Sci-fi On the Side

by Ken Rosenberg

Graduate students are necessarily writers by trade, but it takes a bold and motivated soul to try and add to the prescribed writing schedule with side projects – especially wholly non-academic ones, like fictional stories. Master’s students Michelle Funk and Shannon Schenck are two such people. They have ongoing side projects; both write in the realm of science fiction/fantasy. Michelle, a first-semester IU grad, is actually writing two stories.

“One of them is my baby,” Michelle said, “and the other is something that’s been on the backburner for a very long time, because it’s not as close to my heart and it’s a little more advanced than I want to start working on yet.” The story which currently receives the most attention is the one that is closer to her personal experiences. According to Michelle, it is “more psychological,” dealing with a mental disorder that has the protagonist losing track of reality and replacing it with a mediated reality. She has been working on this story for about a year and a half.

The other story is a more standard sci-fi fare and requires more scientific knowledge to make it seem plausible. It takes place about 1,000 years in the future, where a dystopian society is dissatisfied with its lifestyle and hires “Internet archeologists” who use refracted signals from space to data mine through time, back to our era, to observe how a younger, simpler world conducts its business. Michelle was inspired to work on this story when she heard about how radio signals bounce back from the moon.

“They couldn’t look back far enough, though,” Michelle said, describing her story, “because we’re already messing up the earth. Ultimately, the people who do this research are going to scrap the project, because it’s worthless. They can’t look far back enough. They’re already viewing a society that had too many flaws.” The main character, though, becomes personally attached to the project after stumbling upon a man from the past who “apparently had a clear obsession with recording his life on the Internet,” Michelle said. She referenced Michael Chrichton and the level of research required to make his premises seem plausible.

“I want to do it right, and I just don’t have the time for that right now,” Michelle said. She’s been working on this one, when she can, for about three years.

“What generally happens,” Michelle said, “is that I sit down to try and write, become distracted and later, when I’m trying to go to sleep, I start getting rapid thoughts and I rush to my computer.” Three-hour, late-night writing binges are rare – only a couple per month.

On the other hand, as Shannon knows, it’s stolen time when you become a grad student.

“Now, it’s mostly only when I get ideas,” Shannon said. “I tend to do this in the way I do most things. Ideas come in the middle of the night, or while I’m at work, or somewhere when I can do absolutely nothing about it – so it’s quickly sent emails, and notes posted from my phone, and scraps of paper get tucked into places, to be absorbed into the bible.”

The back of ‘the bible,’ Shannon’s binder of notes and drafts for her story, “Orb of Obbclasioscstis.”

Shannon has been working on her story, “Orb of Obbclasioscstis,” for fifteen years.

“It is literally the longest relationship that I’ve had in my life,” Shannon said, “and it’s not been very kind or reciprocal.” She began working on the concept at age eleven.

The setting of Shannon’s story involves a fantasy-like dystopian future, with a society that once had magic but – because of a shadow-like force – the monarchy was destroyed and only a few denizens still have magic powers. The main character, a fairy named Fay, is met with fear and bigotry, so she leaves the remnants of the kingdom to forge her own.

“She’s not an anti-hero,” Shannon explained. “There’s no happy ending, no change in the protagonist. She’s still going to be alone.” Fay experiences unrequited love and fails to solve her personal issues; people die. “It’s a black fairy tale,” she said. “I wanted to play with the convention of the hero’s journey, to explore what happens when things occur, but don’t really change.”

Shannon cites the Goosebumps books as her inspiration, while Michelle tries to keep in mind the works of popular authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

“I don’t want to lose that element of childishness in writing,” Michelle said. “Especially in grad school, everything can become so dry. The time in my life when I was most inspired was when I was  a lot younger – and so I would like to target those people, or even people our age, but in a way that captures that playful essence.”

Both Shannon and Michelle have found small yet significant ways of keeping their dreams alive amidst the toil of grad school and other obligations.

Part of what keeps things fresh for Michelle is also a piece of advice she would like to give to our cohort: find a new place to sit down each writing session. Since she was an IU undergrad, as well, Michelle has had plenty of time to explore our campus and find her favorite nooks, including the Law library, the Fine Arts building, and “even places that aren’t really for writing,” she said. “It really helps the creative process – find someplace pretty.”

Also, to stay focused, Michelle has gutted her old laptop. It can’t surf the web, it can’t play games. All that’s loaded on the system is a copy of Word and a pile of drafts.

If you want more advice on how to write stories or how to preserve writing projects through grad school, talk to Michelle or Shannon.

Steve Krahnke’s New M.S. Initiative

by Ken Rosenberg

Grad students work closely with the production team of WTIU, from left to right: Shannon Schenck, Annie Sexton, Senia Borden
(Producer Sarah Curtiss in background) 

The design and production track of our M.S. program is growing and transforming, as four M.S. students spend their first semester serving as associate producers on projects for WTIU, the local PBS affiliate that broadcasts from studios on the first floor of our RTV building. Working for course credit, they are assisting with the production of two variety shows: The Weekly Special, a public/current affairs program, and The Friday Zone, an Emmy award-winning show for children hosted by IU undergrads. It’s a valuable experience for M.S. students looking to transition into studio production after grad school, as it enables them to build a healthy portfolio. Steve Krahnke’s  joint appointment with WTIU and the Telecom department enabled him to transform a good thought into reality.  The immediate beneficiaries of Steve’s initiative are 4 M.S. students:  Annie Sexton, Garrett Poortinga, Senia Borden, and Shannon Schenck. There will be many more in the future.

