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The innovation room

The innovation room

Lab lets A&M humanities students get creative with technology

May 5th, 2018 by Aaron Brand in Features

Business Management sophomore Pierson Swanger studies in Texarkana A&M University's Science and Technology Building. (Photo by Tiffany Brown)

Voice recorders, tripods, 32 GB WiFi iPads, a Canon Rebel T6 Camera, Yeti Microphones and a PlayStation VR system—together they sound like a nice set of mass communication toys.

In reality they add up to the handy hardware available through a new Texas A&M University-Texarkana initiative.

In an effort to inspire creative collaboration and innovative research in the humanities, the Red River Innovation Lab for the Humanities makes some of these practical tools of mass comm available to the university community.

Housed in the Science and Technology building on campus, the lab is a relaxed room, student art included, where these items are made available, along with software like Adobe InDesign or Audacity audio editor, to help students, faculty or staff complete their self-directed research projects.

Dr. Drew Morton, assistant professor of mass communications and director of the RRILH, works with students like Jayme Vaughan and Stephen Parker at the RRILH.

"The lab offers an engaging space to foster collaboration among faculty scholars, students, librarians and practitioners for the exploration and advancement of innovative research in the humanities," Morton said back in September when the lab started up.

In order to show off the type of work that can be accomplished in this type of setting, the RRILH recently held its 2018 Festival of Creative Work. The fruits of this creative festival are now online at tamuthumanitieslab.wordpress.com.

Want to see the film editing technique of montage, a la Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein, in a video that depicts the struggle of two friends attempting to work out? That's just one interesting project accepted into the festival. Without employing dialogue, the emphasis in this short is placed on music and juxtaposition to tell a story.

Or there's a tribute to the 17 people who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. It presents each victim's first name in word cloud format accompanied by dramatic techno music.

Another student explores the ethical questions posed in documentary film work, or there's a professor's lecture that connects students to HTML and a student video that presents an e-learning program called Istation.

Each project is the type of thing that can be created at the lab.

"One of the issues with the lab space is trying to get people to understand what it is we do," Morton said. It's a resource center where people can work on projects with guidance from those who've used this hardware and software, he explains.

"One of the goals of the festival was to kind of take work that students had done for other classes that involved a lot of the resources we have here, and try and say these are the types of projects you can do," Morton said. Showcasing podcasts, graphic design work and short videos provide models for students and faculty to see—that's the idea.

Although technology can be intimidating, the lab is meant to encourage people to make things with the technology and be more at ease with it in this comfortable setting, Morton said.

"It's helpful to have it available to us," said Vaughan, a junior mass comm student who works for Four States Living Magazine. Her festival submissions included graphic design work that promoted the Ace of Clubs House and a redesign of a magazine.

Parker, a senior, worked with a group of students who studied video production. He admits a project like theirs—the exercise-themed montage—can be daunting because there's a storyboard, cameras, shooting, editing and more to work on. Working together and pooling talents helped, however.

"That was a lot of fun," he said, noting how montage elements are seen in pop culture like comic books. He's about to step into the world of local radio, he said, and this experience will apply to his work.

"Every radio station in town wants an online presence," Parker explained. Deejays are not just on air, but they're also putting material on Facebook. His experience with a Canon camera shooting footage and then editing it will help him on the job. It's another way to present stories beyond the traditional "pen and paper," he said.

As someone who writes and designs, Vaughan felt comfortable in those skills at her job. But what she didn't have until now were the skills related to video editing. She knows the experience only grows her capabilities.

"I think it's important to have that diversity in your skill set," Vaughan said. "That makes you a lot more valuable when you get out there."

Parker appreciates what's available at the lab.

"What's nice about this lab and what I hope a student taking a look at the video submissions that we've done (is to) know that they could walk in here and if they have an idea, there's a professor (or) a student here that can help them put this together, show them the skills," he said.

Students, faculty and other staff are there to help visitors who come to the lab during open hours. So far, the lab has hosted speakers like alumni who work in media, for example, or presentations about issues like quantitative research and data visualization.

The type of media tools available at the Red River Innovation Lab for the Humanities are already showing up in the A&M-Texarkana classroom, after all. Morton says in the fall, for example, some classes will assign podcasts for students, an alternative to more traditional public speaking.

That's the challenge of the lab, trying to inspire people to make things themselves.

"Just trying again to get people to kind of understand that there are these new tools out there to do old research or reimagine their research in new ways," Morton said.

(On the Net: TAMUTHumanitiesLab.WordPress.com.)

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