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Student Research and Activities

Graphic Novel Analysis Projects 

Students from Andrew Roback’s LIT 301 course, The Graphic Novel, enjoyed a most unique final project last term.  Their task was to scan in a page from a graphic novel they had read in class and a page from another graphic novel (either read in class or independently) and analyze and compare the formal and aesthetic elements of each page. They then created a conference-style poster and wrote a companion essay that included independent research and a “walk through” of their poster design choices. The posters were displayed in the Siegel Hall lobby from early December until the first week of February.

“As a genre, comics are often thought of as children’s fare devoted to superheroes in tights,” Roback said. “In actuality, comics date back to the earliest cave drawings, and graphic novels, orlong-form comics, deal with profound issues.”

For instance, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer prize-winning MAUS (1991) describes the horrors of the Holocaust, survivor’s guilt, and the strained relationship between an adult Spiegelman and his elderly father (a Holocaust survivor).  Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir, Persepolis (2005), chronicles the coming of age story of a young girl during the Iranian Cultural Revolution and her difficulties reintegrating in Iran after studying abroad in Western Europe. Roback commented on one of his personal favorites, Joyce Farmer’s Special Exits (2010), which documents a daughter’s care for her elderly parents in the waning years of their life, saying “Anyone who has cared for an aging parent or grandparent would be deeply moved by this story.”

For the poster project, students were asked to use an image manipulation program like Photoshop to highlight formal elements of comics such as panel size and arrangement , the use of symbols, and the use of textual elements, to name just a few of the many formal conventions students studied.

“The assignment was challenging,” Roback said, “in that it asked them to synthesize their knowledge of the formal conventions of comics with their individual take on authors’ aesthetic choices with relation to the subject material those authors covered in their graphic novels.”

Each student wrote a companion essay and linked to it via QR code that, when scanned by a smartphone with a QR reader, directs the person viewing the poster to the student’s companion essay published on the course website.

“I’m very proud of the student’s work,” Roback said. “They all put a great deal of effort into this project and made it their own. The feedback from everyone I talked to has been very positive, and I think this highlighted the fact that students in the Humanities do great work that is technologically savvy and engaging. We don’t just have our heads buried in books.”

Click on any of the posters here to view the full-size version. 

Joy Robinson (Ph.D. Student, TECH) researches Communication, Leadership, and Virtual Teams

Joy Robinson is working on her Ph.D. in technical communication with Karl Stolley, associate professor. Her dissertation, “Communication, Leadership, and Virtual Teams,” is an experiment in how communication can provide viable insight into the leadership roles at work inside virtual teams, and problems with interpersonal interactions (e.g., poor trust, lack of nonverbal communication cues, no status and social cues); cultural challenges (e.g., intermixing of cultures, ill–matched expectations, inherent biases); coordination and logistics issues (e.g., temporal differences); and technology competency problems (e.g., technophobia, poor proficiency, nerd jealousy) (Kayworth & Leidner, 2002).

It is thought that leadership must, at least implicitly, address these challenges in order for any team to be successful (Ebrahim et al., 2009). However, due to the varying types of roles, behaviors, and leadership functions, there are few specific, identifiable variables that directly correlate with success and leadership.

Face–to–face teaming is a natural human phenomenon; we know many things about how teams operate, how they are led, and the factors that influence team success. However in virtual teams, where communication is predominately via ICTs (information and communications technology including email, forums, voice–over IP, land line phones, chat, etc.), little is known about the roles leaders play in informing success in teams.

An extensive repertoire of leadership roles is the hallmark of an effective leader according to behavioral complexity theory. In this experiment—a case study of two virtual teams playing World of Warcraft for six weeks—Robinson will examine how virtual teams are led with or without an appointed leader, and how effective leaders use a menu of specific roles to bring about successful teams. This work is accomplished by mapping the communication exchanges within each team to the various leader roles. Ultimately, Robinson hopes to be able to associate specific leader roles with team performance factors.

Jing Gao Studies International Voices in IMDb

Jing Gao (M.S., TCID, 2012) finished her master's program in technical communication and information design. Working with Jahna Otterbacher, assistant professor of communication and information, her master's thesis is a case study of the International Movie Database (IMDb) to investigate if U.S. and international reviewers write differently.

This work was motivated by her interest in online intercultural communication. Gao wanted to know whether international voices find an audience online and whether these voices contribute a different perspective. The results show that there are some discernible differences between U.S. and international reviewers but overall the international reviewers who contribute similar content find larger audiences. Her future work intends to investigate if international reviewers change their writing style to appeal to their audiences.