Meet TAI Adjunct Professor Tom Edwards

Professor Tom Edwards is teaching capstone course ADV 4399 Advertising Campaigns for the Temerlin Advertising Institute this semester. Professor Edwards is the chief digital officer at Agency, Epsilon, where he oversees brand planning, research, data design, digital strategy, digital experience, social/CRM/email, innovation and media. He regularly publishes content and speaks on the future of marketing.

Professor Edwards was an adjunct faculty member of the virtual campus for Wayland Baptist University from 2003-2015. He also instructed Principles of Marketing, Advertising & Promotion, Global Marketing and Consumer Behavior. He has also guest lectured at University of Texas at Arlington, and prior to joining the TAI team he was a member of the SMU Digital Accelerator certification program faculty.

What made you want to become a professor?

I have spent the past 17 years in the marketing technology space. The rate of change associated with technology, its impact on consumer behavior and ultimately how we connect with consumers continues to outpace traditional academia’s ability to keep pace. I wanted to contribute and give back to the next generation of advertising professionals by bridging the gap theory and the practical application.

What is your background in the subject you teach?

I currently instruct the Advertising Campaigns course. Over my professional career I have worked on campaigns for hundreds of fortune 1000 brands (Citi, Starbucks, AT&T, GameStop, Activision, Hasbro, Frito-Lay to name a few) both domestic and international. My expertise is rooted in a deep understanding of technology, consumer behavior, data and intelligent systems such as artificial intelligence and the application of machine learning.

What has been your favorite memory from teaching for TAI so far?

The passion and creativity exhibited by the students and the staff and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and get to work, even when it’s in areas they may not be in their core area of focus.

What is your favorite part about being a professor?

I have instructed thousands of students over the past 15 years across a few universities and my favorite part is the open dialogue with the students. Getting to hear their perspectives and thoughts and to see their work evolve over the course of the semester are incredibly gratifying.

What made you want to go into advertising? How did you get where you are in your career?

I started my advertising career during the dot com days of the late 90’s. I had a passion for technology and all things digital. As graphical user interfaces and connectivity began to spread, so did the need to create engaging digital experiences.

The alignment of marketing and technology have been a key foundation for the advancement of my career. I have worked in interactive agencies, start-ups, enterprise software companies and large agency holding companies. Having the ability to decipher complex problems into simple solutions has been a key to career advancement. The other critical component to career growth has been my blog. 10 years and over 400 posts later, having a visible point of view and a repository for thought, industry commentary and speaking has been a valuable asset in my career development.

How have you seen the advertising industry change since you started?

 The biggest change over my career is the shift towards the empowered consumer. Prior to 2007 advertising had remained somewhat stable with broadcast at the center of the experience. In 2007 we saw that begin to shift with the introduction of the first iPhone. This sparked the shift towards mobility in advertising that is still prevalent.

Then we saw how technology enhances consumer empowerment through the creation of user created content, accessibility and amplification via social channels, the personification of brands and celebrity being redefined from Hollywood to influencers.

Moving forward we are now seeing the shift from content marketing to contextual and the rise of multimodal interfaces with the focus shifting from mobile and desktop to voice, vision and touch.

Moving forward, we will see the shift from consumer centric advertising to system based marketing as algorithms and virtual assistants will take on more responsibility for consumers and ultimately our definition of reality will evolve when we see the convergence of location data, computer vision, augmented reality and artificial intelligence where any space, physical or digital becomes a new canvas to connect with consumers.

What advice do you have for students who want to have a career in advertising?

I have 3 tips for students just starting their career:

1) Network – Begin building a professional network before you start your professional career. Attend industry events and network in-person, focus on your LinkedIn profile and engaging with content. Your professional network is one of your most valuable resources. It should require more nurturing and attention than personal social channels.

2) Sponsor & Mentor – It is key to seek a mentor, someone who works in the industry you are about to enter to help navigate key pitfalls and to “learn the ropes” from a seasoned individual. It is incredibly important to be open to feedback. It is also important to identify a sponsor within your organization. Someone who is either directly or indirectly in your chain of command. Someone who can provide positive internal earned media and groom you for advancement. You cannot always depend on an immediate supervisor to serve this role. Seek out highly respected and influential individuals within the organization, you will know who they are.