“We’ve got this public television station which is already connected to Telecom,” Steve explained. “Why not find opportunities for them to work as producers on existing programs, where they could learn from the professionals that are doing the work, while doing professional work themselves?” Producer Sarah Curtiss is equally excited about the collaboration. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring in fresh vision and enthusiasm,” she said. “We are never at a lack for great stories, or wanting to do great stories – it usually just comes down to a matter of resources, like production time and assistance. To have the grad students on board, we’re able to put more effort toward making those stories. It does nothing but help increase the potential and quality of the work we do here.” Steve sees parallels to this sort of setup in many other professional schools. “To that extent,” he said, “it’s a bit like a graduate theatre program that has a resident professional theater, where designers and actors are working with professionals.”

Steve Krahnke

This initiative arises out of a happy confluence of mutual need and convenience.  “We just made this – I just made this up,” Steve said. Senia had been his student as an undergrad, so he wanted to maximize her educational experience in grad school. Annie and Shannon were pitching projects to him, and he was getting concerned whether they would be able to finish their degrees in a timely manner, on their own. Then, after talking with the WTIU personnel working on The Weekly Special and The Friday Zone, he found that “they were so short-staffed, they were unable to produce the shows they wanted to produce.” Coming together, unifying the teaching and practice of production, just made sense. “It seemed like a reasonable trade,” Steve said. “Education for labor is always a pretty good offer.”

It’s not simply an opportunity for work experience. As such, it’s very much a learning opportunity, too. “You always want to be working just beyond your skill level, at least at first,” Steve said. “Graduate school provides a relatively safe place for people to do that. You’re expected to fail a little bit, and the stakes aren’t quite as high – and then, eventually, you’re required to display some expertise.”

Right now, Annie, Garrett, Senia, and Shannon are working hard to get their first segments to air. Annie shot a segment at a dog bakery in Indianapolis for The Friday Zone, and took her dog with her. She went with a crew, but she will most likely edit the video herself. “It’s not that you don’t do more than one thing,” Steve explained, “but, in the business, no one expects you to do everything.” Garrett has his own niche, covering bands and local music.

Senia is working on her package, a piece on a local dirt bike competition, and she loves how quickly she got the chance to do this level of work. “It’s a way to come in and already have a base level of trust,” Senia said about the program. Senia has done production work in internships before, but she feels that if she went straight into the industry without the current project work with Steve it would take her a while to get to the level she is currently operating on. “It would take a lot more time to get this if I started as a personal assistant,” she said. “It’s technically a class, but I get to go to studio shows and play a part – that’s more than what I’d get my first years in the field. Eventually, I’ll be making contacts, too.”

Recently, Shannon had her first solo experience as the on-set producer. “I felt like people were super helpful,” Shannon said. “The cameraman I was working with was really experienced, professional, and cool. He was open to my suggestions, but didn’t hesitate to let me know if and when something wouldn’t work. He was comfortable making suggestions, and did so without stepping on my toes. Everyone I’ve worked with so far has been like that. They know that we know what we’re doing, mostly, but that it’s still a learning opportunity – and everyone’s been really open.”

The Weekly Special is going through a “refresh,” so all four students get to experience “essentially, the re-launching of a show,” Sarah said.

Garret and Senia will get to pioneer this pilot program along with Annie and Shannon, but they will also receive that experience for the entire tenure of their course of study. “That’s when it’s really going to take off,” Steve said. After their first year, “the two of them will know everybody; they should be able to take on positions of substantial responsibility.” Steve sees second-year grads teaching new initiates, and even undergrads working as production assistants. “It’s not really that much different than how the business works, actually,” Steve said.

Steve is hoping for a codified relationship between studio and production/management students, so that students come here knowing they can have this opportunity.  “We didn’t have to change anything. The course numbers already existed; the situation already existed – all we did was just figure out how we could make it work.” So, while there are still a couple of hurdles before it’s entrenched and solidified, any incoming student can already sign up for the same experience. Eventually, the plan is to integrate production- and research-focused graduate students into one cohesive work force. Steve wants to bring scholars interested in processes-and effects research – particularly those interested in “children and the media”-type research questions – downstairs, onto the set and into the studio, “so that way, together, they could make something to test, “ Steve said.

“There aren’t many graduate programs in the country that are capable of doing what we’ll be doing,” Steve said. It’s amazing to think that, very soon, Steve can tell the incoming production students, “you can work with professionals – you can work here and win an Emmy, or an award from the Society of Professional Journalists.”

“For somebody who is trying to use their M.S. degree as a way to position themselves for future work, it’s a great opportunity,” Steve said. Concerning applications involving portfolios with video, “the rule of thumb is that they’ll only look at three minutes,” Steve said. “So, if you make a 90-minute feature film, they’re only going to look at three minutes.” But, if you make several three-minute clips, “they might watch all of each – particularly if they’re interesting, if they’re different from one another, they’ll get a sense of different styles. Producing for children’s television is a very different than producing for adults.”

