Prof Explores Vocabulary, Knowledge in Twitter Project

altered-pocket-dictionary02In her latest media project, EMAC associate professor xtine burrough used Twitter as a stage to explore the ideas of knowledge and the self.

“@IKnowTheseWords: A Twitterbot Textual Performance” details Burrough’s multi-year project aggregating and archiving all the words she knows in the form of tweets.

In an effort to quantify her existing vocabulary, Burrough programmed a twitterbot, an account that sends out automated posts, to tweet the Oxford English Dictionary’s “Word of the Day” daily. She’d then interact with the bot, informing the artificial user if the words were within her personal vocabulary.

Burrough said the project began in 2004 with a pocket dictionary and a bottle of Wite-Out. She would flip through the dictionary crossing out the words she didn’t know.

“I started the project in 2004 with the idea that I would transform a pocket dictionary into a uniquely personal artist book,” she said. “I had been thinking about how a person’s vocabulary is at once the tool she uses for self-expression and a cultural self-portrait. Put differently, a personal collection of words, or a wordhord, reflects the person activating and changing it. I wanted to see if I created a document of my wordhord I would be the same person between when I started the project and when it ended.”

Unsure of how to measure the project’s progress, Burrough stopped working in the dictionary a few months after started the project.

“The task of covering words was tedious and I couldn’t envision an end-game for the project,” she said. “What would happen to it? I was stuck on the conceptual problem of the work being such a static form of representation. So I put the project in a box, and that box has moved with me to every new apartment and house during the last 11 years. I found the dictionary again after I moved to Texas last summer.”

After attending a Feminist Maker Space session, led by Dr. Kim Knight and organized by the Feminist Research Collective at UT Dallas, Burrough wanted to revisit and improve her project by making it automated and accessible to the public.

“Rethinking this project as a continuous twitter feed, as a call and response between my bot and myself addressed the problem of the book as a static site of representation,” Burrough said. “Once I had found a way to rethink that missing element, the project came to life. In retrospect, a Twitterbot seems so obvious but I wouldn’t have though of it, or of revisiting this project, if I weren’t sitting in a Feminist Maker Space session wondering what I would do with a Twitterbot.”

The article is available online, and it was published by Persona Studies — a peer-reviewed journal that explores the construction of the public self through online culture, pop culture and everyday life.

The bot is active on


Anne Balsamo Appointed Inaugural Dean of ATEC School

Dr. Anne Balsamo
Dr. Anne Balsamo

Dr. Anne Balsamo has been named as the inaugural dean of the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at UT Dallas.

Balsamo is a scholar, educator, entrepreneur and designer of new media whose research and interactive projects explore the cultural possibilities of emergent media technologies. Her recent book, Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work, offers a manifesto for rethinking the role of culture in the process of technological innovation in the 21st century.

Balsamo moves to UT Dallas from the New School in New York City, where she served as dean of the School of Media Studies. Prior to her appointment at the New School, she held tenured faculty appointments at the Georgia Institute of Technology and, later, at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism of the University of Southern California.

The Board of Regents of The University of Texas System authorized the creation of the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) in February of 2015. The programs and faculty of this new UT Dallas school, now based in the new Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, were developed as a visionary initiative of Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, in collaboration with the founding director of the program, Dr. Thomas Linehan.

Their vision was of synergistic collaborations between scholars of animation, game design, and communications mediated though new technologies, engineers and computer scientists, artists and scholars of design, and faculty in the many dimensions of communications. Over the last decade, this vision has been embraced by students and faculty alike, and the dynamic growth of ATEC enrollment and program faculty led to the creation of the new school.

“The creation of our new School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication provided us with the opportunity to recruit a new dean, and in so doing to bring additional administrative and scholarly expertise to UT Dallas,” said Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, president ad interim of UT Dallas. “A search committee, chaired by Dr. Andy Blanchard, dean of Undergraduate Education, and assisted by the executive search firm of Korn Ferry, solicited, reviewed and interviewed an impressive array of outstanding scholar-administrator candidates as we searched for our inaugural dean. Dr. Balsamo emerged from this process as the leading candidate, and after an intensive recruitment process she accepted the challenge and opportunity to lead this dynamic, still rapidly evolving, diverse community of faculty and students.”

Balsamo has been a leader in the growth of digital humanities in the United States, having served on the advisory board of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) since its founding in 2003. She and her research team have received several grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of the Digital Humanities to create interactive experiences for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. This research is widely considered as a model of digital humanities research that expands public awareness of important works of cultural heritage.