3) Original Thought – I cannot reiterate how important publishing content can be for a new grad. Having thoughts on industry commentary or showcasing your ability to connect trends that may not seem to link on the surface is an art that can lead to you being selected over someone else.

How do you incorporate aspects from your work into your teaching?

 I look to bring best in class examples and techniques, be it research, the latest on aligning psychographics and affinity to personas or the role of conversational experiences into digital strategies. The key is aligning experience and tools with the core areas of focus of the lesson or assignment.

What is one interesting fact about you?

 I was named by Ad Age as a 2017 Marketing Technology Trailblazer.

Follow Professor Edwards on Twitter @BlackFin360 to stay up to date on the latest areas of study.

TAI Professor Dr. Hye Jin Yoon Publishes on Corporate Responsibility Campaigns on Social Networking Sites in the Journal of Business Research

TAI’s Associate Professor Dr. Hye Jin Yoon has a paper forthcoming in the Journal of Business Research, which has an impact factor of 3.354. With Dr. Yoon-Joo Lee and Nicole H. O’Donnel of Washington State University, she explored how number of followers and valence of comments could affect the perceived legitimacy of corporate social responsibility campaigns on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Title: The effects of information cues on perceived legitimacy of companies that promote corporate social responsibility initiatives on social networking sites

Abstract: Social networking sites (SNSs) are increasingly used to promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Consumers can like, retweet, or comment on CSR messages on SNS pages, signaling public approval or disapproval and affecting perceived legitimacy of the organization. Especially for controversial companies, such as alcohol brands, both perceived legitimacy of a cause and consumer purchase intention (PI) might be enhanced by expressions of public support on SNS pages. However, few studies have explored this relationship. The findings from Experiment 1 suggest that the number of followers (low vs. high) affected perceived legitimacy and PI. Experiment 2 revealed that the effects of comment valence on attitudinal and behavioral intention interacted with the number of followers. These findings advance our current knowledge of factors associated with perceived legitimacy of companies that promote CSR campaigns on SNS pages. Implications for advertising research and practice are discussed.

You can access the article free before December 17th, 2017.

Meet TAI Adjunct Professor Allison Dupuis

Professor Allison Dupuis is teaching ADV 4333 Topics in Digital Media Marketing for the Temerlin Advertising Institute. Professor Dupuis spent several years as a Career Counselor in the Hegi Career Center at SMU. She then transitioned to digital marketing and has built a successful career as a digital content manager at BuzzShift.

What made you want to become a professor?

I actually never thought I would be a professor. My dad has been a professor of Pharmacy at UNC-Chapel Hill for the past 30+ years, so I’ve been exposed to college life and higher education since birth. I love learning, working my interns at work, discussing new avenues of digital advertising, and exploring new sides of digital media, psychology, and technology. Considering the majority of expertise in my field is so new, I didn’t think that my career would take a traditional path towards teaching.

When the opportunity arose to teach digital content marketing at TAI last year, I jumped on it immediately. My sister is also a college professor, so it was nice to have two family members that could advise me on planning a curriculum, creating a grading system, and staying energized all semester long while balancing a full-time job, teaching, and life outside of work. Being a professor was never my plan, but I guess I may just be genetically predisposed to becoming “Professor Dupuis”.

What is your background in the subject you teach?

My background is a combination of traditional studies in sociology, psychology, strategic research and planning, and education plus self-taught experience in social media, graphic design, drawing, and photography.

My current work is all of those fields wrapped into one job as the Director of Content & Creative at BuzzShift. I focus in digital content strategy and help our clients at BuzzShift grow their businesses through online tactics and campaigns. My work analyzes target audience needs and wants to position a product or service as the optimal solution. I work with an amazing team to distribute creative and engaging content through social media channels, websites, emails, and other digital platforms.

A simple example of this work would be helping a company launch a workout app and running Facebook and Instagram ads to increase downloads to tech savvy individuals with a propensity for working out and brand affinities and online behavior connected to brands like LuLuLemon, SoulCycle, Nike, etc.

What has been your favorite memory from teaching for TAI so far?

There was one class where the room temperature was so uncomfortably hot. That day we were focusing on creative brainstorming and leveraging channels features to inspire great content. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to go outside and have a brainstorm in the fresh air. We had a lot of fun that day, explored various prompts and tactics, and my class came up with some amazing ideas on (1) how to celebrate Avocados on Instagram to increase awareness and then (2) creating a campaign that infuses the Starbucks into the wedding planning process to drive email acquisition.

