Students from The Center for Emerging Media Design and Development showcased their 18-month projects

The Center for Emerging Media Design and Development is the home for Ball State University’s M.A in EMDD, a holistic learning environment that pairs a traditional graduate curriculum with a hands-on lab experience in which students work with public and private partners to solve real problems.

In the first two years of the program, EMDD students have worked with partners such as Professor Garfield, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Circle of Blue and Muncie organizations. These 18-month projects were showcased on May 1 for Ball State Faculty, students and members of the community.

Professor Garfield

Garfield creator Jim Davis noticed kids were picking up literacy skills from reading his comics, so the Professor Garfield website was created in 2004. Producer and second-year EMDD student Ryan Wiaranowski said literacy education has changed along with technology since the website’s creation, so his team did research with educators to find out what the website meant for literacy education today.

“Digital literacy is empowering students to use online platforms, whether they be apps, tools, video cameras but not just the technical know-how of knowing how to shoot a video on a smartphone but actually really thinking about how they shoot the video,” Wiaranowski said. “We wanted to re-focus the Professor Garfield to position it as the leader in digital literacy education.”

The website targets students in kindergarten-3rd grade. Wiaranowski and his team said the project was inspired by educators because all of the group’s ideas for the project are directly tied to something a teacher told them was a frustration or something they need to have in a website.

“We were able to take their ideas and then actually make them into something tangible. It’s a really rewarding process to take someone else’s ideas … and then put it back in their hands and get their feedback on those prototypes,” Wiaranowski said. “[Teachers] are very receptive to the entire process and they’re super involved because we’re giving them a platform to have a voice and we’re able to transform their ideas into reality.”

Remix the Symphony

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) had a problem- the average ticket subscriber for the orchestra’s classical musical concerts is 75, but they wanted to engage a younger audience. Second-year EMDD student Elise Lockwood and four other students made a transmedia experience around classical music. Research on what other symphonies across the country are doing and what the people the ISO is targeting value.

“We did a year of research and testing and prototyping before we ever actually made anything official,” Lockwood said. “The thing that was most important out of this project was the data … everything we did, every piece of content, we tested. We know how well it worked, we know what people think about it.”

The data will allow the ISO to have some ideas of things to try that have been tested and proven to work, as well as what didn’t work. The ISO now doesn’t have to find the resources and time to do what the EMDD team did.

As the team producer, Lockwood learned about managing a team and planning. She also learned that usability testing can be done on anything.

“We did usability testing on a website, which is the normal kind of thing you do usability testing on, but I’m writing a case study right now on how we did usability testing on zines … [or] handmade magazines,” Lockwood said. “We took the concept of zines, which were created for 70s, 80s punk culture and we made one for the symphony and we tested those with users. You can test anything.”

Blue Roots Project

The Blue Roots Project is a global social media storytelling campaign with the goal to raise awareness of water issues and the value of water with a target market of 18-24 year olds. The EMDD team partnered with Circle of Blue, a nonprofit news organization that reports on the world’s water crisis, to create a campaign that engaged a younger audience with Circle of Blue’s content.

“The reason why I came to this program was because I wanted to learn how to actually get people to do something, so one way to do that is storytelling. I really wanted to master that- I can write stories, I can be a journalist, but how do I go just beyond the journalistic principles, beyond just telling a story but actually using multiple platforms,” Aisté Manfredini, who worked on the project, said.

Manfredini was already interested in environmental issues, and that interest eventually led her to Rome, Italy and The Vatican. During World Water Day, the Blue Roots Project team stood about ten feet from Pope Francis, who was making a blessing for Watershed, a conference that the team helped facilitate.

“We were like oh my god, we’re actually here, we’re in the Vatican, the Pope is right next to us, basically. I think that’s the moment we all felt like we did it and what we have done has worked really well and has been effective,” Manfredini said. “We had no idea we were gonna do this at all. It was almost serendipity.”

Success Quest

Focus groups and qualitative research with 65 students and the community led to Success Quest, a game that uses a mix of events and challenges.

The group wanted to know how students could feel more successful and what influences that. They learned that short and long-term goal formation is an important part of that process and in order to form those goals, students need someone, like a friend or family member, telling them that goal is possible.

Success Quest wants to broaden the playing field for all students and develop something that students felt they were in control of their participation.

“We found that schools are strained and focused on pretty much on present problems … they aren’t really thinking about one-on-one sitting down,” EMDD student Victoria Meldrum said.

The game helps students explore their options. The community is involved by having some local-based activities, with community partners who provide content or sponsorship with no obligation.

There are also online modules. The whole program explores themes such as career paths, relationships and life skills.

“If we can get it to fit in one semester, you’d have about three weeks to explore each of these topics. One of the first topics is the job search, and after that you move into finance,” Meldrum said. “That’s just an example of how the calendar might look … we imagine this [program] would be like an app.”

About the Program:

The Center’s mission is to advance students’ creative problem-solving skills and developing an advanced, graduate-level workforce that has practical experience in storytelling, applied research, and development in digital strategic communication design.

Written by Michelle Kaufman