“PBS is all about education, and it’s cool to take that mission to the next level in a new and unique twist. I think it provides an invaluable experience you just can’t get in a classroom,” Sarah said. “There are lots of things that you experience in even just the day-to-day production routine” – including the routine itself – “that you’re just not going to know how to address until you’re in the midst of it. To have that real-world experience … is incredible; simply put, it’s just something that you can’t read in a book.”

The Friday Zone airs Fridays at 4:30pm on WTIU and WFYI, and Saturdays at 10:00am on WTIU. The Weekly Special airs Thursdays at 8:00pm on WTIU.

Shannon, Teaching Beyond Accountability

by Ken Rosenberg

Students really care about their grades. Any educator can vouch for this. When cultivating responsibility and eliciting hard work from students, it is one of the primary tools an instructor has at his or her disposal. Fostering intrinsic motivation is difficult. Responsibility without accountability: it’s tough to achieve at any age, as it requires very high level of self-actualization.

This summer grad student Shannon Schenck had to instill that very sentiment in a group of high school students. For the first time in four years, she returned to American University in Washington, D.C. to teach and assist with one of their summer high school programs, Discover the World of Communications. It was while participating in the program herself several years ago, Shannon met her husband – and he, a former Telecom student, is the person who recommended she join our department. Now, Shannon has gone full-circle, bringing her experience as a Telecom AI to one of the first places she began to develop her production skills.

Years ago Shannon started working at American University as a video lab assistant. Initially, she was asked to lead lots of how-to lab discussions; eventually, was invited to actually teach. However, this time, everything was just a bit different. Most classes in the program were structured as a two-week course, one half of a four-week term. As part of a filmmaker series, she taught an all-day screenwriting class, then transitioned to assistant-directing as part of the students’ 16mm film project. No change of classroom dynamics from one part of the day to the other; no change from one part of the term to the next. All the girls left during the screenwriting course; Shannon was left with seven 15- to 18-year old boys. “We became a dysfunctional family,” Shannon said.

Her students had to write a series of scripts, choose roles for each other (cinematographer, editor, cameraperson, etc.), and shoot and edit a short film. Shannon helped, mostly in a production capacity. She directed the revision of their scripts, secured shooting locations, helped to find talent; they got an IMDB-registered actor, some college kids, and even a local teacher. Having older actors made the film stand out at the end-of-term display of all the classes’ projects. It made the piece feel less “high school” and, between that and the fact that theirs was the only project shot on actual film, “it really showed a difference between theirs and the others,” Shannon said.

Shannon also learned a lot about how to plan lessons and build a course. Common mistakes of new teachers include overfilling lesson plans and holding students to outline-perfect standards and schedules. “I was thinking about T283: how we budget time, what their experience is, and what our expectations are,” Shannon said, “so I had to pull myself back a couple of notches. I had to tell myself, ‘wait, wait. Some of these kids are only fifteen!’” Where college students might sit down and hammer out a script, these kids were learning the components of a script for the first time. ”I put so much prep work into building a syllabus,” Shannon said, “and most of it ended up being improvised, completely on the spot.”

Many athletes train at high altitudes because the steep hills and the thin air make for much more difficult terrain than the typical track or stadium. When they compete, they immediately perform better in the less harsher conditions of the arena in which the competition is held. Teaching without grades is very similar to running with a less-than-average oxygen level. Instead of just focusing on the content of teaching, Shannon helped her students to learn how to take critical feedback and, ultimately, “helped them all try to figure out ‘why they were there,’” Shannon said. The lesson was not lost on her, either. Shannon’s summer teaching experience was new and refreshing and, on some level, reaffirmed her commitment to the classroom. “I think we can all use a reminder of why we are here,” she said. Shannon has plenty of personal reasons. The lab assistant in her loves the equipment. The AI in her loves the students. Now, after reexamining pedagogy to discover how to pass on that intrinsic motivation, she has deepened and sharpened her zeal for teaching. As we return to another semester here at IU, Shannon has some new stories to tell, some new feathers in her professional cap, and summertime experience she will never forget.

See a student video from Shannon’s American University class  here:

The T283 Team, Ryland’s Stats Search, Russell’s Thesis (Teaser), The Ted, Brown Bag

The T283 Team, by Mike Lang

Collaboration and fluidity dominates modern media work. A team of workers comes together for a project, only to disband again when it ends. Sure, packs of people may move together from project to project—just read through the credit rolls from Christopher Nolan’s films to identify some repeat offenders—but rarely does an entire team reassemble for another project down the road.  Yet, despite the temporary nature of the work, in those grueling hours of the dreaded crunch, in the moments of hilarity and inspiration, in the moments of conflict and aggression, and even in the moments of absolute and total boredom, media workers form relationships with roots so deep they sustain for a lifetime.  For Shannon Schenck, Matt Falk, Brian Steward, and Sophie Parkison, the associate instructors for T283: Introduction to Production Techniques and Practice the reality of media work holds true for work as an AI.

