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Media of the future: Scripps College of Communication awarded $878K for Immersive Media Initiative

Claire Berlin | Mar 7, 2016

Media of the future: Scripps awarded $878K for Immersive Media Initiative

Initiative will focus on human computer interaction, visualization/simulation/gaming niches

By Claire Berlin

ATHENS, Ohio (March 7, 2016)—On February 25, the Scripps College of Communication was awarded $878,000 by the Ohio University Innovation Strategy program for the Immersive Media Initiative.

“We are very honored that the Immersive Media Initiative was selected as one of the Ohio University innovation strategy projects,” said Dean Scott Titsworth. “The Scripps College of Communication has demonstrated, through several initiatives, that we are constantly pushing campus innovation activities. This award builds on that success and places the work of our college at the forefront of innovation activity across the University. I am very proud of the work of our faculty and colleagues from across campus in preparing such a compelling and forward-looking proposal.”

This year the Ohio University Innovation Strategy program awarded $4 million in funding to four faculty and staff teams for research and teaching initiatives that focus on innovation and creative activity for both faculty research and student education. In 2014, OHIO launched the Innovation Strategy to advance innovation in research, scholarship, creative activity, teaching and institutional operations.

The Immersive Media Initiative will be centralized out of the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab in the Scripps College of Communication, and the principal investigator for the initiative is John Bowditch, director of the GRID Lab and an instructor in the School of Media Arts & Studies.

“We were ecstatic when we received the news,” said Bowditch. “Not only will this enhance our research, but new curriculum and opportunities for students is what will make this initiative truly exceptional. We would like to note how thankful we are to the Ohio University Innovation Strategy fund for this opportunity.”

The GRID Lab, developed by the School of Media Arts & Studies faculty and staff, provides the Appalachian Ohio region with training, education, and opportunities to develop technical and creative skills with digital game technology. Research and project development in the space are focused on serious and educational games, simulations, computer animation, and virtual reality.

The Immersive Media Initiative will develop a program for students to become skilled leaders in virtual and augmented reality and will focus on human computer interaction and visualization/simulation/gaming niches. The GRID Lab acquired new space in Scripps Hall in the fall of 2015 specifically designed for this initiative. The lab will provide several million dollars worth of gear, processes, intellectual property and award-winning scholars and partnerships for this project.

“The first step is to ramp up as quickly as possible,” said Bowditch. “There is a lot of work to be done to start developing projects before this summer. We expect an official start date of May 1, 2016 as we will hire, and have in place, a project manager position at that time. We are also aiming to have student hires in place by then. There will be a lot of opportunities for students across many disciplines to work on this initiative.”

The Immersive Media Initiative has five interrelated areas of interest:

  • Immersive Experiences: Virtual experiences resulting in a full disconnection from reality.
  • Augmented Environments: Mediated enhancements of the actual world.
  • Applicable Research: Effects and applications of immersive and augmented experiences.
  • Technology Development: Invention and adaptation, with an aim of intellectual property.
  • Student Advancement: Education to be content and pedagogical design experts in immersive media.

The first step of the initiative will focus on creating the facility and the infrastructure to support large-scale immersive media projects at OHIO and facilitating research and design-focused collaborative projects with faculty and students across a wide-range of academic areas. Following this phase and during the first three years of the funded initiative, the project will complete three large-scale collaborative projects and several small-scale research and design projects to highlight the new media capabilities. These immersive media projects will be used to demonstrate to the University and to business communities how immersive media can be used for research, training, grant opportunities, entrepreneurship, student involvement, outreach and creative activity.

“Faculty will get state-of-the-art virtual and augmented reality infrastructure,” said Bowditch. “With this award, we will quickly become a nationally prominent research center for virtual and augmented reality. Students will get exposure to gear they have not seen before. There is new curriculum that has been developed and will be first offered this summer through the School of Media Arts & Studies.”

The Innovation Strategy funding will help support new technology investments, research studies, faculty and staff compensation, student research positions, and funds for dissemination of new knowledge and intellectual property. The Innovation Strategy funding will be spent over the next three years, concluding in April of 2019.

“The Immersive Media Initiative will place Ohio University at the forefront of cutting-edge content production and storytelling,” said Titsworth. “This opportunity will open new avenues for our faculty and students as they learn about, create and research applications of virtual and augmented reality. As we engage colleagues from across campus, uses of these technologies in fields like engineering, medicine and others will enhance the work of other units while also creating new opportunities for faculty to engage in intellectual property development and commercialization. We intend for this to have a campus-wide impact.”

As the principal investigator, Bowditch hopes to position OHIO as a leader in this developing field through collaboration with key individuals and entities on campus that include the Scripps College of Communication, Russ College of Engineering and Technology, Patton College of Education, College of Health Sciences and Professions, College of Arts and Sciences, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the Innovation Center. The Immersive Media Initiative already has a partnership planned outside Ohio University with Northern Arizona University’s physical therapy department.

“The goal of the Immersive Media Initiative is to combine innovative technology with industry expertise and real-world projects to provide Ohio University students with a cutting-edge education in the field of immersive media,” said Eric Williams, one of the co-investigators of the initiative and associate professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies. “We have a fantastic advisory board of education and immersive media experts from across the country supporting our vision and providing direct support from day one.”

The Immersive Media Initiative Advisory Board includes:

  • Hebah Abdalla – Executive Producer, Al Jazeera America
  • Seann Dikkers – Department Chair and associate professor of education, Bethel University
  • Doug Knutson – System VP of Academic Affairs, Ohio Health
  • Lorie Loeb – Executive Director Neukom DALI Lab, Dartmouth College
  • Ethan McCarty – Global Director of Internal Communications, Bloomberg
  • Beth Novak – Assoc. Dean for Student Success, Scripps College of Communication
  • Randy Rieland – Digital Media Consultant, Rieland Consulting
  • Michael Wilken – Director of 3D, Saatchi & Saatchi
  • Peter Wyse – VP of Production & Development, Warner Brothers Interactive

The Immersive Media Initiative is composed of University faculty and staff from multiple disciplines that will work collaboratively on research and development projects.  

Co-investigators on the Immersive Media Initiative team include:

  • Josh Antonuccio, Scripps College of Communication
  • Tyler Ayres, Scripps College of Communication
  • Cathy Baker, College of Health Sciences and Professions
  • Michael Braasch, Russ College of Engineering and Technology
  • Sherleena Buchman, College of Health Sciences and Professions
  • Christopher France, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Todd Fredricks, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Lynn Harter, Scripps College of Communication
  • Deborah Henderson, College of Health Sciences and Professions
  • Thomas Hodson, WOUB Public Media
  • Samuel Leitkam, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • David Moore, Patton College of Education
  • Brian Plow, Scripps College of Communication
  • Rebecca Schmehl, Scripps College of Communication
  • Jennifer Simon, Innovation Center
  • Nancy Stevens, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • James Thomas, College of Health Sciences and Professions
  • Eric Williams, Scripps College of Communication
  • Petra Williams, Northern Arizona University

Read the full Ohio University Innovation Strategy funding announcement here.