Last Friday, I had the pride and joy of participating in the first conference organized by the Annenberg Innovation Lab. The Lab is a new research initiative launched over the past year, with the goal of becoming an incubator for new media practices and platforms, a space where important conversations can occur between academics and industry leaders which may help shape the future of communications.
The mastermind behind the project is Jonathan Taplin, a saavy industry veteran, who has tapped his considerable network to bring some major stakeholders to the table. He’s been working with two amazing women — Erin Reilly, who is also the Research Director for my own Project New Media Literacies, is the Creative Director and Anne Balsamo, a veteran of Xerox Parc, serves as The Director of Learning. I am proud to be working with the lab on several new initiatives which I will be talking about here more in the future, including a new platform to support our work in fostering New Media Literacies and a new eBook project which will expand the resources available to Comic Studies scholars.
They’ve pulled in many other key researchers from across USC, providing a context which supports the move from theory to applied practice. The real special sauce at the lab is going to be the ability to mix social and cultural insights with technological experimentation and innovation in a space where humanists and social scientists can work hand in hand with engineers and business people.
Between them, Taplin, Reilly, and Balsamo hit the deck running, pulling off the near impossible, in getting the center ready to share some research results only eight months after it was originally conceived.
The conference’s highlights include a conversation between Balsamo and the two authors of the important new book, A New Culture of Learning, Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown; a presentation by the musician T. Bone Burnett showing how degraded the current state of sound is within the music industry and announcing a significant new research initiative to help repair the damage of the past decade of failed digital practices; a discussion of the value of play in fostering an innovative environment whether in schools or the workplace; and some great exchanges with key thinkers and doers within the computer and entertainment industries.
But, for me, by far, the highlight was seeing the work being done by USC students as part of what the Lab calls CRUNCH sessions. Altogether, more than 60 students from 8 different schools worked over the past two terms to develop prototypes, including demonstration videos, for new projects which covered a broad range of different models of media, from innovative approaches to eBooks to new game controllers, from civic media to new kinds of visualization tools. The most amazing thing was done by the student teams fueled entirely from their own passions: the Lab provided them with a space, with brainstorming and training sessions, and with technical consultants, but they were neither paid nor offered academic credit for the considerable labor they put into the process. Most of the teams were interdisciplinary, and one of the key values of the Lab was to help match up students from across the University to work together towards common goals.
I was pleased to see how many of the students involved were people I’d been seeing in my classes and it was great to witness what they could create when turned loose on their own projects outside any academic structures. It was especially pleased to see that these projects were informed by a deep understanding of the value of storytelling and entertainment and a grasp of the actual needs of communities of users who have been underserved by the first waves of digital development.
What follows here are the five winners of the CRUNCH competition, each representing a very different model of what media innovation might look like.
NimbleTrek \ Natalia Bogolasky and David Radcliff
WeLobby \ Leonard Hyman
Combiform \ Andy Uehara and Edmond Yee an
New Quill \ Michael Morgan
Interactive Geosurface Map — Lauren Fenton
And for good measure, here are three more projects which I thought were too cool not to include:
Love in the Time of Genocide \ Thenmozhi Soundararajan
The Mother Road eBook \ Erin Reilly
Reading the News on the Wall \ Jennifer Taylor