University News

Digital scholarship lab supports visual learning

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab will be open for classes and individual student use in the Rockefeller Library this month. Featuring 12 55-inch high-resolution LED panels, the seven-foot high, 16-foot long “video wall” provides high-quality imaging capability to Brown faculty and students, according to a University press release. 

Classes are starting to use the lab as early as this week, and the space will be open for student use later this month, said Patrick Rashleigh, the library’s newly appointed data visualization coordinator, who will oversee the lab.

“We’re all used to projectors,” he said, “but classroom projectors get kind of fuzzy when you enlarge an image.”

The monitors in the lab use 24 million pixels to provide the highest resolution imaging available on campus. Each of the 12 seats in front of the display includes a cord that can plug into any laptop. The laptop’s display is then converted into a high-resolution image that can be shown on the monitors. There are numerous configurations capable for display, and up to 12 different computers can be projected at the same time.

The sound-proof lab includes a surround sound audio system and two cameras with video conferencing capabilities. There will also be two additional touch-screen monitors that can be linked to the display or used independently, said Harriet Hemmasi, University librarian. 

“It’s to the extreme,” Hemmasi said. The lab is a state-of-the-art viewing and analytical space, she said. 

The display wall holds many additional uses and possibilities, such as turning microscopic images from the biological sciences into macroscopic images that are more easily observed. The wall can also be an exhibition space for digital art. The lab can connect its display to other places on campus, such as the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for Creative Arts, Hemmasi said. 

The library is planning to offer a prize to the student who thinks of the most creative use of the lab, Hemmasi said. A timeline has not yet been set for the contest. 

“The lab is a very flexible facility that promotes comparison, discussion and interpretation,” said Andrew Ashton, director of library digital technologies. “It goes far beyond.”

“What is a library? It’s not just books anymore,” Hemmasi said. “It’s a space for production, interpretation, creative use of technology and integrated technology.”

The idea for the lab came out of a research project in 2007, Hemmasi said. Andy van Dam, professor of computer science, and Massimo Riva, professor of Italian studies, were working on a digitization of the Garibaldi Panorama, she said. Measuring 4.5 feet high and 273 feet long, the 360-degree painting is one of the longest in the world, according to a 2007 University press release. 

Van Dam, Riva, Hemmasi and others viewed the digitized image on a coffee table-sized touch screen, but it was only usable by a small number of people, Hemmasi said. When studying the image became difficult, they used a TV screen instead.

“The big screen became the receptacle, and the project became more collaborative as a result,” Hemmasi said. The team then came up with the idea for the Digital Scholarship Lab.

“It’s a very collaborative space where you can work together as a class to interact with an image,” Rashleigh said.

The library submitted a proposal to Patrick Ma P’14, who expressed great interest in the project. Ma, Corporation trustee Cathy Halstead and one anonymous donor funded the lab, Hemmasi said.

“It was expensive, but it was a good investment of funds,” Hemmasi said, though she declined to provide the total cost of building the lab.

As the data visualization coordinator, Rashleigh said he will make sure the lab runs smoothly, provide expertise for the teaching aspect of the display and explore the use of visual means of communication, he said.

The library plans to hire a student to help oversee and run the lab, he said.

“We’re still experimenting, and we want others to experiment as well,” Rashleigh said, adding that the lab’s website launch is imminent, and all information will be available through the University Library’s website.

“The production of new kinds of scholarship like visual literacy is becoming increasingly more important,” Hemmasi said. “We have to recognize that people learn in different ways all around us. The visual and multimedia cannot be ignored.”