All posts by Rianna Middleton

Breaking the Digital Divide: Using Technology to Improve the Lives of Older Adults

Posted on: July 13, 2017

Shelia CottenAs we age, our ability to learn and retain new information diminishes. So much so, that by the time we reach our 80s and 90s, a skill picked up easily by a toddler – like tapping and swiping on a mobile phone - can seem too daunting to undertake. Frustrated and defeated, many older adults simply give up trying to learn new skills.

That’s where Shelia Cotten, Ph.D. steps in. A professor in the Department of Media and Information in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences (ComArtSci), Cotten researches technology use across the life course. Her goal is to improve the lives of older adults by closing the digital divide and helping them learn to use technologies to improve their lives.

Training Older Adults

Elderly man using computer tabletIn a recent study, Cotten and her team spent 5-years working with 19 different assisted and independent living facilities training older adults to use computers and the internet. The training lasted for 8-weeks in each facility, with 2 training sessions per week plus an additional office hours session.

The team started with the basics – from turning on a computer, to conducting an internet search, to sending an email.

“A lot of times, older adults have had no experience with computers in their lives,” said Cotten. “So, we have to start very basic. We started early teaching them to use email because findings from our prior work showed that older adults really enjoy that one-to-one communication/interaction.”

The participants also learned how to search for health information, and to critically evaluate the information they found.

“Because a lot of older adults have more health problems than younger aged groups [the question is] ‘How do you find information on the latest prescription that you’ve been given?’ and ‘Is there a conflict with some other medicine that you’re taking?’ We try to help them to be more critical consumers of information,” said Cotten.

Improving Quality of Life

The team also observed the mental health and quality of life benefits the residents received while working with the research team, including impacts on depression, isolation and loneliness.

“A lot of times as people age into their 80s or 90s, their partners or spouses have died, their children may be living far away, their health tends to decline… the combination of those factors

leads them to be more isolated, have higher rates of loneliness, have higher depression levels as they move into older adulthood,” Cotten told us.

According to Cotten, more opportunities for interaction and exchange of social support often lead to more positive outcomes for older adults. Because of that, Cotten focused her study on training older adults in a face-to-face environment, teaching them ways to use technology to connect with their present as well as their past.

“We found the interaction is very beneficial for older adults in general,” said Cotten. “But, over and above [we found] that the training and technology usage had positive effects. Teaching older adults how to use computers and the internet had positive impacts on their quality of life.”

From finding their childhood homes using Google Street View, to watching their favorite classic television shows or listening to music from earlier generations on Hulu and YouTube, the participants were able to see that many of their memories still live on.

Findings of the Study

At the end of the 5-year study, Cotten and her team found that their work was a success.

“We saw very positive effects in terms of teaching older adults in these communities to cross the digital divide and use computers and the internet successfully,” Cotten recalled. “They had reduced loneliness, better social integration, and lower depression. And many of the positive results tended to persist over time.”

The group even wrote a book on designing technology training programs for older adults in continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). The book is intended to help additional facilities work with their residents in the future, continuing to improve their quality of life.

Cotten said the team wrote the book “To provide the latest research- and design-based recommendations for how to design and implement technology training programs for older adults in CCRCs. Our approach concentrates on providing useful best practices for CCRC owners, CEOs and activity directors, as well as practitioners and system designers working with older adults to enhance their quality of life and educators studying older adults. Although the guidelines are couched in the context of CCRCs, they will have broader-based implications for training older adults to use computers, tablets and other technologies.”

More to Come

Cotten has dedicated her career to exploring innovative ways to use technology to improve people’s lives and just finished her fourth year at MSU. This summer, she is conducting a large-scale survey of older adults across the U.S. about different aspects of technology, including digital assistance and even autonomous vehicles.

“You know Alexa? And Siri? We want to get their perspectives on these technologies. There isn’t a lot known about these new technologies coming out and older adults’ perceptions of them and how they might use them to improve their quality of life,” said Cotten. “Autonomous vehicles have such a huge potential for older adults who have mobility problems and can’t drive anymore… Using autonomous vehicles has the potential to significantly impact their independence and have positive impacts on their quality of life.”

In addition to research, Cotten also teaches classes in ComArtSci, is the Director for the Sparrow/MSU Center for Innovation and Research, the Director of Trifecta and was recently promoted to MSU Foundation Professor.

“I love being in the Department of Media and Information and being at MSU; my whole department is focused on how can we use media and technology to improve people’s lives and the larger world. It’s a great opportunity to be in a very interdisciplinary department and have great collaborators who are all interested in different aspects of technology, media, or information. I love it here,” said Cotten.