What is your favorite part about being a professor, and what do you hope to get out of being a professor?

I just love learning about my students, getting them out of their comfort zone, and offering them help in whatever they need. We always start class with a fun personal question, have breakout projects, and I make sure we are actively reflecting and questioning everything. I want them to be honest with themselves, each other, and with me, so I do everything I can to get them comfortable with expressing their opinions every time we meet. We learned about new digital channels, brands, methods, and explored the best and worst of advertising together. I hope to always learn from others and have a great time discovering new ideas; and that was definitely the case with my class this fall.

What made you want to go into advertising? How did you get where you are in your career?

I always enjoyed learning about people and art & design. Honestly, I never planned to go into advertising. But looking back, I’ve realized that if you don’t understand human behavior and the art of persuasion, you’re going to have a really difficult time succeeding in business or relationships. And then in advertising and digital marketing, this is when you get to put a twist on that knowledge with art and design.

I was drawn to social media and technology because of the empowering and interesting effects it had on people. Before switching to an agency, I learned everything I know about design and technology from experts and explorers on the internet. Now I learn from my coworkers, industry, and the internet. I believe the most successful people in digital advertising and the people who push boundaries, hack the system, and always fight to individualize their brand messages for niche populations. After they figure out the right messages, they fight to ensure their ads include stand-out motion graphics and design. Why? Because we need them to stop scrolling and swiping and pay attention and fall in love with your brand.

I got where I am today because I said yes to learning, yes to new relationships and projects, yes to failing, and saying no to toxic environments and people.

How did you originally get to working at SMU? Why did you make the switch from working in the Career Center to becoming a professor?

I graduated with a masters degree in strategic planning & higher education from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011. I wanted to help students find great jobs, and leave college understanding who they are and who they want to be. Prior to my graduate program, I didn’t have a great job. It was 2008, and the economy wasn’t in great shape. I literally couldn’t even get a job at Forever 21. But luckily I was able to become a temp at Carnegie Mellon University and met so many awesome educators and administrators. Because my job would switch every few months, I was able to learn and develop my strengths and avoid roles that exacerbated my weaknesses. I knew if I could do this for myself, I could help other college students do the same before they graduated.

After a few years in higher education, counseling students and leading personal branding workshops on interviewing and LinkedIn, I made the jump to social media marketing for brands and businesses.

Last fall, more than 3 years after leaving SMU, I sat on a nonprofit social media panel for Social Media Dallas. Peter Noble from TAI just happened to be in the audience. I’m candid, a little fiery, and always trying to make a joke and I guess that stood out during the session. Peter approached me and recommended that I send him my resume for a potential teaching opportunity at SMU. I said yes, followed up (just like a typical career counselor would recommend you to do), and then said yes again to the job.

A lot of people might see the career jump as weird or unconventional (and it might be), but it always seemed like the planned happenstance theory in action. Build your skills and strengths and then just say yes.

How have you seen the advertising industry change since you started?

I’ve seen Amazon start to takeover the world and turn into an advertising platform following Facebook. Companies who still spend millions on TV commercials and billboards that have minimal tracking capabilities, yet distrust and fear digital ads (even though it has the proper targeting features, saving them money, and the human connection to our fans that we’ve wanted forever). I’ve witnessed 3rd party delivery systems turn the QSR industry on its head, and the life and death of Vine. It’s been an interesting road, and I can’t wait to see what I get to experiment with at work next.

How do you incorporate aspects from your work into your teaching?

Every class is a different perspective on traditional content marketing and advertising that I deal with at work. I break some classes down by topic (social media, influencers, email drip campaigns, paid media, etc.) or modern day advertising challenges and trends (6 sec ads that still need storytelling, brands & their trolls, or what we can learn about branding from online dating apps and transfer that to advertising).

At my job, we work hard, but we also get to know each other well and are very collaborative. I infuse those values into my class with breakout assignments and projects. Decks and presentations are also crucial to synthesizing complex digital methods and persuading those who control the purse string, so we actively discuss different philosophies on persuasion and positioning in business.

What is one interesting fact about you?

I’ll give you two. (1) I can jumprope on my butt and (2) I’m a quarter Korean with blonde hair and blue eyes.

