Faculty train to use new technologies to share their research widely

Scholars are using websites, vlogs, information comics and PechaKuchas to reach wider audiences than journal articles that sometimes baffle the general public.

This is a key takeaway message from the workshop series, Knowledge Matters: Communicating Research for Different Audiences Through Transmedia. Designed for Cornell faculty members and academic staff, Knowledge Matters is helping participants translate their research into a variety of digital media platforms.

“Transmedia knowledge is knowledge created and communicated across different media forms, including books, presentations and community installations,” said co-organizer Jon McKenzie, the College of Arts and Sciences dean’s fellow for media and design, and visiting professor of English.

Twenty-two Cornell faculty members were selected as 2017-18 Knowledge Matters fellows. The first session was held Sept. 8 in Mann Library.

McKenzie showed examples of transmedia knowledge, including the research rap of A.D. Carson, now on the University of Virginia faculty, and Natt Harris, an Australian medical resident who sings in rhymes to explain his cancer research. Transmedia knowledge draws on insights from Jacques Derrida and Marshall McLuhan, McKenzie said.

Kim Haines-Eitzen, the H. Stanley Krusen Professor of World Religions, said she is participating in the workshops because, “I have a few specific goals – namely, updating my personal website and developing its interactive capabilities, learning new transmedia techniques for upcoming conference presentations, and developing plans for a physical exhibit related to my current research on desert acoustic landscapes and the religious imagination.”

McKenzie described PechaKucha, a presentation format that uses narration and 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each to convey knowledge concisely. Developed in Japan, PechaKucha means “chit chat” and can be created with PowerPoint. The format is increasingly used at academic conferences and community events worldwide, McKenzie said.

Cornell faculty members in the workshop began developing professional websites to host their biography, curriculum vitae, writing samples, syllabi and transmedia projects to be produced in subsequent workshops.

Sandra Babcock, faculty director at Cornell Law School’s Center on the Death Penalty and clinical professor of law at the International Human Rights Clinic, said she is interested in “mastering new technologies and storytelling techniques to effectively share knowledge” related to her work.

“We are trying to build a network and infrastructure for transmedia knowledge,” said McKenzie.

Other faculty members and students scheduled to lead Knowledge Matters workshops include Itai Cohen, associate professor of physics; Robert Weiss, professor of molecular genetics in the College of Veterinary Medicine; Marianne Krasny, professor of natural resources; and graduate student Alexandra McGregor.

Participants in the yearlong program are expected to complete several transmedia products, and they will showcase their work at public events in December and next May.

“The series is designed to improve research communication between faculty and community members, the general public, policymakers, funders as well as peers and colleagues,” said Yael Levitte, associate vice provost for faculty development and diversity.

Levitte said Knowledge Matters was developed in response to the Faculty Senate’s resolution, Cornell Leadership in Honesty and Reliable Knowledge, and a request to extend a popular workshop held last spring, Presenting Research for Public Audiences.

The Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, Cornell University Library, Office of Engagement Initiatives, and Center for Teaching Innovation sponsor the series.

Lori Sonken is the program coordinator for the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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