The conference room feels like the principal’s office Brian jokes. “I feel like I’m about to get scolded.” The beige walls and lack of windows certainly don’t produce a warm fuzzy feeling, but a good-natured vibe pervades none the less. With these four plus T283 crew chief John Walsh, location doesn’t matter that much. They can make anything fun. I’m fortunate because we have managed to find a time when everyone can meet. Anybody who has ever tried to schedule/reschedule an event with a group of graduate students and faculty members knows how difficult this can be. As an MA student I rarely interact with the production side of the department, so I’m excited to finally pull back the curtain and see what actually goes on. “This better be good” jokes Matt, “This is the only reason I put on pants today.”

T283 is a hands-on production course that gives students opportunities to work with the equipment and software they will be using in the field, in environments that simulate real-life working conditions.  As Sophie notes, T283 acts as a sampler, exposing students to the range of jobs one would encounter in a real studio or in real projects.  T283 features two parts. Every Monday from 2:30-3:45 the 90 or so students roll into the lecture portion of the class led by John Walsh. Composed mostly of second semester sophomores and juniors, T283 is a make or break class for students hoping to continue along the production trajectory, and as a result, it features a lengthy waiting list and a number of students who have waited semesters to get in. In addition to the lecture, students must attend a four hour lab led by one of the AIs.  Each of the eight sections contains 10-14 students. While older iterations of T283 were broadcast production oriented and featured eight weeks of studio work, and eight weeks of work in the field, John Walsh and Ron Osgood have introduced  new elements to the course. In addition to studio and field, there is a section of new media. With Photoshop and Dreamweaver skills acquired in the course , at the end of the semester students should be able to put together a professional online portfolio that features the work they have done in both the studio and the field.

Because the bulk of the class takes place in the lab, the success or failure of the course largely rides on the AIs. Each lab has a distinct personality, according to Brian, and figuring out how to work with those different dynamics is a big part of the job. As Matt says, the AIs have to play the role of executive producer. They have to put everyone in the best position to succeed, and that can’t happen if the AIs don’t know the students. You have to know what makes them tick, what is going on in their lives, and what is their personality because it is all going to come up in their work.  But then, with such small classes, and four hours of face time in the lab, “you’re going to learn them really fast,” says Shannon. Because of the structure of the course, the relationship between AI and student extends much further than that of the typical instructor-student relationship. As Shannon says, because the AIs invest so much in their students, their students invest back in them. They come to the AIs to talk about life, classes, projects outside of class, equipment, and everything in between. It creates a different dynamic in the classroom. The students really value what you think.   Matt says the system builds trust. “Other students see us laughing and joking back and forth, which encourages them to open up to us.” Beyond grading and giving feedback, the AIs have to foster a sense of collaboration and creativity that encourages students to really engage and think.

The beauty of the course lies in the subtleties. While the course covers all of the basics, the difference between average and exceptional can sometimes amount to half a second.  For Brian, the moments students learn these subtleties are light bulb moments.  He says one should not tell students what to do but to let them attain realizations on their own. In one instance, one of Brian’s students was directing a scene.  Instead of watching the monitors as the scene played out, the student had his head buried in the script, calling out camera changes based on the dialogue. After a few poor takes, Brian walked up, and took the script out of his hand and told them to roll again. As soon as the take started, the light bulb clicked on and the student understood immediately why watching the monitors is so important.  In the span of five minutes, the student recorded the best take of the day, and gained a whole new confidence in one of the most intimidating positions in the studio. In a sense the course is an exercise in building confidence, and for the AIs nothing beats a student who comes in nervous and afraid and leaves bustling with energy and self-assurance. As Brian notes, sometimes you might suggest an idea to a student who will muster up the courage to say, “I think I’m going to stick with my idea and see how it goes,” and when it turns out better than the suggestion, you know they are really getting it.

The AIs work as a team and rely on each other like family. As John notes, every member of the AI team possesses a different yet complimentary set of skills and experiences: Shannon’s handiwork with the camera, knowledge of the production lab, and background in teaching screen writing; Matt’s masterful command of audio, and experience as a documentary filmmaker; Brian’s background in the industry (if you haven’t check out Brian’s IMDB page yet, make it happen);  Sophie’s knowledge of story and development and her extensive experience with Studio 5 and IU in general. As such, the AIs lean on each other in various circumstances. Matt is a common fixture in labs that aren’t his own—talking about the soundboard and sharing his extensive audio knowledge. Brian may come over to students working in field to demonstrate techniques or share his own experiences. Since Brian hadn’t set foot in studio 5 since the first Reagan administration (when he was an undergrad), he relied on his fellow AIs to show him everything in the studio. They even taught him how to use Final Cut. They also lean on each other when it comes to dealing with students. The boundaries which separate one AI’s students from another are very porous. They constantly field questions and review work from students in other labs, especially if they are hanging around the production lab. “You have to be careful” says Sophie. “If you go in, you might not come out.”

