Fourth Brown Bag of the Semester – September 26, 2014


Rob Potter, Associate Professor, Anthony Almond, PhD Student, Sharon Mayell, ICR Lab Manager, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University

Tools Available for Researchers in the Institute for Communication Research

We tried to come up with a catchier title.  But, in the end, we are hoping that this is enticing enough for social science researchers interested in learning about the array of data collection measures available at the Institute for Communication Research (ICR).  The mission of the ICR is to enable social scientific research conducted by faculty and students in The Media School at IU.  Eventually, we will be located in Franklin Hall—very close to the action. But, until then we are in Eigenmann Hall.  Which means, we need to bring the action to YOU.

Come and hear descriptions/see demonstrations of these tools available for you to use:

  • Media Lab & Direct RT software for experimental design, questionnaire construction, and psychological measurements
  • Qualtrics software for online survey and experimental data collection
  • Tobii eye tracking hardware & software
  • Biopac physiology data collection hardware and software (that’s actually rather easy to use)
  • Emotiv 14-channel EEG data collection hardware

    Rob demonstrating some of these gadgets

    Rob demonstrating some of these tools.

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Rob, His Mandolin, and the “Under New Management” Players

By Edo Steinberg

Note: audio of Rob’s band can be found at the bottom of the post.

Rob sings and plays the mandolin.

Rob sings and plays the mandolin.

Rob and his wife Pam first got interested in bluegrass music when he worked at the University of Alabama. They went to a concert that included a mandolin player and they liked it a lot. “When we moved back to Bloomington, Pam said offhandedly that she would like to play the mandolin,” Rob says. “So I bought her a mandolin as a gift. She was very happy and played it a little, but then she stopped because she didn’t have time. It just sat there in our house for the longest time, and finally I said, I’m going to see if I can find a way to take lessons.”

Rob found his mandolin teacher, Will Devitt of the duo Davis and Devitt, by searching the word “mandolin” on the Onestart classifieds. “I started taking lessons from Will and then he said I should join this group,” Rob telling the story of how a year ago he joined a band of Stafford Music Academy students that has been playing together for over two years. Other members, including School of Journalism faculty members Nancy Comisky and Joe Coleman, play different string instruments – guitar, violin, banjo and mandolin. They get together  about every two weeks. Their unofficial title is “Under New Management” – a name they came up with after the Stafford Music Academy was sold to a new owner.

When Rob started playing the mandolin, he never expected to sing in public. “In junior and high school I did theater,” Rob recalls. “In 7th grade, I auditioned for a musical and the director paired me up with a high school senior male. I was so intimidated that when I sang I sounded awful. My voice cracked and I was way out of tune. I had a big phobia about singing for years and years, so I’m very surprised I’m doing what I’m doing now, and I can’t tell you how it came about. It’s pretty amazing that they get me to sing!”

Will they ever hold public performances? “We joke about playing at the farmers’ market,” Rob says. “It certainly isn’t in our immediate plan, but someday, maybe,” Rob says noncommittally.

"Under New Management".

“Under New Management”

 – Rob sings and plays “Wagon Wheel”.

– Rob sings and plays the Folsom Prison Blues.

– The group plays “This Land Is Your Land”.

New Lab Rats, New Lab Equipment

By Edo Steinberg

Last Spring the College of Arts and Sciences gave the Institute for Communication Research money to buy new lab equipment. The two main purchases were the BIOPAC physiology system and the Tobii Eye Tracker.

The fearless reporter and his fearless eyeballs, as seen by the Tobii Eye Tracker.

The fearless reporter and his fearless eyeballs, as seen by the Tobii Eye Tracker.

“They arrived at the same time,” says Rob Potter, director of the ICR. “I had familiarity with physiology, I had familiarity with the BIOPAC system and I knew I had to teach using that system in an Intensive Freshman Seminar (IFS) in August. When they both arrived at the same time, I hooked the eye tracker up and made sure that no parts were broken and essentially we could pay the bill. Then I turned it on and it looked terrible. The fidelity of the screen wasn’t right.”

Because time was pressing, Rob decided to focus on the BIOPAC first. He put the eye tracker in the corner. Vacation, the IFS course and a conference led to the eye tracker being left alone until late August.

Then incoming graduate student Anthony Almond asked Rob if he could spend some time in the lab. “I said to myself, ‘I better grab Anthony while I can, before another faculty member does,’” Rob recalls. “I said, how about Tuesdays and Thursdays. I shot for the moon. He said yes. Then, I was lucky enough to get Niki as my AI. Later, Glenna came up to me and said ‘I hear you have this meeting.’”