TAI’s Dr. Anna Kim Visits San Diego for Association for Consumer Research (ACR) Conference

This October, TAI Assistant Professor Dr. Eunjin (Anna) Kim traveled to San Diego to attend the 2017 Association for Consumer Research (ACR) Conference, a premier marketing conference. She presented a paper titled, “Narrative Advertising Effectiveness: The Role of Ad Relevance, Ad Vividness, and Ad Message Explicitness.”

“This project departed from a basic premise, such that it is highly unlikely that all narrative ads produce equal amount of effectiveness (e.g., positive affective responses and positive cognitive responses),” Dr. Kim said. “Nowadays, advertising plays in a very competitive attention economy where consumers’ attention span is very short like that of gold fish. Storytelling has emerged as a new currency for capturing customer hearts. Marketers and researchers have been trying to understand the power of the storytelling in order to move their customers through their branding/sales objectives. I believe my research makes a significant contribution to the topic of narrative advertising effectiveness.”

Dr. Kim has two co-authors on this project, Dr. Sidharth Muralidharan, TAI Assistant Professor, and Dr. Eunseon Kwon, Assistant Professor of Strategic Communication at Texas Christian University. A paper based on this project is currently under review at Journal of Business Research, a premier academic journal.

“I really liked this conference because it offered me an excellent opportunity to showcase my research and to meet other seasoned scholars in my research area,” Dr. Kim said. “This conference has recently started to publish the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research (JACR) exploring consumer behavior topics with a thematic approach. I got some cute gifts from the journal at the conference. At the end of the conference, we visited San Diego Air & Space Museum.”

Dr. Kim has published her research in the Journal of Advertising, Marketing Letters, Psychology and Marketing, International Journal of Advertising, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Mobile Media & Communication and others. She teaches Digital Media Strategy 1, Consumer Insight and Persuasion, Strategic Brand Management 2, and Media Measurements and Metrics.

TAI Faculty are among the most productive advertising scholars worldwide. Their research interests span current industry topics of interest, including narrative advertising effectiveness, humor advertising, socially responsible advertising, and virtual product experiences, to name a few.

Below are pictures from Dr. Kim’s time in San Diego.

TAI Hosts Dr. Gi Woong Yun for Lecture on Virtual Reality Use and Effects

TAI faculty attending Dr. Yun’s presentation.

Friday, October 27, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Advanced Media Studies at the University of Nevada Reno, Dr. Gi Woong Yun, made a visit to SMU campus and presented his research as part of TAI’s Visiting Scholar Lecture Series. The main title of his presentation was “Measurement Development of Virtual Reality Use and Its Effects.”

First, Dr. Yun provided his current research on the levels of student stress and psychopathology. Preemptive interventions that proactively address personal well-being using new technology were tested in his VR mediation study. The rationale for this study is that the VR tools may be able to provide a unique opportunity to promote student health through an affordable and immersive meditative platform. This project examines the effectiveness of VR immersive mindfulness meditation through a longitudinal, quasi-experimental research design. Biometric feedback (e.g., heart rate), combined with Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale and participant self-reports, informed the potential for VR interventions on college campuses. Results indicated that VR could be an effective intervention method. But, the quantitative measurements could be improved to detect long-term effects of the meditation sessions.

TAI faculty trying out the VR equipment after the presentation.

The second study was VR and mobile EEG measurement. Dr. Yun presented research methods in implementing a two-by-two experimental design using both repeated measures (exciting VR content vs. experiential VR content) and between subject stimulus (social vs. no social). The effects were measured with a mobile EEG tool, Emotiv EPOC, and post-test surveys. The mobile EEG tool was able to detect stimulus content showing increased brain activities in some areas of the brain. However, social interaction stimulus did not make a difference in EEG measurements and showed no interaction effect. The framework developed can be adopted in areas of research on contemporary VR production, audience research, content regulation, and game development, to name a few.

Dr. Yun’s presentation was attended by many TAI faculty members, all of whom enjoyed his lecture and the opportunity to use the VR equipment following the lecture.

TAI Professor Dr. Hye Jin Yoon Visits Tokyo for AAA Global Conference

This July, TAI Professor Dr. Hye Jin Yoon travelled to Tokyo, Japan for the 2017 American Academy of Advertising Global Conference. With her co-author Dr. Hongmin Ahn, she presented a paper titled, “When Two Worlds Collide – The Dark Triad Personality and the Humor in Comedic Violence Ads.”

