The Institute for New Media Studies is spearheading projects on local, national and international levels.
Digital Storytelling Effects Lab Launches Inaugural Project
The inaugural project of the Digital Storytelling Effects Lab (DiSEL), a joint project between the SJMC's Institute for New Media Studies and the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is now under way. The project examines the effects of different Web designs on content, seeing how (or if ) form affects a user's enjoyment, understanding, engagement, and retention of information presented on the Web. Nora Paul, the director of the INMS, conducted the research along with Laura Ruel, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, and Itai Himelboim, a Ph.D. student in the SJMC. In the study, 64 subjects were asked to view information on two Web sites, one designed in HTML and the other designed in Flash. Both Web sites contained the same information on the health effects of recreational drug use. Using new "eyetracking" technology, the researchers were able to capture and analyze how each subject viewed the information. Unlike older methods of eyetracking, in which a camera was mounted on the user's head, the new process uses a small, almost undetectable camera mounted at the bottom of the computer screen. The camera calibrates with the user's pupils and can record data about where the subject's eyes are focused to within a centimeter of accuracy. The camera then creates a record of the user's scanning and fixation on specific design elements, and provides hard evidence of how visual and navigation designs attract or distract users. "Our hope is that the DiSEL findings will assist news organizations in understanding how the technology of HTML and Flash affects users of their Web sites," says Paul. One such finding: people seeking information spend more time with stories than people looking to be entertained. The research also found that HTML users were more likely than Flash users to look at all content presented, while Flash users were more likely to recall which news organization had created the content. DiSEL encourages those involved in multimedia storytelling to contact them with ideas for future research projects. For more information on DiSEL, visit www.disel-project.org.