGS) and was featured as the Graduate Student of the Month on IU Graduate School’s blog. Ratan was given the award for his research and teaching accomplishments, which include College of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Year Research Fellowship and Indiana University Graduate School’s Future Faculty Teaching Fellowship.

You can access the IU Graduate School Blog for more details about Ratan’s research and teaching activities. Congratulations, Ratan!

Callout: Declaring Spring!

Spring is finally on its way, and the bloggers are looking for your insights about how you ring in Spring. When does it officially start for you? What do you do to declare that Spring has arrived? Send your answers to knbirge@indiana.edu and nhlewis@indiana.edu


Nicky Lewis: Rob Potter’s B-School Collaboration

Katie Birge: Jim Webster Story, Graduate Student Day, Ratan’s Honors

Anil’s Crop Circles, Exploring Physical Media, Ratan and Matt’s Brown Bag

Anil Mohan’s MS Final Project

Graduation is coming soon for Anil Mohan.  In December he will complete his MS degree in Telecommunications.  For his final project, he is developing an iPhone game application called Crop Circles.  The challenge in this game is to keep a virtual garden healthy and productive – through healthy eating.  Inspired by a previous application he designed for a SLIS course, Crop Circles allows the user to track his or her diet and receive information about the nutrients he or she has consumed, which then feeds back into a game environment.  Anil wants his application to change what we eat by changing the way we eat.

The first generation of the application was created in collaboration with students from Informatics and was intended to help patients with diabetes to eat better.  Now, Anil is expanding the application into a full concept game.  He believes that if people treat his design as a game, they will be more drawn in to the experience.  As they become more engrossed in the process, their eating habits may change.

When asked about how he got started, Anil said that he wanted to develop a concept for the mobile space. Based on current and future market projections, he believed this is where the next paradigm of gameplay would be.  Now, his development goal is to have the project completed by the end of the month.  Under the initial guidance of Professor Andrew Bucksbarg and through feedback from his committee, Anil hopes this project will become the statement piece in his portfolio.  After that?  He plans to enter the media industry in the mobile game space, where he can work from almost anywhere.

As an international student, Anil faces more challenges than most.  His current visa restrictions allow him three months to find a job after graduation.  In addition, he has one year to get a work visa approved by the government and supported by his employer.  Ultimately, Anil hopes to spend more time here in the States and eventually head back home to his native India.

To see more of Anil’s work, go here: http://vaayustudios.com

Andrew Bucksbarg’s Class Explores Physical Media

How do you create interactivity though physical media? Professor Andrew Bucksbarg’s Physical Media class tackled this


Professor Andrew Bucksbarg tests a student prototype that uses sound, space, and lights.


question over the course of this semester, working to create prototypes of interactive projects. The class, which started out with brainstorming sessions, gave students the opportunity to test out electronics and computer coding that was unfamiliar to some. Grad student Brendan Wood explains that the brainstorming sessions were essential to creative thinking, saying, “We were encouraged to dream big and not think about the electronic or code limitations that might happen.”

After proposing prototype ideas to the class, each student developed his/her project over the course of the semester, and the hard work culminated in presentations to the rest of the group on Thursday. The class is composed of students from Informatics, Fine Arts, and Telecommunications. Each of the three


MS student Brendan Wood tests the proximity sensors on his Sonic Dance Interface.


telecommunications students in the class produced unique prototypes: an interactive bench, an electronic heart that mimics the heartbeat of whoever holds it, and a sound and dance interface experience.

Brendan, who designed the Sonic Dance Interface (think of it as a Dance Dance Revolution mat on a tennis ball springboard but even better), spent his time outside of class learning how to use open source software to build the digital instruments that respond to the spatial location of the user on the springboard. The user gets to balance weights in different directions, surfing back and forth to create a customized sound experience based on the motion.


Grad student Dan Schiffman exhibits his interactive bench with weight-responsive lights.


First year MS student Dan Schiffman designed an interactive bench with lights responsive to the weight of people sitting on it. “It explores kinetic and still movement,” Dan says, “and you can see weight through the intensity of the lights.”


MS student Jagadish Anavankot demonstrates his glowing, mimicking heart prototype.


Fellow Telecom grad student Jagadish Anavankot presented a prototype of a model heart that mimics actual heartbeat rhythms through a transmitter worn by the user. The heart vibrates in a (sometimes creepily!) realistic manner, and the heart glows in beat as well.

The unique organization of this class allowed the students to explore interdisciplinary methods of conveying interactivity. “Electronics, human computer interaction, programming, sound engineering, and visual prototyping all are involved in equal parts in order to deliver the final prototypes we work on,” says Brendan.

If you’re interested in trying out one of Andrew Bucksbarg’s classes for yourself, check out his Spring 2011 course: T540: Art, Entertainment, and Information – ROBOTS, CYBORGS, GLITCHES and the MULTISENSORIAL. For more information, you can contact Andrew at n_drew@organicode.net.

Brown Bag Presentations by Ratan Suri and Matt Kobach

This week’s brown bag presentation featured Ratan Suri and Matt Kobach, PhD students in the department.

Ratan Suri: Glancing at the past through the window of Space: Understanding the influence of using Spatial and location based technologies in Historical research from a socio-technical perspective.

Abstract: Traditionally, history and geography, though once considered as sister disciplines, have long diverged as two separate fields. Though historical events have been profoundly geographic in nature, historians seldom factor geographical aspects into historical reasoning, albeit with few exceptions, such as military history and environmental history. However the last decade or so has seen a spatial turn in humanities with historians factoring geographical aspects into historical reasoning. Particularly historians’ use of spatial analytical tools such as Google Earth, Arc GIS in historical analysis has thrown new light on a number of important historical events.  More importantly, it has also been transforming the research practices that have typically characterized historical research and historical reasoning. My dissertation focuses on understanding how the use of spatial and other location based technologies are influencing historical research practices. I draw upon theoretical frameworks from information science, to analyze the influence of spatial technologies on the changing nature of historical research and the field of history in general.

Matt Kobach: An Evolutionary Psychological Perspective Toward Mass Communication Process, Effects, and Theory

Abstract: In this talk I will explore media effects, processes, and theory through the lens of evolutionary psychology. It is my contention that mass communication theory has been stuck in a paradigm that has focused too narrowly on learning, and has not yet fruitfully explored what our human biological makeup brings to the table. Evolutionary psychology suggests that human behavior is the result of adapted psychological mechanisms that were designed in an era that humans no longer live in, and that these mechanisms work in conjunction with environmental input that manifests into behavior. The human mind comes equipped with a wide array of cognitive mechanisms that developed over deep time as a result of both survival and reproductive needs. To understand the mind, we must understand what problems these cognitive mechanisms were created to solve. Further, we must explore how these innate mechanisms work in conjunction with our current environment (in this case, the media). I will discuss the core tenets of evolutionary psychology, Reeves and Nass’ (1996) Media Equation, how to apply evolutionary psychology to media processes/effects/theory, and discuss hypotheses that I have developed under an evolutionary psychological paradigm. It is my hope that the talk will end with a discourse about my current hypotheses and hopefully spur a handful of new related ideas.

See the highlights here:

Random Photo of the Week


PhD student Matt Falk showing off his lucky purple FC Telecom socks on the way to his Comps Defense.



Nicky Lewis: Anil’s Crop Circles, Brown Bag

Katie Birge: Exploring Physical Media, Random Photo of the Week

Special Thanks

Norbert Herber:  For identifying a photo opportunity and facilitating Random Photo of the Week.