Faculty Spotlight – Dr. Gordon Carlson

(Faculty Spotlight is a series of articles focused on highlighting faculty at FHSU that are using technology in interesting ways. Faculty Spotlight is intended to be a monthly series, so check back often to see if your peers are doing any intriguing activities with technology. If you have a faculty member you would like to recommend for Faculty Spotlight, contact Nathan Riedel at nlriedel@fhsu.edu. Faculty Spotlight graphic by Cari Kelly.)

Dr. Gordon Carlson – Assistant Professor, Communication Studies Director, Institute for New Media Studies

Walking into The Institute for New Media Studies is a surreal experience. Technology that one could barely imagine fills the room. However, the walls are decorated with recently obsolete devices and literal relics from the infancy of digital technology. “Old stuff on the walls, new stuff in the room,” explains Dr. Gordon Carlson, Director of The Institute for New Media Studies. Hanging in the corner just to the left of the entrance is a projection screen running a 3D movie of two aquatic dinosaurs. During the interview with Dr. Carlson and Jeremiah Okebukola, The Institute’s graduate research assistant, Dr. Carlson points to a black cylinder on a shelf next to the projection screen and explains that it is an original Edison phonograph cylinder. The Institute for New Media Studies encapsulates technological advancement. Aside from the impressive museum Dr. Carlson has constructed, the room is filled with many technological wonders: a 55” smart table, a 3D printer, and and a Kinect-based stereoscopic camera using infrared light to read our body movements in 3D space and render them to a nearby monitor. However, the Institute is not just a playground; Dr. Carlson works hard to ensure that this laboratory benefits FHSU as much as possible.

Jeremiah Okebukola-Graduate Research Assistant at The Institute for New Media Studies

Much of the funding for The Institute came from different departments from across campus. The Institute’s webpage has an extensive list contributors: https://www.fhsu.edu/newmedia/. For example, Forsyth Library provides funding for Graduate Research Assistants—like Jeremiah. Dr. Carlson explains that without cooperation from many departments across the University, The Institute “would not exist as it does today.” The Institute started as part of the Red Balloon Project. The purpose of the Red Balloon Project was to use digital technologies as much as possible to keep costs low but maintain the same quality of education, and The Institute for New Media Studies embodies that motto–giving as much back to Fort Hays as possible. Dr. Carlson says the idea is to create projects “80% as good as private industry at 20% of the cost.”

Jeremiah demonstrating Tiger Range using the Oculus Rift.

The Institute provides students and faculty with a dizzying selection of technologies and services. “New Media Studies is the study of convergence and disruption,” explains Carlson, “[this] applies to communication, education, [etc.].” Dr. Carlson wants to use The Institute to bring this same approach to learning to as many departments as possible. “Faculty can use resources here for classes elsewhere,” says Carlson. One example Dr. Carlson gave was for Communication Studies 602: Intercultural Communication. Students in the course worked together to try communicating with one person in every country in the world. In previous years students would track their progress using a folding map and markers. Now, the course utilizes a simple web app database, Google Earth, and the smart table. Students can collaborate using an interactive globe and see every point of contact they have made, including a record of what they communicated about.  The data is even compiled from year to year so progress can be visualized more easily. “Faculty can come with an idea and we’ll make it happen,” says Carlson.

The smart table running WorldWide Telescope.

The Institute affords students with skill-based opportunities to prepare them for future employment. As part of their capstone work in Communication Studies 490: Issues and Applications, students worked as a team to develop the first phase of Tiger Range, one of the Institute’s flagship projects.http://www.fhsu.edu/news/FHSU-Communication-Studies-Department-previews-new-3D-virtual-campus-project–Tiger-RangeThey presented their work to over 70 members of the campus and local community along with their own digital portfoliosDr. Carlson explained that the project gets its name from the term for the home territory of a tiger.  Tiger Range is an immersive virtual reality simulation of the FHSU campus.  Depending on its particular application, the software can run on a desktop computer, a large touchscreen display, or even the Oculus Rift virtual reality system.  During the spring 2016 semester students created the “Quad” of the university bounded by South Campus Drive, College Drive, North Campus Drive and Park Street.

The students of Communications Studies 490.

Vanessa Resh, a senior who took the course said the project taught her that “Communication Studies majors will do things in our careers that we are not going to be comfortable with in the beginning, but we can persevere to create new and innovative projects that will contribute to any culture we find ourselves in.”The students responsible for this project can use this experience to help with future employment. “Students never [do] something for nothing,” says Carlson. Dr. Carlson recounts the story of a small, plastic cup he sets on the table. The student who made the cup had absolutely no experience with digital design or 3D printing. Within two weeks, Dr. Carlson was able to help the student design and materialize a small cup. The Institute was indeed a gift to that student.  Undergraduates now engage projects in the Institute as Undergraduate Fellows.  As The Institute’s webpage says, “students leave their fellowship with real skills, a hefty resume, and the competitive edge needed in the workplace or advanced graduate studies.”  Any student is welcome to participate in projects related to their studies or personal interests.  The experience can be taken for course credit and there are a number of ways to apply their work as a Fellow to their own major and program of study.

Dr. Carlson using theKinect to manipulate the 3D model of St. Cloud Technical & Community College.

When asked which technology in The Institute is the most popular, Jeremiah looks around the room and says, “Not one stand out star,” but if he had to choose probably “the smart table or the Oculus Rift.” Dr. Carlson and Jeremiah end the interview by demonstrating many of The Institutes’ features. Jeremiah shows off the smart table—smart table—including an interactive map of the universe powered by WorldWide Telescope above—and Tiger Range with the Oculus Rift. Dr. Carlson shows a model of St. Cloud Technical & Community College–a school in Minnesota that payed for The Institute’s services–The Institute made that funded the Tiger Range project. “He sets up the demonstration with the Kinect and is able to manipulate the model from several feet away using motion controls. If you want to take advantage of The Institutes’ many functions, Dr. Carlson wants to help you. “Faculty can call, email, or just wander in,” claims Carlson,”[we want] to keep bureaucracy at a minimum [and] keep collaboration at a maximum.”

To Contact The Institute for New Media Studies:

Email: newmedia@fhsu.edu

Twitter: @fhsu_newmedia

Phone: 785-628-4784

Web: https://www.fhsu.edu/newmedia/

Or, Visit: Malloy Hall 106

Also, if you want, here is a “behind the scenes” video we have up about Tiger Range and our associated projects with SCTCC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzaL9rSFcqs

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