- We create innovative learning experiences
which elegantly integrate technology.
- We develop meaningful, emotionally appealing
projects and research prototypes and invent new media genres.
- We design experiences.
The Comm Tech Lab is an association of four MSU
faculty members: Darcy Drew Greene from the School of Journalism,
Carrie Heeter from the Department of Telecommunication, Norm Lownds
from the Department of Horticulture and Brian Winn from the Department
The Comm Tech Lab is jointly administered by the
Dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and the Vice
Provost for Libraries, Computing and Technology. We have close associations
with Virtual University Design and Technology group, the Michigan
4H Children's Garden, and the MIND Labs.
Comm Tech Lab people and projects are funded by
contracts and grants.
HISTORY OF THE LAB
Founded in 1984 to explore the potential of emerging communication
technologies from a multidisciplinary perspective, the Comm Tech
Lab has grown and evolved.
Initially CTL research focused on viewership impacts
of new 36 channel cable television, and user reactions to VideoText
systems, such as Knight-Ridder's Florida Viewtron trial and the
French miniTel system. A 1987 communication experiment conducted
by the CTL in cooperation with NASA, called SF2: Science Fiction*Science
Fact, was the first live nationwide television broadcast to link
public television with an online audience which participated via
In the late 1980s, the emergence of HyperCard
on the Macintosh placed interactive multimedia authoring into the
hands of artists and designers. Interactivity plus multimedia was
(and is) a fascinating new frontier, and the CTL began its ongoing
work on creating new genres of communication. Our earliest hypermedia
project, Mission to Mars, was the first ever educational CD-ROM
to be marketed by Intellimation. We had one hundred megabyte hard
drive, and had to back up the 45 MB of content onto floppy disks.
Mission to Mars used the metaphor and direct manipulation. The design
also included a sound effect for every mouse click, totaling more
than 200 different sounds. M.A. thesis research found that lots
of different sounds was preferred by users to silent mouse clicks
and to simple beep feedback.
Following Mission to Mars, Comm Tech Lab hypermedia
design work switched to funded projects, such as PhotoFile for Dow
Corning (a multimedia photographic database written in HyperCard
using write-once videodisc) and the ClickOn MSU kiosk for Student
Affairs and Services (written in Director 2.0 with videodisc). Concurrent
with the funded hypermedia design work, the Comm Tech Lab conducted
research on users of consumer VR games and developed several "mirror
world" VR prototypes to study different aspects of the VR user
experience. At CyberArts in Los Angeles in 1991, the Comm Tech Lab,
working with Enter Corporation, developed, exhibited and studied
"Undersea Adventure," the first simple mirror world VR
experience that integrated 3D video with second person VR. One year
later at SIGGRAPH in Chicago, "Once Upon a 3D Time" took
user interface and genre development several steps further, again
integrating 3D video. One year after that, the CTL constructed a
20 foot whale to exhibit "Hands on Hawaii" using our experimental
Real Hands, Virtual Worlds interface.
Our funded hypermedia design work has been repeatedly
recognized for quality and innovation. The lab's Personal Communicator
CD-ROM, software that provides deaf children the tools to communicate
via signing, speech synthesis, and digital video with their deaf
and hearing peers, won the 1995 Discover Magazine Software Innovation
of the Year Award. The lab became a full-fledge hypermedia research
and design center, focussing on innovative designs that reveal and
advance the potential of hypermedia for communication, education
and experience . The AWARDS section of the Comm Tech Lab web site
lists more than 50 of the awards and exhibits our projects have
A variety of related research projects are underway,
including technology-enhanced learning, the impact of gender on
game design, learning from games, and mixed real and virtual realities.
The lab continues to live on and to push the edge of communication
The scope of Comm Tech Lab projects and the distinctive
expertise of the gentle, creative, talented people that live and
work here (well, we like each other a lot) are tributes to the magic
that emerging technologies enable if one is open to their possibilities
and motivated to work really hard.