Alt_Pub: Getting the Research Out

October 19, 2012

PROJECTS: Leveling Up



I recently traveled to Athens, Greece and experienced the cab ride from the airport into the city centre as a trip through an alien landscape. This was partly due to the general lack of sleep and fresh air that accompanies trans-Atlantic travel, but was wholly amplified by the view out the car window. Every roadside billboard we passed—and there were many—was either sun bleached to the point of unintelligibility or completely empty. And not the hopeful empty symbolized by a crisp, white surface awaiting an eager advertiser but the sad emptiness of one left ragged and stripped by the crash. I had been curious about how the country’s recent austerity measures might be felt by a traveler, and these vacant totems were an eerie reminder of Greece’s economic plight.

I arrived in the city centre with this image fresh in my mind only to be struck by an overwhelming sense that graffiti, wheat pasted political posters, and hand written signs on empty shop windows were a new kind of language being embraced by the city, one which expressed individual and collective stories of change. It was both exciting and strange. It was exciting because the chaotic visual landscape made up of these stories communicated—it spoke volumes to me about ideas both big and small; ideas that were highly personalized and exacting. Strange because it felt like a throwback to New York City in the late 80’s and the worldwide heyday of graffiti and ‘zines. That was a time when artists, designers, musicians, and neighborhood punk kids embraced the visual as a core tactic for getting the word out. The act of publishing, fed by the economics of creative struggle, began to take on new forms.

Truth be told it doesn’t feel all that different today except that getting the word out also includes hashtags, YouTube channels, and mobile screens of varying size. We experience information in forms that tend to be image-driven, designed for immediate sharing, and snackable. This is not news to anyone, of course, but it does have implications for researchers, like the Connected Learning Research Network (CLRN) group of which I am part, who operate out of a publishing tradition that is neither visual, immediate, or easily consumed. Academic articles in peer reviewed journals have their place, of course, but given the topic of our research—digital media and learning—it seems appropriate that we look to other forms. 

As part of my work on the Leveling Up project, Adam Ingram-Goble and I chose to explore YouTubeable video narratives as a key publication format for our research. (I realize that YouTubeable is not a real word—just go with me here.) In addition to collaborating with Mimi, Rachel, Yong Ming, and Matt, other members of our team who were doing more traditional ethnographies of online player communities, Adam and I focused much of our effort on producing high-end video cases that told the story of the designers behind the videogames we were studying. We traveled to the offices of Valve, MediaMolecule and Blizzard with the videographer JR Sheetz, and recorded interviews with members of their game development teams. The interviews were then edited into 4-5 minute video pieces, one per company, and included in a series called Playmakers, which will debut on Fast Company’s website in early November.

As Adam and I discovered, the video narratives offered a wonderful complement to the case studies we will be writing up with the rest of the Leveling Up team. The videos have a kind of immediacy about them that invite viewers in; they offer our research community a glimpse into the creative environments behind the games that written articles rarely offer, and they are simultaneously iPad consumable and easily shared. The very fact that Fast Company has elected to publish the videos shows that the format we chose made them viable for a new kind of audience—executives and entrepreneurs. This audience is critical to the work of the network, given its aspirations to influence not only educators, but also those involved in the design and development of the digital media which is so core to our model.

But video is just one format researchers might consider for getting the word out around their work. There are many others, and I thought I would share a brief overview of some of the formats I find most inspiring. They fall broadly into four categories: rich media online formats, data visualization, animation and design case studies. All can be explored further by following the links below. Enjoy!


Rich media online formats

  • Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular: A peer-reviewed media studies journal, exploring alternative formats for academic articles.
  • Fertility and Sterility: The flagship journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) uses a new multimedia article format that integrates video and traditional print research.
  • Brave Nation YouMedia tumblr blog: A collectively authored blog created by teens at YouMedia in Chicago to share out their work with the Born This Way Foundation.
Data visualization as storytelling
  • Storycorp Animation: An original animated shorts series produced with Mike and Tim Rauch of Rauch Brothers Animation based on stories collected as part of the Storycorp project.
  • New Dream: Visualizing a Plentitude Economy: An animated visualization of a plenitude economy based on research by our very own CLRN member Juliet Schor.
  • The Power of Networks: In this RSA Animate, Manuel Lima, senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing, explores the power of network visualisation to help navigate our complex modern world. Taken from a lecture given by Lima as part of the RSA’s free public events program.
Design case studies and toolkits


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