During these new students’ first meeting with Rob at the ICR, Anthony took a look at the eye tracking system, which he had some experience with previously. After about an hour, he figured out the problem and fixed it by installing updated video drivers.

Rob says that the ICR is the place for students who wish to get experience with lab equipment to come, if they ask Rob or lab manager Sharon Mayell to come. “Anthony was able to come in and try to troubleshoot stuff. That’s exactly the type of environment we want to have. All the way back when Annie Lang was the director, that was the environment she tried to instill. Bring your ideas to the ICR and work on investigating questions that interest you.”

Now, Anthony, Glenna and Niki spend time at the ICR, getting to know the equipment and preparing for future participation in research projects.

“I’m continuing to figure out what acronyms stand for,” Niki jokes.

Niki sees where she looked when she watched a video.

Niki sees where she looked when she watched a video.

“The eye tracker can do more than just see where you look,” Anthony says. “It can also measure the size of your pupil, and when your eyes are moving rapidly across the screen. You can also use it in combination with other physiological measures. For example, if someone is looking at a website and their heart rate decelerates, is it because they were looking at the ad on the side, because they were reading the text or because of something else entirely?”

Other applications include whether or not people notice certain things on the screen, as well as implications for design. For instance, website developers can see if the audience is looking at what they want to show or something else is distracting people.

“I’m here for a crash course in both physiology and eye tracking research,” says Niki. “I want to see what others are doing and throw myself into the world of research, to see what’s possible.”

Glenna has used the BIOPAC system before. “But I haven’t done a lot with it,” she emphasizes.

“I used the BIOPAC before, as well,” Anthony says. “And this morning Rob showed me something about it I didn’t know. Now I have to show him how to do fancy software stuff.”

“It’s been really cool to see how everyone comes together and collaborates with what they know from the past,” Niki says. “Anthony, Glenna and Rob all have these interesting areas of expertise.”

If you also want to be a lab rat, as people conducting research in the ICR are affectionately called, get in touch with Rob!

The Grand Telecom Tour

By Edo Steinberg

After being introduced to the faculty, staff and graduate students of the department, the incoming students started to get acquainted with the buildings and hardware available here. Senior Lecturer and facilities manager John Walsh led a tour of the Radio and Television building, while Prof. Rob Potter, director of the Institute for Communication Research, and lab manager Sharon Mayell took students to the ICR facilities on the sixth floor of Eigenmann Hall.

The tour of the Radio and Television Building started out with the production labs available to students, TV 250 and TV 157. Here, production students can edit their films or work on their games. As John pointed out, if you need cameras and other equipment, this is a good place to ask. Under certain circumstances, you’ll be able to borrow what you need for a shoot.

TV 157 Production Lab

TV 157 Production Lab

Next, the new students got a little glimpse into WTIU and WFIU, the local PBS and NPR affiliates housed in the RTV Building’s first floor.  John explained the advantages of having these stations here, with Telecom students getting many opportunities to work on professional shows meant for public broadcast, such as WTIU’s children’s show “The Friday Zone.”

WFIU radio station

WFIU radio station

Next to WTIU’s Studio 6 is our very own Studio 5. Many non-production students forget this, but this gargantuan room is used for more than just awkward introductions every year at orientation. Here, students actually learn how to make magic happen, with the help of faculty, staff and AIs. Here, students are trained to use cameras, microphones, studio controls, pulley-based lighting and other equipment.

Control 5, the control room for Studio 5.

Control 5, the control room for Studio 5.

The tour concluded on the third floor, where most faculty members’ offices are, as well and the grad lounge and computer lab. John ended the tour by emphasizing the collegiality of the department and urging students to socialize with veteran students. Other than going out at night, this can also be done by sticking around the grad computer lab, where we tend to naturally congregate.

After the RTV tour, Rob took newcomers to Eigenmann Hall, showing them the IU Auditorium and IU Cinema on the way. In the cavernous ICR facilities, he and Sharon introduced students to the various rooms available for research. There is one content analysis room, another room to conduct surveys on computers, as well as labs where subjects can be hooked up to various types of psychophysiological equipment.

Entrance to the ICR.

Entrance to the ICR.

At the end of the tour, Rob and Sharon told new students about the lab’s weekly meetings, in which students and faculty share their research and progress (or lack thereof). E-mail Sharon if you want to join the mailing list.