The team is in constant contact over email, at their weekly meetings on Monday, and as they cross paths between labs. They share strategies, discuss what went well, and ways to make things better. Most importantly, they encourage one another. “It’s almost like we’re soldiers together” says Shannon, and they certainly share that camaraderie.  Brian and his wife Elizabeth are expecting expecting in April, yet the team has already devised a contingency plan in the event the baby is early, late, or on time. They take care of one another and even though they are providing their students with a real media work experience, they are also getting one themselves. “This is how you feel about a crew when you work with a crew” says John. “Its our semi-permanent work group!” jokes Sophie.

Each semester is different. AI teams come and go, group dynamics change, and new concepts are taught, but T283 continues to offer students an experience of media work that reflects the real world, and without the exceptional work of the AIs, none of that is possible, a fact not lost on the students. At the end of the fall semester Brian surprised his lab with pizza. As his wife Elizabeth walked into the studio with the stack of boxes, the students had a surprise of their own. Knowing the newlyweds were expecting, the students had pooled their money together to purchase a gift of their own. From a pile of baby clothes, one of the students pulled out a tiny onesie that read “Daddy’s Little Sweetheart.” That just doesn’t happen elsewhere.

John Walsh frequently refers to his AI team as superheroes. After my conversation with them, it is easy to see how important they are to the success of our program.

Ryland’s Stats Search, by Mike Lang

Ryland Sherman, first-year Ph.D. student, has plenty of experience with statistics. While this author humbly admits a lack of in-depth knowledge in statistics, it’s still safe to say that “proof-based multivariate calculus” sounds daunting—and, in the very first class of Ryland’s undergrad career, proficiency in it was expected before walking through the door. When in law school, he took a business class: Spreadsheet Modeling in Finance, a synthesis of “multivariate calculus, economics, finance and inter-temporal math, and statistics.” Ryland earned an “A,” impressive not only because of the material, but also because the bar for that top grade was set at ninety-six percent. The point is, simply, that one Ryland Sherman is no slouch when it comes to statistics. A self-proclaimed guru in Excel, he also knows most of those acronym-named stats programs that begin with the letter “S.” Then, he met a new letter of the alphabet, R—“the Linux of stats,” according to Ryland—and the experience has caused him to give pause when considering his next methods class.

Most Telecom students take applied stats courses, often in the psychology department. Ryland, however, decided to go to the Department of Statistics to attain a more abstract, fundamental grasp of statistics. The students in the S501: Statistical Methods I were asked to vote for the program of choice and they chose R. Though he prefers Excel, “ultimately, R is more robust,” Ryland explained. “It’s able to run these packages that were created by statisticians on this freeware, shared among people who must be advancing their careers by writing open-source R code to do cutting-edge statistical stuff. That’s why stats majors love R—but stats majors have computer programming backgrounds, apparently.” R is not for first-time programmers; it has a reputation for being clunky and sometimes outright counterintuitive. Nicky Lewis, another member of our cohort, took the class previously and did well—but she had a background in HTML programming. “Right off the bat, we were expected to be able to learn new programming languages and run loops,” Ryland said. Instead the course material ran loops around him.

“I have a love-hate relationship with R,” Ryland confessed. “She’s a rough mistress, hard to read and hard to understand. Occasionally, I was able to reach a mutually agreeable outcome—often at three or four in the morning, long after I thought I would be done.” As with most relationships, it was difficult to see the issues before diving into it. Without any background in programming, it became difficult for Ryland to learn the stats-related lessons of the course. “Programming is a world of trial and error,” Ryland said, “where you spend most of your time fixing a problem you didn’t see was there. That’s not a way to learn stats.”

“While I think everybody needs to know basic stats and be able to draw from that toolkit, I think that there are lots of areas of equations and models that can be pulled from areas other than the statistics program,” Ryland said. “On some level, I’m happy that R slapped me around a bit, because it’s made me think more outside the box.” Forced to pick a new minor, he is considering economics, sociology, and informatics. Regardless of which department he chooses, from now on, statistics will be less of an abstract affair. “Stats does not exist independent of the way it is used. The reason why so many people in our program have taken stats in psychology is that stats is taught in the context of psychological methods … putting stats in context is much more valuable. The statistical methods utilized by people coming out of psychology stats are as sophisticated as anything else and are a much better, custom fit to their applications.”

Russell’s Thesis, by Ken Rosenberg

Russell McGee and Brad Cho, both second-semester master’s students and experienced filmmakers, are going to collaborate on a project of thesis-level proportions. Cinema 67 (working title) is a postmodern coming-of-age movie that deals with intolerance of homosexuality in a small rural town. Some of the more lighthearted elements, like a prank involving cotton candy dye, are loosely derived from Russell’s past experiences working at a drive-in theater. Brad has been commissioned as the director of cinematography.  This project will be a fresh and exciting undertaking for Brad, as his past experience has mainly been with documentaries. With the script complete and a tentative schedule in place, they are in the process of finalizing the cast and building sets—shooting will begin over the summer. If you want to provide encouragement—or maybe a headshot, depending on your intended career trajectory—feel free to stop them in the hall for a quick chat about their work. Stay tuned for further updates!

Random Photo of the Week: The Ted

Ted Jamison-Koenig's new vanity plate finally offers the department a way to distinguish between the student and the professor in casual conversation.

