IMRL is a research laboratory that examines emerging ideas and technologies in digital media-based communication. In the past, it typically included faculty from Utah State University's technical communication probram and the college of engineering, plus a cadre of interns and student researchers. Its director and Principal Investigator is Dr. David Hailey, Professor Emeritus, currently located in Austin, Texas.
Researchers currently affiliated with Interactive Media Research Laboratory have been examining emerging digital communication technologies since 1989, when they produced the first online literature pedagogy journal using a modem-based bulletin board software (Major Software) for the University of New Mexico’s professional writing program. The interface was produced entirely using ASCII characters.
This began an uninterrupted process of examining emerging digital communication technologies for 28 years and that still continues today. Currently Dr. David Hailey, director of IMRL at Utah State University for 23 years and currently director of IMRL.org, is identifying and mapping all of the new genres invented for use in digital media. Much of the information you find on this site comes from that research.
Because the Internet was too slow for effective video-based instruction, between 1990 and 1997, IMRL focused kiosk-based instruction. This permitted high quality videos for effective demonstrations, especially valuable for step-by-step instructions and demonstrations. When developers were producing PDF-based instruction over the Internet, IMRL was producing high-resolution video, animation, and simulation-based instruction.
Number 1 is a Native American literature course developed in 1994-5, funded by US West. At the time, the Internet was very slow, so the project was produced for use on stand-alone computers (kiosks) using ToolBook software.
Number 2 is a 300 “page,” step-by-step instruction set (one of two) produced by Sandia National Laboratories. The only man in the U.S (currently working) who knew how to rig a nuclear weapons parachute was retiring and was not going to be replaced. SNL wanted to archive the process in case they needed it done in the future. For one of the chutes, the rigging process takes 40 hours. For the other, the process takes twice as long. The processes involved thousands of steps.
Number 3 is an animation showing the four cycles of a four cycle engine. It was produced for a thermodynamics class at Utah State University in 1997-8 and was funded by Iomega Corporation.
Number 4 is a video, in progress, of the teacher of record explaining how to identify, mathematically, the point where water becomes vapor. This project includes the entire 48 hours of lecture and demonstration for the class (plus and was used at the University of Texas at Tyler to allow students who had previously failed the course to take it again online. It was also used at Utah State University to reexamine specific lectures.
In time, the Internet became fast enough for high-speed, high-quality video, IMRL switched to producing Engineering instruction over the Internet. The list of courses built includes manufacturing engineering, heat transfer, electrical engineering for non-majors, intro to electrical engineering, statics and dynamics, and graduate level orbital mechanics.
In 1995, IMRL was principal investigator (PI) in developing the first Internet-based English composition class, and in 1996-7 it was PI for the development for the first online master’s in technical communication. For years, this master’s was recognized as one of the 4 best in the country.
Starting in 1996, the program was so early there was no good software for carrying an asynchronous course, so we developed our own, Syllabase. While this software was adequate for our purposes, it became vulnerable to hackers, so we ultimately abandoned it and adapted to BlackBoard.
We ultimately established that this method was preferable to face-to-face for graduate tech comm. courses. It allowed us to teach students as far away as Uzbekistan, Israel, Thailand, and Japan.
In 1997, usability studies were becoming all the rage. Our university set up its own usability lab, and developed a course in usability studies. At the same time, principals in IMRL noticed that while usability studies were excellent tools for evaluating navigation in a website, they represented only one source of information. They say nothing about quality of any text or about quality of metadata or code or design.
IMRL began investigating this problem, and immediately discovered that it was far worse than expectations. In one study of more than 100 professional writers, not one was able to identify and explain any of the glaring errors in the texts of a simple website. Ultimately, we identified the problem. The writers were evaluating texts without knowing what their genres were. Without knowing the genre, you cannot know what the text is supposed to do, and without knowing that, it is impossible to say whether the text is doing its job. For example, if you examine product descriptions on Amazon.com, you will notice that most people describe the product. Actually, “Product Description,” should be called “Marketing Description” or “Sales Description” because that is the only place on the page where the vendors can actually sell their product. The larger companies usually get it right, but the smaller ones always get it wrong.
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