View more of Cotten's work >> 

By Nikki W. O’Meara

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ComArtSci Alumna Writes a Love Letter to Detroit and Secures Career in Social Media

Posted on: July 10, 2017

ComArtSci alumna Amber Lewis was recently named one of Crain’s Twenty in their 20s. Lewis, who is now the digital and social media manager of the Detroit mayor’s office, captured the hearts of Detroiters on Valentine’s Day with the #DetroitLoveLetter social campaign. Quickly, the hashtag was trending on Twitter, with companies and residents contributing their affection for the Motor City.

AmberLewis1(Wide)Lewis graduated from Michigan State University in 2015 with a major in advertising with a management and media track and a minor in Spanish. Lewis’ major had a focus on social media, so she was able to learn about strategies, skills and audiences in the classroom that would build the foundation for her career.

My advertising management major really laid the foundation for my knowledge and how I apply it to what I do,” Lewis said. “I received my New Media Driver’s License and through the course I learned the practical application of tools and tactics in digital and social media. My consumer behavior course taught me a lot about audiences, something I use when buying ads and targeting posts on social media.”

As a ComArtSci undergraduate, Lewis was highly involved on and off campus. She got hands-on experience by managing the digital and social accounts for Emmons Hall Government, African American Celebratory, Pinky Promise and Spartan Remix. She studied brand strategy and storytelling abroad in Cannes, learned networking and communication skills through Career Services workshops and participated in the Marcus Graham Project

From the Classroom to the Boardroom

The Marcus Graham Project is a global organization that travels to different cities and partners with advertising agencies to host workshops. They assign a project to work on within a certain time frame with the chosen client. The organization’s goal is to get more minorities in advertising and marketing positions. Lewis’ participation in the Marcus Graham Project helped her transition her skillset from an educational to a professional setting. Her client was the City of Detroit.

“That workshop was eye-opening, because when I came to the city, I was a one-person department so I had to start from scratch,” Lewis said. “It was kind of like sticking my toes in the water for what I’m doing now because they give you these [social media] platforms and they say make them great. I would say it was a good transition into the role.”

Lewis and her team were instructed to create a social campaign for the city. The only guideline given was the need for a better social strategy. Lewis and her team presented to the Chief of Staff for the City of Detroit, who Lewis connected with and gave her resume to. A few months later, she was hired in as their digital and social media associate. Later, she was promoted to digital and social media manager.

For eight months, Lewis worked to transform the City of Detroit’s social strategy. She was gathering content and developing ideas all on her own.

Lewis worked to unify the brand presence for the city’s social platforms. The platforms had different names, the images were outdated and not all of the pages were verified. She also focused on growing their following. In 6 months, the City of Detroit’s social platforms grew their following by a total of 27 percent. Overall, their platforms have grown by 30,000 more followers.

“I think with me coming onboard, we did a lot more fun and engaging posts that weren’t necessarily related to city programs and initiatives, but more so to our audience,” Lewis said. “The way in which we put information out has evolved, so it’s not just posting a screenshot of a press release, it’s getting content and talking to people who will be impacted. A lot of times, through storytelling, it’s how people connect to concepts.”

Lewis said what she loves about her job is that no two days are the same. In her position, she manages the digital and social presence for the mayor and the City of Detroit, including running the social channels. She develops strategy, produces content, gives creative direction to photographers and videographers, covers press events and works on ad buying and campaign creation.

Disrupting the Norm

The Valentine’s Day from which the #DetroitLoveLetter social campaign was born began as just another day. Lewis was in the office with the communications director, media relations director and the digital and social media associate she had recently hired. They wanted to do something fun for the holiday and, with a little brainstorming, they crafted different themed posts for Detroit-based companies. Their goal was to get local people and companies involved.

“It was like the #1 trending topic within an hour and it stayed that way for a majority of the day,” Lewis said. “Valentine's Day is celebrated everywhere. In the City of Detroit, we have a sense of pride, so [we wanted to figure out] how to share that and tap into that pride while also being relevant on a topic. It wasn’t necessarily promoting a city program or initiative but it was associated with the brand of the City of Detroit.”

Lewis’ advice for social strategy is to stay current and relevant by knowing what’s going on, what’s coming up, and most of all, knowing your audience by discovering what language, tone and content connects with them. However, she explained, a lot of the process is trial and error.

Lewis recommends ComArtSci students use their college’s resources, such as experiential learning, study abroad opportunities and the Career Center. Moreover, she said students should be brave as they enter an industry that is still being explored.

