Ohio University

J. Warren McClure School changes reinforce college’s focus on innovation

News Release

August 21, 2019

Athens, OH (August 21, 2019) – The Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University announces that the J. Warren McClure School of Information Telecommunication Systems will combine with the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab to form the J. Warren McClure School of Emerging Communication Technologies. The collaboration will expand the research and creative activity of both units and deepens the college’s commitment to innovation in all its forms. The school’s curriculum will be designed to train students in the most current tools and techniques and prepare them to adapt easily as new technologies continue to emerge.

“Our goal is to be the best training ground in the country for new and emerging communication technology,” said Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication. “That means we’ll need to focus on teaching innovative thinking and adaptability as much as we teach technical skills. Luckily, the GRID Lab and the McClure School have a proven track record in both those areas.”

The GRID Lab was established in 2005 as a special initiative of the college. Until now, it has not been specifically associated with any of the five schools in the college. The lab conducts research and produces content largely centering on augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Since its inception, the GRID Lab has been awarded $4 million in grants from state and federal agencies, healthcare facilities and University research scholars. In 2016, the Immersive Media Initiative (IMI) was established through a grant from the University’s Innovation Strategy fund, enabling the GRID Lab to develop new projects and curriculum and to expand student employment opportunities.

John Bowditch, director of the GRID Lab, said the partnership with the McClure School will add a vital component to the lab’s research and production capabilities.

“AR and VR will require a connected world in order to be massively adopted,” Bowditch said. “Having students and faculty researching both AR and VR content creation and how these technologies communicate over networks tackles a large portion of the current technical challenges in this space.”

With a curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning through both classes and professional experience, the McClure School offers undergraduate and graduate programs focusing on network infrastructure, applications and security. Graduates go on to careers in information technology planning, management, entrepreneurship, consulting and leadership.

“The games and training simulations we plan to build in the GRID lab increasingly involve multiple participants interacting in a virtual world in real time,” said Hans Kruse, director of the McClure School. “Providing a smooth user experience for these applications is a challenging design problem. The McClure School’s expertise in both networking and game and AR/VR design puts us in a unique position to address the design challenges, while also advancing novel ways to construct networks that support these applications.”

The name change and program merger were finalized at the June 21 meeting of the Ohio University Board of Trustees. The school’s current bachelor’s and master’s degree in Information Telecommunication Systems (ITS) will continue to be offered; new academic programs are being planned that will incorporate game design elements of an existing major in the School of Media Arts and Studies.

"The existing ITS degrees will be updated to teach elements of the technology needed to deliver the user experience at the edge of the network,” Kruse said. “The new bachelor’s degree will add coverage of AR and VR production technology and techniques and allow students to study the entire system needed to deliver the game or animation, from user device to network to the cloud.”

Market analysis of the AR/VR industry underscores its status as an emerging technology, with analysts predicting between a 40-80% growth rate over the next five to seven years. As with most technologies in the internet age, AR and VR expansion will be contingent on how much the worldwide network can bear. According to McClure School professor Eric Williams, the partnership with the GRID Lab combines two essential elements.

“In the past, there were always two or three key questions, but they weren’t always interrelated,” Williams said. “People wanted to know what you are making. Then they would want to know whether or not it’s available online. And, if it is, how quickly can they get it? Now it’s all one big question: How quickly can I have access to what you’re making? That’s what this new school does – we create cool stuff and we deliver it quickly and creatively. We deliver creativity creatively.”

The current structure allows for students to continue their involvement with the ITS major and the GRID Lab as they did before. Additional coursework will also be an option for students interested in adding skills and expertise in areas like AR and VR technology and scripting or coding.

“It’s easy to see how combining the GRID Lab with the ITS program will benefit our students,” Titsworth said. “Graduates from the new McClure School will be entering the workforce with a holistic understanding of how network infrastructure and security impact and enable this cutting-edge technology. Understanding this connection will only become more important in the future as new communication technologies emerge and it will serve them throughout their careers.”

Some changes in personnel are involved with the new partnership. No additional positions were created, but existing positions were realigned to support the success of this venture. GRID Lab staff and faculty members from other schools voluntarily transferred to the McClure School.

A launch party will be held Wednesday, August 28, from 4-6 p.m. in the Schoonover Center for Communication on OHIO’s Athens campus. The event is free and open to the public.