ATEC is a bold experiment in thinking differently about the future of STEM education that asserts the importance of the arts and humanities not only in the creation of new technologies, but also in the production of new knowledge that will be required of citizens of the 21st century.

Dr. Anne Balsamo,
inaugural dean of the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at UT Dallas

“ATEC is a bold experiment in thinking differently about the future of STEM education that asserts the importance of the arts and humanities not only in the creation of new technologies, but also in the production of new knowledge that will be required of citizens of the 21st century,” Balsamo said. “So informed, we seek wisdom from our cross-disciplinary conversations about how best to navigate dynamic and uncertain futures. This, to me, is the promise of ATEC. I am honored to have the opportunity to lead and help shape it so that we may realize this promise.”

Balsamo received her PhD in communications research in 1991 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she completed a dissertation that examined the cultural implications of emergent biotechnologies. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in psychology from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in 1981.

Balsamo has pursued her career in a diverse array of environments. She left her tenured faculty appointment in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture at Georgia Tech for a position as principal scientist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Subsequently she worked with the Stanford University Humanities Lab and, with former PARC colleagues, co-founded, Onomy Labs Inc., a Silicon Valley company providing technology design and fabrication to develop cultural technologies and signature interactives as narrative platforms for engaging storytelling.

In 1994, Balsamo joined the faculty of the University of Southern California as professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and in the Interactive Media Division of the School of Cinematic Arts. While at USC, she also directed the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, where she developed one of the first academic programs in multimedia scholarship across the curriculum. An expert in developing innovative pedagogies, Balsamo co-developed an alternative MOOC offered by an organization she co-founded called FemTechNet. The distributed learning experience, called a DOCC (Distribute Online Collaborative Course), now in its fourth year, involves dozens of instructors who collaborate to create learning activities addressing issues of women and STEAM, feminism and technology, and race and diversity in digital culture.

Her books have earned her prominence in the emerging field of digital humanities and public interactive technologies. In addition to her 2011 book Designing Culture, she is also the author of the 1996 bookTechnologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women.

Balsamo’s current work focuses on what she terms “public interactives,” and investigates the history and proliferation of interactive experiences in public spaces. She will establish a new lab at ATEC called the Public Interactives Research Lab that builds on the interdisciplinary strengths of the school. This lab will engage artists, designers, computer scientists and engineers in the design of new public interactives that will be available for use in various public spaces in the ATEC building.

Virtual Reality Scientist Wins CAREER Grant, Targets Training Programs

Dr. Ryan P. McMahan
Dr. Ryan McMahan

A prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support a UT Dallas computer scientist in exploring new ways that virtual reality can help companies improve their training programs and, ultimately, save lives.

Dr. Ryan McMahan, assistant professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, recently was awarded a $544,000, five-year grant to pursue a novel approach to workplace training using virtual reality (VR) technologies. The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program provides support for junior faculty who have demonstrated outstanding research and teaching skills.

“My approach is new, which is why I think I received the CAREER award,” McMahan said. “My argument is that virtual reality will never be as realistic as the real world. But there are things we can do in VR that you can’t do in the real world — things that can improve the training process.”

McMahan is researching one approach to virtual reality that renders unimportant or irrelevant information at a lower fidelity while rendering important training information in a high-fidelity manner. This approach effectively directs the trainee’s attention to the key virtual objects relevant to the current training step.

Another training method being investigated by McMahan uses a cause-and-effect technique called time warping. When a person makes a mistake, the system will fast-forward the simulation to show the consequence of that mistake.

Take, for example, a training scenario on the preparation of an operating room. The VR user might touch a sterile tool with a non-sterile hand, contaminating the entire surgery.

“If we fast-forward the simulation, you’ll see the patient being brought in, you’ll see the surgery begin and then you’ll see how that contamination spreads to the patient,” McMahan said. “Then we’ll rewind back just before your mistake and let you fix your mistake. We’re really highlighting the cause and effect of the different things you should be focusing on.”

Variations on the training research also will involve purposely introducing errors to test the breadth of the trainee’s knowledge, requiring the trainee to recall necessary objects before they appear within the virtual environment and only accepting correct physical movements to execute training tasks, despite real-world physics allowing a greater set of motions.

My argument is that virtual reality will never be as realistic as the real world. But there are things we can do in VR that you can’t do in the real world — things that can improve the training process

Dr. Ryan McMahan,
assistant professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communications

The VR training is intended to improve both cognitive and psychomotor skills.