“Don’t be afraid to disrupt the norm and follow your gut,” Lewis said. “I think a lot of times, since social and digital media is a relatively new industry, a lot of companies may not understand the importance of it or the resources that you need. [Don’t be] afraid to voice what you feel would be best for your company, your brand or yourself. Innovation comes from being different and creating change - so that disruption is necessary.”

By Rianna Middleton

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ComArtSci Professor Honored with Gene Burd Outstanding Dissertation Award

Posted on: June 8, 2017

RM Award WideRachel Mourao, assistant professor of journalism at ComArtSci, received the Gene Burd Outstanding Dissertation Award from the International Communication Association (ICA) this year.

“It’s very special,” said Mourao. “You spend a year working on a project, exclusively working on a dissertation, so it’s nice to know that in some way you did good work. It’s a nice way to finish a cycle.”

Mourao was a journalism P.h.D student at the University of Texas at Austin when she met Gene Burd, an associate professor emeritus. She studied under Steve Reese, the associate dean for academic affairs for the Moody College of Communication.

Mourao’s dissertation research focused on a wave of protests in Brazil from 2013-2015, which started out small, but evolved into massive right-wing demonstrations with elite support. She studied how journalists navigated this transformation to cover the protests, what influenced their work and how they made sense of the political strife.

Mourao’s findings contradict literature gathered in the U.S. and Europe that found news portrayal of protesters to be negative.

“The stories focus on spectacle and violence, and some argue that comes from an ideological resistance that journalists have to protesters,” Mourao said. “The story I found was different— it was the opposite of that.”

The majority of the reporters in Mourao’s study were against the demonstrations, especially in 2015, yet their coverage was supportive of the protests.

“It’s really indicative of Brazil— what really drove negative or positive portrayal of protesters was how aligned the protesters were with official sources,” Mourao said.

For example, if there were official sources, meaning elected officials or those appointed by elected officials, that were supportive of the protesters, the coverage of the demonstration would be supportive, regardless of the journalist's personal views.

From Reporting to Research

Mourao was born in Brazil and worked there for several years as a reporter, where she witnessed many of the problems she has encountered in her research. She said her research is a way for her to give back to Brazil.

“I knew I wanted to write something that would shed light on some of the issues faced by the press in developing countries, which are sometimes different and sometimes similar to issues faced by the press in the United States and Europe, where most studies focus,” Mourao said. “My main goal was to show that some of the processes that we take for granted here or that seem really evident in the literature produced in developed countries do not always work the same way in less developed nations.”

Mourao said there is lot of criticism of the press in Brazil, such as claims that the media self-censors and their coverage is against those under the poverty line. As a journalist, she did not see this criticism reflected in the newsroom. Now, her research aims to explain why and how journalists’ coverage reflects the beliefs of those in power.  

The Next Step: Broadening the Research

Mourao used content analysis to examine the way the mainstream press covered the demonstrations and compared that to survey data she gathered from journalists. She also has a third element that she hasn’t used yet— the journalists’ tweets.

“I want to know if the coverage they sent on social media is different than what they produced for mainstream newspapers,” Mourao said, “If it is, then there are different norms and expectations of social media. If you are producing a type of content for your employer, and then you are putting out something else for your personal brand, then there are some influences there. So that’s what’s next for me.”

Mourao’s studies focused on the mainstream press, elite journalists and big newspapers from the urban centers of Brazil. She hopes to expand her research by studying how journalists in the poor regions of Brazil cover protests.

“We don’t have a lot of access to [the journalists],”said Mourao. “I have a lot of access to them via survey, but the stories they write are harder to get.”

Mourao said she is still working on dividing the dissertation into smaller studies. She presented two of the papers at the 67th Annual Conference of the ICA. She will be presenting one more at the 2017 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

By Rianna N. Middleton

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ComArtSci Professor Researches Media’s Influence on Teens

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Morgan_Ellithorpe_WideMorgan Ellithorpe, assistant professor of advertising and public relations at ComArtSci, partnered with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania to study how risky behaviors portrayed in the media, such as alcohol and tobacco use, sex and violence, are repeated by teenagers.

Take for example, shows like Empire, Narcos and Game of Thrones. Ellithorpe said teenagers see their favorite characters drinking alcohol, doing drugs and/or being violent in multiple episodes and come to think that this is normal behavior.

“My job is to figure out which adolescents are more likely to repeat the risky behaviors they see in the media, what kinds of media are more or less likely to influence behavior and what we can do to decrease the likelihood that these kinds of things will transfer from media to adolescent behavior,” Ellithorpe said.

Media Consumption Differences Across Racial and Ethnic Lines

Ellithorpe and her colleagues have published several research papers on the issue and she presented on the topic at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). Ellithorpe said their research has shown that there are racial and ethnic differences in media consumption.