Brown Bag

We are all kinda here: Collaborating in virtual and analog environments

Mark Bell

Over the past few months, I have been assisting Dr. Anne Massey (Dean’s Research Professor & Professor of Information Systems) and a team of researchers with a National Science Foundation Grant. This grant studies collaborative virtual presence (CVP) in collaborative virtual environments (CVE), such as Second Life. Using a range of measurements (SL activity, eye tracking and physiological) and researchers from a number of areas (Telecommunications, Information Systems, HPER) this project is, in itself, a collaborative effort that synchronously captures three streams of data.  I will give an overview of the project, its goals and the part I am playing.


Reconceptualizing Gatekeeping in Multimodal Contexts: The Case of Italian Radiovision RTL 102.5

Asta Zelenkauskaite

A change is occurring in media production and consumption in mass media contexts that affects the gatekeeping process of content selection: User-generated content (UGC) is increasingly being incorporated into programming. This research asks: What are the differences between attitudes and practices with regards to UGC integration in mass media programming, and what are the actual audience participation patterns? To address these questions, gatekeeping theory is applied to a case study of an interactive multimedia setting — a leading Italian radio-television-web station, station RTL 102.5. Through interviews with media producers and content analysis, this study analyzed two types of UGC:  SMS messages and Facebook messages.


Mark Bell is a PhD candidate at Indiana University in the Department of Telecommunications. His past research has focused on virtual words but more recent work focuses on deception in computer mediated environments. He is interested in digital deception detection, group information verification, digital image and video manipulation and online identity manipulation.

Asta Zelenkauskaite is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University. Her research interests include Computer-Mediated Communication, and Social Media. She researched user-generated content mediated by TV such as Facebook messages and mobile texting; user participation pattertns in online environment – online Internet Relay Chat; collaboratevely analyzed knowledge depositories such as Wikipedia and user interaction patterns in an online massively multiplayer game BZFlag.

 The audio from last Friday’s seminar: Brown bag 6 (Feb. 24, 2012 – Asta and Mark)

Asta in Italy, Shannon’s Scholarly Switch, Rob’s Awesome Earring, Brown Bag

Asta in Italy: Skiing and Rockclimbing in the Dolomites, by Mike Lang

If you’ve been in the program for less than two years, there is a good chance you’ve never run into Asta Zelenkauskaite. While many newly minted PhD candidates in the department disappear into the world of their dissertation after finishing their coursework and qualifying exams, they normally surface occasionally. They certainly don’t disappear to another country. Telecom isn’t anthropology after all. Yet, in May of 2010, that is exactly what Asta did, embarking for a year and a half long adventure in Trento, Italy.

While the vast majority of her time was spent balancing the heady demands of dissertation data collection, and research for the institute she worked for, after a few months she managed to pull herself away from work  occasionally and experience the pleasures that draw tourists from around the world to Trento.

Nestled in the foothills of the Dolomites, Trento is home to some of Italy’s best skiing spots. Every two weeks, Asta would make her way to the ski resort with her friends for a day on the slopes. In one particularly harrowing instance, while cruising down the mountain at top speed, one of Asta’s skis deattached. In most cases, a skier will lean back and fall on their butt to protect themselves. However, lost in the thrill of acceleration and completely unaware of her dilemma, Asta kept leaning forward and dived face first into the ice. Face bloody and swollen she made her way to the closest building. It looked like a cafeteria. Asking for help, a group of guys got her a pack of ice and let her sit down, making sure everything was okay. Only the building wasn’t a cafeteria. It was a private residence, and the people helping her weren’t resort employees, they lived there. People sure are nice in Italy. At the end of the day, Asta made her way down the mountain on her own and two weeks later, she was back on the slopes.

In addition to its skiing, Trento features world-renowned rock formations particularly well suited for natural rock climbing. Always skeptical of the indoor, manufactured rock walls, Trento offered Asta an opportunity to do the real thing. Unlike skiing, which offers the physical bliss of acceleration and speed, rock climbing rewards the brain.  At the most basic level, like a puzzle, one has to figure out the best way to get from point A, the ground, to point B, the top. In the process, one has to overcome the limitations of the body by allocating strength and moving strategically. For Asta, who worried about her upper body strength, she had to figure out ways to move upwards without pulling herself up. In addition, one has to overcome the limitations of the mind. Can you work your way up the rock without looking down and freaking out? Can you look around and visualize your path up the rock? Can you concentrate hard enough to ensure that three of your four limbs are secure at all times?  As Asta explains, overcoming these blocks is a bit like overcoming writer’s block, and the rush that accompanies pen hitting paper productively after so much strain is akin to making your way up the rock after overcoming the struggles of mind and body. However, the reward in rock climbing may be a bit better. Rock climbers are held up by a rope which is held by a belay person. For obvious safety reasons, the belay person uses the rope to catch a climber if they fall. In addition to safety reasons, the belay person also helps a person down after they have made up to the top or given up. In order to come down, the climbers push themselves off the rock Mission Impossible style and proceeds to walk down.

