Tag Archives: research

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 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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Scholarly Analysis Among Top Papers at International Conference

Posted on: April 1, 2016

Amanda_HolmstromA paper based on interdisciplinary research and written by an MSU associate professor of communication will be among the most highly ranked presentations at the 2016 annual conference of the International Communication Association.

Mandy Holmstrom's scholarly analysis will be showcased as one of four top papers in interpersonal communication at the June 9-13 ICA conference in Fukuoka, Japan. The paper "'So that's how she do': Supportive messages female offenders receive from parole officers" is part of a larger interdisciplinary research program focused on improving supervision for women on probation and parole. The program involves MSU investigators from the departments of communication, criminal justice and psychology and is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

"We were all surprised and excited to be selected," says Holmstrom. "We were picked from a large field of submissions, and it's a great opportunity to get the word out about MSU's research and programs to an international audience."

The International Communication Association (ICA) is an academic association for scholars interested in the study, teaching and application of all aspects of human and mediated communication. The 50-year-old organization started as a small association of U.S. researchers and has become international in scope with more than 4,500 members in 80 countries.

Holmstrom's paper presented findings of a recent study that examined the content and effects of supportive messages that women on parole or probation receive from their probation and parole officers. The study is among the first of its type to specifically examine supportive messages from parole and probation officers related to the use of drugs, alcohol and substance abuse among female offenders.

"The study found that women are receiving quite a lot of supportive messages from their parole and probation officers, and that they see it as being helpful," Holmstrom said. "But the study also showed there are still a number of gaps in their social support network that could be filled."

Communication Professor Sandi Smith, also director of the MSU Health and Risk Communication Center, is among the study's four investigators and will be traveling to Japan to present the paper. She mentioned that the preliminary findings outlined in the paper might lead to subsequent research focused on the effect of social support messages between probation and parole officers and female offenders.

In addition to Smith, other investigators on the Improving Supervision for Women Offenders project include Merry Morash, professor of criminal justice, Jennifer Cobbina, associate professor of criminal justice, and Deborah Kashy, professor of psychology. Beth Adams, doctoral student in the department of criminal justice, is also a coauthor on the paper and will travel to Japan with Dr. Smith.

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MSU Hosts Organizational Communication Mini-Conference

Posted on: October 16, 2015

organizational communication mini conference logoThe 2015 Organizational Communication Mini-Conference (OCMC), which showcases and supports the talents of graduate students pursuing research about organizational communication, is being hosted by MSU’s Department of Communication Oct. 16-18 at Brody Hall on MSU’s campus.

The event gives scholars the opportunity to present their dissertations or other projects and to receive feedback. Students also can network with peers and faculty.

“On one hand, presenting at the conference helps students improve as scholars and exposes them to new perspectives. On the other hand, the conference also has a social function,” said Shannon Cruz, an MSU graduate student in Communication who is the graduate student coordinator for the OCMC.

Abby Rainer, a first-year doctoral student in Communication, is the only Michigan State University student presenting at this year's mini-conference. She will be presenting her thesis project during the poster session, scheduled for 1:15 to 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17, in Room 134 of Brody Hall.

Rainer’s research explores the nature and outcomes of professional advice and support, especially that which aids the development of leaders and organizations, the navigation of workplace relationships, and the handling of workplace adversities. Her recent projects have explored professional advice and support given to employees facing retirement, job performance failures, and family planning-related stress.

"The OCMC is beneficial in so many ways," Rainer said. "Students get the chance to exchange research-related ideas, form and maintain important professional relationships, learn how to network in a professional but collegial setting, and be directly involved with where the field is going.

"Also, it allows faculty and students from schools around the country as well as different methodological backgrounds (e.g., quantitative and rhetorical) to meet and discuss present research, career opportunities, and future organizational communication research."

The OCMC first began in 1988, making this year’s conference the 28th annual. This will be the fifth time the event will be held on Michigan State’s campus.

Michigan State welcomes participants of the OCMC and encourages graduate students studying communication to take part in the mini-conference in the years to come.

Information on parking, lodging and food for conference participants can be found on the 2015 Organizational Communication Mini-Conference web page.

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Faculty Members Named Sustainability Fellows

Posted on: August 3, 2015

Sustainability banner

Two College of Communication Arts and Sciences faculty members have been named 2015 MSU Sustainability Fellows for their environmental sustainability-themed online survey of MSU undergraduate students.

John Besley, Associate Professor and Ellis N. Brandt Chair in Public Relations in the Department of Advertising + Public Relations, and Bruno Takahashi, Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the School of Journalism and Department of Communication and Research Director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, worked on the initial sustainability survey along with Adam Zwickle, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Program and the School of Criminal Justice in the College of Social Science.