“We know that black, Hispanic and white adolescents watch different kinds and amounts of media, and the media they watch portrays different risk behaviors to different extents,” Ellithorpe said.

For example, Ellithorpe and her colleagues have found that black youth watch more media than their Hispanic or white counterparts and the shows they watch are more likely to include black characters, who are more likely to be involved in sex and alcohol use than white characters. Despite these facts, the team has found that black teenagers seem to be less influenced by media than white teenagers.

Ellithorpe said that, in the past, similar studies did not include media that was relevant to black teenagers, such as television shows with black characters. However, even with the inclusion of this type of media, she has found that black teenagers still show lower levels of media influence than white teenagers. Ellithorpe challenges future research to confirm these findings and help solve the puzzle.

Research Findings Consistent with the CDC

The researchers have also found that drinking alcohol before or during sexual intercourse is common among adolescents and young adults, which is consistent with similar findings by the CDC.

The combination of alcohol use and sexual behavior is the most common behavioral risk combination in television and movies,” Ellithorpe said. “We know that drinking alcohol before sexual behavior increases sexual risk taking and susceptibility to accidental pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, so it is really important to understand the who, when and why of this behavior.”

Hope for the Future

Ellithorpe hopes that her research will positively impact the lives of young people.

“I hope that stakeholders in adolescent health and wellbeing —  from policy-makers to health organizations to physicians and parents — will be able to use this information gleaned from our research to reduce the negative impacts of mediated risk on adolescent behavior,” Ellithorpe said.

In the future, Ellithorpe hopes to explore the role of social media on influencing adolescent behavior.

“Adolescents and young adults are very often posting on social media about television content and we are exploring the possibility that this social media posting could be a way to intervene in the negative influence of television risk behavior,” Ellithorpe said.

Additionally, Ellithorpe hopes to see more research in the area of media targeted at specific racial and ethnic groups, such as Spanish-language programming.

“This is a growing area of scholarship that really needs more research to understand how this media is different from mainstream media, who is watching these kinds of media and the influence exposure to this kind of media has on cognition and behavior,” Ellithorpe said.

By Rianna N. Middleton

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MSU to Partner with Indian Media Giant, Helping Local Farmers

Posted on: March 14, 2017


This article was originally published on MSU Today 

The project involves the university’s communication and agriculture experts and the Ramoji Media Group, a multi-media giant that reaches some 620 million Indians with television stations, films, newspapers and online media.

The Hyderabad-based Ramoji is launching a new channel for farmers struggling to feed a growing population. MSU will help Ramoji identify stories about agricultural innovations that can help meet climate change, drought, flooding and other production challenges.

The partnership includes an exchange of materials between MSU and the media company, such as education and research, publications, academic information and media content. MSU faculty and research scholars aim to work with producers at RFC to create television programming in multiple Indian languages.

“This project is an important intersection of content, distribution and expertise,” said Amol Pavangadkar, director of Sandbox Studios and senior specialist with media and information in MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “MSU knows agriculture and communication and RFC has the creative programming capacity and reach needed to engage farmers and other stakeholders.”

MSU officials from the collegamol-pavangadkar_lges of Communication Arts and Sciences, Agricultural and Natural Resources, Education, Engineering and Business, as well as International Studies and Programs and MSU Extension, signed an agreement to work on the project during a recent visit to India. They met with government, higher education, foundation and corporate executives and reviewed partnership options. Each college has submitted development ideas, research and concepts for consideration to pitch to RFC for future programming.

“This cross-continental partnership, involving a media empire and a higher educational institution, is unusual in that complementary institutional strengths are being leveraged to address global issues,” said Satish Udpa, executive vice president. “The goals of the partnership are truly aligned with the rich traditions of MSU in transforming lives and advancing knowledge.”

The project will also benefit from The Food Fix, a multi-media news service produced by MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, that reports on food systems innovation as part of MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

“We’re looking forward to helping Ramoji identify and produce similar stories,” said David Poulson, senior associate director of MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. “The kind of research MSU supports provides plenty of material about safely producing and distributing food. These important stories need to be told globally.”

The project also continues the long relationship between RFC and MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Science, established by Pavangadkar through his study abroad program. The students undertake production workshops and seminars on Indian and world cinema and translate their experiences in India into a script for a short film, which is then produced and premiered at the end of their trip.

“The MSU partnership with Ramoji Film City offers a number of opportunities for collaboration,” said Prabu David, dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “With a reach of more 600 million people through cable TV channels in 14 languages, RFC offers a big audience for MSU researchers in areas such as education, agriculture, health, entrepreneurship and childhood development.”

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