Through another research grant, McMahan has been collaborating with Intuitive Surgical, the corporation that produces the da Vinci robot, to develop training solutions for robot-assisted operating room teams. He also has a collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) focused on the pre-shift inspections of off-highway trucks. McMahan will center his training research on these two areas.

“We focused on two domains so that we could demonstrate that our techniques can be applied to virtually any workplace situation,” McMahan said.

McMahan said his hope is that workers ultimately will learn more from the virtual reality training than from real-world exercises and that the VR training will be more efficient.

“If you can cut down on the time required to train people and, at the same time, improve the efficiency or the effectiveness of those trainings, then companies can save time and money while reducing injuries and deaths,” McMahan said. “We think we can positively impact a lot of industries in one fell swoop.”

Virtual reality provides computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional environment in which a person interacts in a seemingly real or physical way, typically by using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

McMahan is the 12th CAREER award holder in the Department of Computer Science. Other current and past recipients include Dr. Alvaro Cárdenas, Dr. Xiaohu Guo, Dr. Kevin Hamlen, Dr. Jason Jue, Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu, Dr. Zhiqiang Lin, Dr. Yang Liu, Dr. Andrian Marcus, Dr. Ravi Prakash, Dr. Balakrishnan Prabhakaran and Dr. Edwin Sha.

University Mourns Loss of Library Communications Manager, EMAC Alumna

Misty Hawley
Misty Hawley MA’13

The UT Dallas Eugene McDermott Library and colleagues across campus are mourning the loss of the library’s communications manager, Misty Hawley, who died Saturday of natural causes. She was 39.

Hawley MA’13 had coordinated the library’s communications needs since December 2013. During her tenure, the library expanded its hours and underwent extensive renovations in study and lounge areas.

Dr. Ellen Safley, dean of McDermott Library, said Hawley excelled in planning events that benefited faculty, staff and students.

“Misty’s writing and event-planning skills made everything better, and culminated in the recent Faculty Author Reception, which was widely applauded by those who attended,” Safley said.

Hawley also had served as assistant director of student media from 2010-2013, working with students at Radio UTD and UTD TV.

Chad Thomas, director of student media, said Hawley set high standards for students, who often looked to her for guidance in college, career and even relationship issues.

“She was a firm believer in tough love. And that clicked for so many students, who grew to see her as a mentor and advisor beyond the confines of radio and TV broadcasting,” Thomas said.

Nieves Reyes BA’14, former news director of UTD TV, described Hawley as an “incredible” woman whose door was always open to students.

She would be there for people when they needed help. Not only was she our advisor, but she was like a mother to me as well as everyone else at UTD TV and Radio UTD.

Nieves Reyes BA’14,
former news director of UTD TV

“She would be there for people when they needed help. Not only was she our advisor, but she was like a mother to me as well as everyone else at UTD TV and Radio UTD,” Reyes said. “She put us first, taking care of us in any possible way. She somehow brought us all together. We were family.”

Hawley, a native of Gladewater, Texas, earned bachelor’s degrees in broadcast journalism and political science at the University of North Texas. She worked 12 years as a TV producer before coming to UT Dallas in December 2010.

In fall 2013, she completed a master’s degree in emerging media and communication at UT Dallas.

Services are planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church, 300 West Upshur Ave., in Gladewater, Texas. Those who plan to attend the service should RSVP by 5 p.m. today, either by calling ext. 4328 or emailing

Celebrate Spring 2016 EMAC Graduates

EMAC Outstanding Capstone Finalists

Capstone_SP2016The Spring 2016 EMAC Capstone Celebration will take place Thursday, May 5 at 7:00 p.m. in the lobby of the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building. During this event, graduating students will share their capstone projects with the public and compete for outstanding capstone project awards. Following the formal presentations, audience members will get to engage with all students’ projects when all students share their work more informally during the showcase.

Congratulations to the ten undergraduate students nominated for the Outstanding Undergraduate Capstone award: Nil Arsala, Rafa Garcia, Brian McCollum, Leo Montemayor, Mashal Noor, Justin Ozuna, Katie Perez, Alexis Short, Allison Sparks, and Ryan Tyler. The four finalists, Arsala, Montemayor, Noor, and Tyler, will join our graduate students to make formal presentations and compete for the awards.

You may preview student projects using the following links, but we hope to see you at the Capstone Celebration to let our students impress you with their projects.