By Jessica Zech
New research fellows with diverse, interdisciplinary backgrounds have joined the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. The lab’s projects focus on media, culture and society, and these new researchers innovate at the intersection of art, science, design and engineering.
The already diverse lab is expanding to utilize the expertise of USC faculty members in areas the lab is interested in further researching.
“The Innovation Lab has always seen itself as a interdisciplinary space. From the start we have worked with Viterbi, Rossier, cinema, Thornton and Marshall. Inviting new research fellows from various schools just formalizes that process,” said communication professor Jonathan Taplin, the lab’s director.
AIL’s work is currently centered around three themes: refining social media analytics, experimenting with participatory cultures and rethinking urban living.
Anthony Maddox, a new fellow, is a professor at the USC Rossier School of Education. He is working with Erin Reilly, the creative director of AIL and research director of Project New Media Literacies that is housed at USC Annenberg. Their research focuses on participatory learning through The PLAYground platform, and they are acknowledging the social component of learning in their work. According to Maddox, much like the lab, people come together to solve problems and learn by collaborating and building things together.
“We are encouraged and allowed to play. There are very few environments like that,” explained Maddox about AIL.
Another area Maddox is focused on is informal learning spaces, like churches, museums, libraries or homes, where the result is learning but not from formal education methods. His work is concentrated on how people are learning informally and what people do with what they learn. Today – and even more in the future – Maddox said, learning will be more tailored to individuals, computers will play a role and education will go online, an informal space.
Seth Shapiro is another new fellow and USC School of Cinematic Arts professor. He is working on creating new ways to participate and engage with television using second screen technology, applications on laptops or smart phones. Instead of passively watching a show, the audience can connect to other fans or producers and engage with the show beyond when the episode airs. Networks can monitor what the audience experiences and foster a direct relationship between the show and its audience. They can also sell advertising and promote their own series on the application.
Kathi Berens, a USC Annenberg professor, is also new to the AIL team and her work involves the virtual classroom. She said face-to-face learning “is still the gold standard because it's information-rich” and the virtual classroom software is heavily visual. To enrich the experience, Berens’ virtual classroom is more auditory, and her students use the camera to capture group dynamics. Berens, who also is working on IBM’s co-browsing software, explained that her students are amazed by how natural the virtual classroom can be.
“Virtuality affords many cool things: it leaves digital traces of otherwise ephemeral conversation; it teaches us how to shift between modes very quickly; and it gives my students practice working in hybrid environments, which are increasingly how knowledge work is situated,” Berens said.
Other USC Annenberg faculty members are also new to the AIL team. Sasha Anawalt, director of USC Annenberg Arts Journalism Programs, is working on Engine30. The pop-up newsroom deconstructs the top-down news model and engages the public. Burghardt Tenderich, associate director of the Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center, is focused on transmedia branding. Susan Resnick West, a communication professor, researches the innovation process and helps to design Think & Do workshops that bring in diverse people connected to a specific topic. The group discusses ideas then designs prototypes in the lab.
They are joining other USC Annenberg faculty, in addition to Taplin and Reilly, who are AIL veterans. Henry Jenkins is chief advisor, senior research fellow and provost’s professor of communication, journalism and cinematic arts. François Bar is a research fellow and communication professor. Gabriel Kahn leads the AIL’s Future of Journalism project and is co-director of Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship.
Other new research fellows are Perry Hoberman from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, who leads AIL’s research with LACMA and Qualcomm; Brian K. Shepard from the USC Thornton School of Music and Shrikanth Narayanan, who is from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and is a key partner in the lab’s sentient analysis research.
Hoberman is an installation and media artist who works with materials and technologies ranging from the obsolete to state-of-the-art. He’s been exhibited internationally, with major shows throughout the USA and Europe. He has been a Guggenheim Foundation fellow and has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts.
Narayanan holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from UCLA is a professor at the Signal and Image Processing Institute of USC’s Electrical Engineering department and holds a joint appointment as Professor in Computer Science, Linguistics and Psychology. His research explores signals and systems modeling with an interdisciplinary emphasis on speech, audio, language, multimodal and biomedical problems and applications directly relevant to society.
Shepard is an assistant professor of pedagogical technology and composition at the USC Thornton. A composer of acoustic and electronic art music, he has collaborated with an AIL sponsor to share real time collaborative music across 1GB steams. He created EchoDamp, the only audio mixing and echo control software designed specifically for musical videoteleconferences on advanced networks like Internet2. His pioneering research into the musical capabilities and opportunities of high-performance networks has brought him international recognition.