The survey includes questions gauging environmental sustainability and scientific knowledge, norms and practices surrounding sustainability related behaviors, and attitudes toward environmental responsibility. The plan is to make the survey an annual project.

bruno-takahashi feature

Bruno Takahashi

“The Sustainability Office, specially Ann Erhardt (Director of MSU Sustainability), has recognized the importance of evidence-based communication. In that sense, we are hoping the results of the survey will help inform the communication initiatives at MSU,” Takahashi said. “From a research perspective, there are very few empirical studies examining educational settings that attempt to understand the factors that explain the engagement in sustainability behaviors by students. We are trying to push the envelope in the study of environmentalism, behaviors, and well being among students.”

Data from the initial survey was collected at the end of the spring 2015 semester. Students were randomly selected to participate with more than 2,800 completed surveys received.

The research team plans to produce a report for the Sustainability Office with some recommendations and are working on two academic studies, one on the relationship between values and environmental behaviors, and another one examining differences in environmental behaviors based on cohorts (freshman, sophomore, etc.).

“The assumption for the second one is that students' attitudes, knowledge about science and the environment, perception of social norms, among other factors change as they move forward with their degrees, and that this affects behaviors,” Takahashi said.

Plans are already underway for a 2016 survey as well as identifying areas for targeted campaigns.

john-besley_feature

John Besley

“We want to make the survey an annual thing so that we can use it to track the impact of the college experience on students’ views and behavior,” Besley said.

MSU Sustainability’s fellowship program uses the MSU campus as a laboratory to address issues related to greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, waste reduction, water conservation, sustainable transportation, education, engagement, social responsibility and more.

The program funds research projects that focus on aspects of environmental responsibility and sustainability specific to MSU.

"The work is driven by real challenges faced by the university," Erhardt said. “The fellowship program connects researchers with campus decision-makers in order to effectively plan for the future sustainability of MSU's campus."

For more information on these and other sustainability efforts, see the MSU Sustainability website.

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Wyche to Explore Technology Use and Innovation in Kenya

Posted on: April 1, 2015

Entering Kenya

Department of Media and Information Assistant Professor Susan Wyche's research is being supported by one of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development awards, the foundation's most prestigious award for junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar. Wyche will use the five-year, $582,613 grant to study technological innovation at sites in rural and urban Kenya.

"Technological advances in computing are traditionally understood as coming from industrialized nations, or those that invest heavily in technology research and development," Wyche said. "However, centers of information and communication technology innovation are shifting in the world. Emerging economies, such as Kenya, are no longer simply the recipients of innovative design from industrialized nations – the things we're developing. They're actually developing innovative technologies that are being adopted by the rest of the world.

M-Pesa"In the face of limited technical infrastructures and meager incomes, 'bottom of the pyramid' communities – or the 2.5 billion emerging economy residents who live on less than $2.50 per day – develop ingenious strategies to navigate these constraints when using technology. These workarounds are less obvious to people living in technology-rich environments, such as the U.S., and they have motivated innovative computing applications that are now used worldwide.

An example of this phenomenon is Kenya's revolutionary mobile banking system, M-Pesa (the "M" stands for mobile and "Pesa" is Swahili for money). For nearly a decade, Kenya has been leading the way with this innovative mobile phone technology, which allows you to send money using your mobile phone.

"When you are working in environments where access to electricity isn't everywhere, where people live on much less money than we do here, it spurs creative ideas," Wyche said. "This project is about understanding those creative ideas and how they can motivate solution to globally connected problems in computing."

Susan Wyche main 2Wyche's research will investigate the relationship between the bottom of the pyramid communities' interaction with computing and the discovery of technological solutions to globally connected problems in human-computer interaction (HCI), such as issues of sustainability, managing natural resources, recovering from natural disasters, diversifying online participation and providing employment opportunities.

One goal of this research is to lead to improved models of innovation and to advance our understanding of where and how transformative ideas emerge. It also seeks to fill a gap in knowledge regarding how constraints that exist in the United States, but are more visible in sub-Saharan Africa, can motivate innovations in computing.

"The challenges facing society – from managing natural resources and recovering from natural disasters to diversifying online participation and providing employment for growing populations – are immense, urgent and globally connected. Results from this CAREER research have the potential to substantially increase the number of technological solutions to these problems," Wyche said.

Susan Wyche KenyaWyche chose to do her research in Kenya because it is considered the tech center of East Africa right now and she has been working there since 2007.

As part of the grant, an interdisciplinary design studio course will be established where students will collaboratively design concepts based on Wyche's research. The course will be taught at both MSU and at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is intended to enable faculty early in their career to build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

Wyche's CAREER grant will begin in 2016. During the summer of 2016, she and a student will do field work in rural Kenya and the slums of Nairobi where they will interview people and observe how they use technology.

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