Now that she is back in Bloomington, Asta is going to miss the mountains most. Indiana, much like her home country of Lithuania is flat with forests and lakes, much different than the snowcapped peaks of Northern Italy. While her remaining time in Bloomington will be spent finishing her dissertation, I can’t blame her if her daydreams are silhouetted by the peaks of the Dolomites.

For those interested in the research she conducted in Italy, make sure to check out her T600 lecture this Friday.

On Theory, In Practice: Shannon’s Switch, by Ken Rosenberg

Academia is wrought with numerous rites of passage but, in Telecom, few are as infamous as Annie Lang’s T501: Philosophy of Inquiry in Telecommunications, which is required for incoming MA and PhD students. It serves as one of those quintessential “break ‘em down, build ‘em back up” sort of experiences. Each fall semester Annie helps technically grown-up individuals learn how to think for the first time. Most students have been asked to question reality and their place in it, but rarely by someone who has carefully collected and presented some of the best, most respected answers to those “big” questions. One article complements the next until, at some point, the picture is clear: you may not know exactly what your ontology or epistemology might be, but you can finally begin an informed decision-making process on the matter. It is not uncommon for grad students to shift to a different tone when discussing T501: part reverence, part semi-somber camaraderie. Ask Shannon, though, and be prepared for pleasant-yet-quizzical look of modest anticipation.

For over a month now, first-year master’s student Shannon Schenck has had to hear about T501 secondhand, from almost every other student. Recently, she decided to switch tracks from M.S.—for which T501 is not a required class—to M.A. and therefore missed out on that enculturating crucible of a class. There are a couple of non-Telecom students in one of her other core classes who are also currently bereft of Annie’s philosophical prowess, but Shannon is the only Telecommunications major in the room with a temporary dearth of Kuhnian concerns. Shannon understands what it could feel like—“being the only person at the party who wasn’t at the last party, so I don’t get all the jokes”—and estimates she’s heard a reference to T501 “at least a dozen times; in Theory, probably once a class.” While that might be potentially irksome,  Shannon is instead reassured.”Honestly, it doesn’t annoy me,” she said, “it’s kind of refreshing, because I’m like ‘Cool—so we’re going to talk about that again.’ It helps to reinforce what I have to look forward to.”

As for switching to the M.A. program, that was inevitable. Shannon’s bachelor’s in communications was almost entirely production-based, with only one theory class. Her second degree in literature offered a more scholarly foundation, but the gap between industry, audience, and text had yet to be methodologically cemented. Classes like Julie Fox’s T571: Applied Cognitive and Emotional Psychology finally provided a link and the opportunity to glimpse at life as a researcher. Even at orientation, things changed. “Suddenly, things were possible that I did not have a frame of reference for before.” While Shannon has always been creative, making both static 2D art and films, her works have always been more expressive than commercial. “I never expected to make money with my films,” she admitted. “I’ve got tons of scripts at home, but that’s a matter of me having a story or character that needs to exist, because they live inside of me and I need to get them out so they can live somewhere else.” It took a semester, but Shannon now knows that for her the stress of research-oriented scholarship is more palatable than production work—which still pales in comparison to her experience in the private sector. “Forty hours of my life each week were empty and meaningless,” Shannon said. “Whereas right now, I have no time and I don’t sleep, but I’m really happy because I care.”

Despite choosing the M.S. track, it was a matter of trending toward the default—“that’s what I know I could do,” she said. Shannon’s letter to the department actually mentions plans of earning a doctorate and teaching, so few are surprised—least of all Shannon herself. With a committee in place and paperwork in progress, it is only a matter of time before she ends up in T501.” In terms of theory,” she said, “thus far from what I’ve seen in Telecommunications theory, it’s nowhere near as rigorous as literary theory. It’s not asking you to abandon your sense of self and how the world works and, because of that, it doesn’t seem quite as mentally strenuous; it’s not asking as much of you personally or emotionally to ‘get there.’”

Just wait, Shannon.

Rob’s Awesome Earring,  by Ken Rosenberg

Rob: Then and Now

If you have seen Rob Potter about the halls recently, you probably noticed the shiny new adornment on his left earlobe. Yes, that’s an earring. No, it might not be what you expect from him—and that is why it is awesome. Even though the world has not seen this evidenced in years, Rob considers his piercing a core part of his identity.

Rob first thought of getting his ears pierced back in high school. Back then, it was mostly a joke; a man getting an earring was “a much bigger decision at the time,” Rob explains. For about four years, Rob mentioned that possibility in conversation merely as “a symbol of something wild” that he might do. In addition to the contemporary social norms, Rob had been dissuaded by his mother. While he was growing up, she would tell Rob that if he ever got his ear pierced, he was no longer welcome back home. “I remember coming to a conclusion that it was a ‘rite of passage’-type decision,” Rob said about his new mentality. “’I’m an adult now; I can make this decision.’ I respected my mother’s concerns, but I could do this—I had chosen to do this.” With the solidarity of his roommate in college, who also got an earring, and comforted by cognizance that the hole could always grow back, Rob went for it.