From last year’s experience, I know that it will take students a while to get their bearings and know where everything is. Hopefully, the tours helped them familiarize themselves with their new surroundings.

To be continued…

The Audio Professor on Ice

By Edo Steinberg

Prof. Rob Potter found himself in an ice skating rink for the first time when he worked in the radio industry. His station sent him to do Friday night promotions at a local rink in the Pacific Northwest. The fact that he had roller-skated regularly in junior high did not prepare him for the slippery surface. “I was barely able to stand”, he says. “I just went to the rink long enough to do my live broadcast breaks.  Other than that, I sat and drank hot chocolate and ate stale popcorn.”

Three years ago, Rob looked for a way to exercise in the winter, a season of which he is not a fan. Though he is a member of the Telecom running group (a.k.a, the Interdisciplinary Frontal Lobe Maintenance Association), he did not want to jog in the cold as other members of the group do. Ice skating at the Frank Southern Ice Arena near Bloomington High School North was the solution.

“I went to an “open skate” with my daughter and was really intimidated by the talent of people skating around me… fast”, he says. “And they could stop like hockey players and kick up ice shards into my wimpy face as I slipped along.”

Rob wanted to become a better skater. “So, I decided to take advantage of the wonderful deal that the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department has on lessons.  My two kids and I have taken two seasons of lessons.  And, I’ve gotten much better.  So now, when I went to an open skate session a few weeks ago, I was the one going fast and kicking up ice! Although not in anyone’s face.  I try to remember what it was like to be cautiously slipping around the rink, very close to the wall.”

Rob enjoys skating with his children during lesson times. “The Parks and Rec allows you to have 30 minutes of open skate time surrounding your lessons, so we go then and have a great time,” he says.

Certain times are better for skating than others. The first time Rob skated in Bloomington was on a Saturday and it was too crowded for his taste. Once he went on a Tuesday in the middle of the day. “I was the only one there.  It was fantastic!”

Below is a video of Rob skating backwards. He skates forward much more smoothly.

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.

Rob Juggles!

by Ken Rosenberg

It’s easy to look like this when learning to juggle.

Professor Rob Potter juggles and not simply the typical “juggling” in which we all engage: family, friends, work, personal growth, and the like. No, Rob actually juggles, using balls and pins to exercise his balance, dexterity, and – the most important attraction to the hobby – his patience. Now a tenured professor, Rob started juggling way back in high school.  Why? “I don’t know that I have an answer,” Rob says. “I guess I wanted to accomplish something and I probably had seen somebody – I wanted to have a goal.” Rob says he probably saw a juggler as an active member of his high school theater program. “God, I was such a nerdy kid. I wanted to find something hard and work toward it.”

Instead of scarves or some squishy balls, Rob started with golf balls. That was a mistake. “It hurt an awful lot,” Rob laughingly recalls. They would hit his thumbs and roll away when dropped – adding injury and inconvenience to the already-frustrating task of learning how to juggle. Eventually, he got some books from the library and figured out that most people start with easier fare. Scarves are light and malleable, which means they float and are easier to catch. Bean bags require more deft reactions, but they don’t brutalize undisciplined hands. In just one summer, Rob mastered the basics; he could juggle three balls.

Rob continued to practice intermittently through the intervening years as a scholar but, about two years ago, he resumed his hobby with more zeal. He bought some professional practice equipment.  This past spring during his vacation he decided to try juggling pins as well. Still, juggling balls is the quintessential juggling skill and, since high school, Rob had stopped at three. This summer he decided it was time to make it four. With multicolor balls taken piecemeal from sets that were ravaged by his dog, he got to work.

Though IU has (had) an intramural juggling team, Rob is not a member of any juggling group. He has encountered only one other juggler in academia.  Rob thinks that since juggling is part of that “inner geek that you can’t get over,” most enthusiasts are closeted, performing mostly for their own pleasure.

One of the spectacles we often see in public performances is someone juggling while riding a unicycle. The idea has crossed his mind but, while impressed by others, Rob has no inclination to follow suit.

For now, Rob is content to practice in his backyard and the park near his house. (However, if anyone knows of a similarly secluded place to practice indoors during the winter, please, send him a suggestion!) When Rob’s children watch him practice, they attempt to start with all four balls, just like their father. “They don’t recognize that goals are achieved through a process,” Rob said, “but they’ll get there someday.” Hopefully, his steady patience will persevere next summer, when he tackles his next juggling project: devil sticks.

Scarves, balls, and pins. Next up: devil sticks. (Look them up and be impressed!)