Researching Communication that Changes People and Organizations

From proteins signaling cells to the global introduction of a new technology, communication is ubiquitous. New capabilities allow us to analyze communication instantaneously and gather data on information processes previously too small to be known or too big to be effectively understood. The challenge with this growth is to assess what is useful; comprehend how it might create, enable, or resist change; and determine how it instructs us in what it means to be human.

WPI's writing faculty members are designers, anthropologists, and philosophers. Core research occurs in linguistics, web design, game design, philosophy, and pedagogy. Here are two areas where WPI's writing faculty members are working:

Medical Humanities and Digital Diagnostic Narratives

As columnist and physician Lisa Sanders put it, “every patient tells a story.” Our story is how we make sense of life, and how we understand and transmit experiences that can be overwhelming, especially those of ill health. Stories continue to mediate and transform medical technologies, helping physicians and patients define “diseased” and “normal” states.

Intentionally and unintentionally, patients’ stories are being overwhelmed by a health system in transition. Some of the greatest changes in health care will be enacted by the wide-scale adoption of systems known as Electronic Medical Records (EMR), used by clinicians to structure patient interactions. This digitization of patient narrative is a crucial moment for humanities scholars who have long defended and improved this key element of medical care, and for patients who could lose the ability to compose an individualized story. The Digital Diagnostic Narrative is a new and innovative focus for writing researchers productively collaborating with faculty in biology, biomedical engineering, information technology, industrial engineering, and computer programming.

Computation Communication

Analytics is a crucial new area of data-intensive communication research. Integrating data mining, knowledge discovery, systems modeling, societal dynamics, and visual design, analytics is a meeting space for science, technology, and humanity. It is a field in natural alignment with WPI’s educational and research mission which emphasizes humanity and technology.

In WPI's new Analytics Lab created in partnership with Dimensional Insight, faculty members develop and test new methods for accessing and examining data; establishing new metrics to identify associations within data; theorizing, developing, and testing methods for analyzing “big data”; exploring the application of analytics for organizations and business; and conducting research for clients. Analytics is also a philosophical problem about intentional knowledge, how we understand and create meaning, and how we pursue knowledge and its validity. Data mining can produce and visually report valuable associations. In fields like biology, bioinformatics, genetics, and pathology, these associations can lead to new knowledge. In organizations, analytics promise descriptive, predictive, or preventative recommendations for action. The field has broad cross-disciplinary application in theoretical, applied, and methodological pursuits.