Washington SU Builds a Cutting-Edge Media Lab


Washington State University recently built a new wing for its Edward R. Murrow School of Communication ( Once construction was completed, faculty were tasked with how to best outfit the classrooms and lab spaces to meet the needs of students preparing to enter a field where technology is constantly changing the way media is created and presented. I, along with other faculty members, considered a range of computer offerings for the classrooms, evaluating each for value and capabilities.

Choosing a Platform

The School of Communication has a variety of departments covering a range of media, including audio, video, text and Web design. So, whatever platform we chose needed to support each of these media equally well. It also had to be able to integrate with broadcast and other digital imaging products. Considering all of these requirements, we chose VAIO desktops and notebooks because of Sony’s expertise in audio, video and computer technology. VAIO PCs stood out among the competition for how they handle the full range of multimedia. They also provide an easy path to bridge into broadcasting equipment.

The Murrow building addition, which opened its labs and classrooms in September, has about 80 VAIO RS Series desktops and nine higher-end RZ Series desktops. The school has three classroom labs that are used for teaching journalism, broadcast, writing and public relations. In the broadcast class, I created a software tutorial that mocks the interface for AVID editing software so that students can familiarize themselves with the complexities of video editing directly on the VAIOs. Since most editing bays can accommodate no more than three to four people who must gather around a comparatively small screen, my AVID mock-up saves valuable time in the editing suites by orienting students en masse ahead of time.

Conducting Media Studies

In the school’s computer-aided telephone interview (CATI) lab, professor Bruce Pinkleton’s students conduct polling research via telephone. Each workstation has a telephone connected to a VAIO, which is preloaded with software that helps conduct the survey and records statistical information. Essentially, the school has created a closed system to protect the integrity of the data. Before implementing this system, students had to report to various offices to conduct the polling and record the information on paper surveys, which was a laborious and expensive process.

In a study of the 2004 Super Bowl advertisements, students watched how subjects receive images played through the Internet on a VAIO display. Students monitored these individuals via Sony camcorders and microphones, which were hanging from the ceiling, to observe how they receive the various stimuli. The reactions were then recorded on a DV recorder or on the VAIO’s hard drive where they could be edited for review and reporting purposes. This technique allows students to do things such as evaluate reactions to and the impact of the TV commercials.

Similarly, the Laboratory for the Study of Communication, Emotion and Cognition conducts several studies regarding the impact of media on various behaviors. For example, the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation grant program aims to study the effects of an interactive anti-drinking-and-driving CD-ROM on young adolescents.

The lab for the study of families and children with media is designed as a child-friendly environment for studying the impact of various media on children. The room includes a large-screen Sony TV for image playback and a Sony camcorder for capturing children’s reactions. Professor Erica W. Austin uses this lab to research how ads for alcohol, tobacco and other adult themes affect kids, family members and small groups, as well as how these individuals interact with media and each other. All of the footage is then uploaded to the VAIO for further analysis and can be burned to DVDs for distribution.

Coordinating a large purchase with so many components was a major concern. While our integrator helped make this a smooth transition, Sony worked with us to make the best product selections. Ultimately, I’m happy to say that all of the labs are currently up and working.

- Marvin Marcelo

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.