Rebellious yet ever conscientious, “I remember writing a letter to my mom, explaining all these reasons,” Rob recalled. “So I sent this letter off and I don’t hear anything back—at all.” Time elapses, stress rises. Finally, over a phone call, “it came up … and it became instantly obvious to me that the letter, and my concern, and her supposed horror at the prospect of me doing this, was an issue I had completely made up in my own mind.” His mom was bemused and surprised that he didn’t realize the family was just joking. Though imagined, overcoming the potential for familial backlash was deemed a personal accomplishment: “it was still something that was outside the expectations of ‘Rob.’”

Rob continued to wear the earring after graduation; as a disc jockey, “it was fine to wear it.” However, as the instructor of record during his first semester as a master’s student, things changed. “Literally, within three months,” Rob stressed, “I went from being in the seat as a student, to standing in front of it as a teacher.” To better differentiate, out came the slacks and ties, which persisted—along with the earring—when Rob came to IU as a doctoral candidate. Unfortunately, a member of his cohort teased him into acquiescing; the earring disappeared. It remained absent during his stint at the University of Alabama, as well, and only resurfaced earlier this year.

This January was the fateful moment of reclamation. Rob’s wife, Pam, had a birthday and she wanted earrings. After their children bestowed the gift –a(n adorable) lesson in expression and consideration—a set of three pairs, things get a bit fuzzy. Here is how it went down (under the pressure of interview, Pam, if that helps) according to Rob: “My memory—and it’ll be interesting, because my wife reads the blog, and we’ll see if she remembers it this way—is that she tried on one of the three pairs and then said, ‘Well, you’ve been wondering, been thinking about this; try on the other one.’ I did and it looked okay.” Regardless of the specifics, fellow grad students, be sure to thank Pam for the awesome “new” look!

Most of Rob’s colleagues settled for a small double-take during conversation, but Harmeet is too enthusiastic for that; a strong moment of self-expression deserves an equally strong moment of recognition. The first thing he said: “Rob, that’s so cool!” Not “Hello” or “What’s that?” Equal props to Julie Fox who, after some post-meeting exposition by Rob, responded with, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear a word you just said.”

Another fashion trend in Rob’s past was that he would wear a tie on teaching days. Two years ago, he came back from Australia and hasn’t worn one since (except once, for church). Good riddance! The spirit behind the earring is to reveal a bit of unpredictability. When you pass Rob in the halls, you may no longer know if it’s a “teaching day” but, thanks to his awesome earring, you’ll get the point: expectations are meant to be challenged.

Thinking with style. Rock on, Rob.

Rob’s Earring: A Brief Roundtable : Annie Lang, Shannon Schenck, Ken Rosenberg and, of course, Rob Potter.

Brown Bag

Things to Do With Asian Film Co-productions

Stephanie de Boer

Film co-productions are an exemplary site for interrogating the dynamics of regional and transnational media cultures.  In this talk, I reflect on how I have come to approach film co-productions in East Asia and how recent co-productions mobilize the region as an epistemological project.  Approaches to co-production have largely been bifurcated between cultural industry and cultural studies approaches – approaches that look either at industry practices or at the discursive formations of (most often) media texts.  Yet the regional imperatives of film co-production across the media capitals of East Asia demand that we look at both of these fields in relation to one another.  In doing so, we can unpack the ways in which the meanings of Asian production are “made, legitimized, contested and obscured” in the interface between technologies and practices of film and media, on the one hand, and wider regional geographies, on the other.  I will narrate the production ecologies surrounding a couple of Japanese/Chinese language co-productions in the service of outlining these imperatives and approach.

Stephanie DeBoer is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her teaching and research interests include Japanese and Chinese language film and media, inter-Asia cultural studies, global media studies and critical approaches to digital media in the context of globalization.  Recent publications include “Co-Producing Cross-border Action: Technologies of Contact, Masculinity and the Asia-Pacific Border” (Culture, Theory & Critique, 2011), as well as a series of interviews with Tokyo-based film producers entitled “Interviews: Framing Tokyo Media Capital and Asian Co-Production” (East Asian Cinemas: Regional Flows and Global Transformations, 2011). She is currently writing a book manuscript on Asia Pacific film and media co-productions from the second half of the twentieth century.


On the rise and fall of vertical integration in the US movie industry

Dong Kyun Kwak

Vertical integration combining movie distribution and exhibition had been prohibited by the Paramount Decrees in the US, but it was revived after the Reagan Administration didn’t adhere to them in 1985. After shortly-lasting revival since then, however, vertical integration in the US movie business almost disappeared with the only exception of the current relationship between Paramount and theaters of National Amusement, Inc. (NAI). My purpose in this presentation is to review the historical development of the US movie industry in terms of vertical integration, and to share an empirical test outcome showing whether any favoritism remains for vertically integrated entities using current data. These parts will consist two of my 3 research questions in my dissertation.

Dong Kyun Kwak (Dongkyun will be preferred) completed his BA and MA in Communication at Seoul National University, and began Ph.D. program at IUB in 2003. Before he studied media economics here in Bloomington, he worked for KISDI (a Korean government-funded telecommunications policy institute) about 4 years. As a doctoral candidate, he has studied economics of media industries, media convergence, and some policy issues related to media field.

The audio of last Friday’s seminar can be found here: Brown bag 5 (Feb. 17, 2012 – Stephanie and Dong)