“AAA partnered with Waseda University and held sessions on its vibrant campus,” Yoon said. “The conference started with a keynote speech from Yoshito Maruoka, President and COO of Dentsu Digital Inc. and ended with a tour of Tokyo with a visit to Mt. Fuji. Many advertising and marketing scholars from the United States, Europe, and other Asian countries attended the conference.”

Dr. Yoon has been published in the Journal of AdvertisingJournal of Business ResearchInternational Journal of AdvertisingJournal of Health CommunicationHealth CommunicationJournal of Advertising Research, and Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, among others. She teaches Advertising Media, International Advertising, and Quantitative and Qualitative Research at SMU.

Below are pictures from Dr. Yoon’s time in Tokyo.

Meet New TAI Professor Dr. Yan Huang

Dr. Yan Huang

What made you want to become a professor?

I am curious. I always want to figure out a few things. I collect information to feed my curiosity. When I meet people with the same questions, I feel excited to share what I have learned with them. The whole process makes me happy. Luckily, these are exactly what professors do.

What class are you teaching this semester?

I am teaching ADV2301 Consumer Behavior this semester. In this class, we discuss theories and concepts of psychology and persuasion as they relate to how and why consumers make certain judgments and decisions. To me, the purpose of the class is two-fold. First, I hope to motivate students to think about the applications of these theories and concepts in advertising/marketing communications. Second, I hope students themselves can become better consumers and make informed decisions with knowledge gained from this class.

What is your area of expertise?

Broadly speaking, my background and expertise are in the area of strategic communication. My research gives special attention to the effects and mechanisms of strategic media messages and technologies in shaping consumer psychology, especially as they relate to health and socially responsible advertising. I am a quantitative researcher. I explore my research questions mostly by doing experiments, surveys, and meta-analyses.

What has been your favorite memory from teaching for TAI so far?

I’ve already had many good experiences with SMU students. Every week I gain something new. It is hard to choose…but if I have to…the favorite memory is when a group of five students came to my office on a Friday afternoon to talk about the different ways to approach their group project. I remember seeing the spark of curiosity and enthusiasm in their eyes.

What is your favorite part about being a professor?

My favorite part is that I get to meet different students every semester, know their stories, share what I’ve learned with them, and help them when they are in need. I hope I can make a valuable contribution to knowledge with my research and use the knowledge to cultivate young minds.

Have you taught before? 

I had taught at Penn State for two years before I came to SMU. I taught a research method class for advertising/public relations majors and also an online course on research analytics in strategic communication.

Are you currently doing any research? 

Yes, I have a few ongoing projects. One important theme is about the effectiveness of narrative advertising. While past research focuses on the immediate impact of stories, my research has revealed that messages telling stories are also more persuasive than argument-based messages in the long term. This is because narrative exposure can trigger more self-related thoughts on the advocated issue by engaging individuals experientially. Moreover, individuals who have read narrative messages will show greater resistance to counterarguments they encounter at a later time.

What is one interesting fact about you?

I used to play a video game named BombSquad with my husband. We had kept the doubles world record for quite a while.

To find out more about Dr. Huang, check out her page on the TAI website.

TAI Hosts Annual Graduate Student Cookout for Graduate Program Members

Saturday August 27, TAI hosted a barbeque welcoming new students to the graduate program. Graduate Program Coordinator and Professor Peter Noble opened up his home to host invited faculty, staff, and students.

TAI graduate students and professors sharing a meal.

“TAI’s Annual Graduate Student Cookout was an opportunity to get our grad students and faculty/staff together for social, non-academic purposes,” Professor Noble said. “Getting to know more about each other outside of the classroom was an important goal. Great food, bright conversations, and shared discoveries of interests allowed everyone to feel a part of the TAI family.”

The event provided students with a wonderful chance to meet and bond with each other, as well as their professors and the head of their program. Graduate student Coral Pisek really valued the opportunity to get better acquainted with the program and its members.

“My experience at this year’s TAI Grad Student BBQ was very enjoyable and informative,” Pisek said. “Everywhere I go, I try to gain and learn as much as I can. Once I spotted the familiar faces from the first week of classes, I immediately began talking with them about how the past week went, how I thought I’d be the youngest one, and how the classes so far sounded interesting. I got to meet and discuss the future of advertising with Professor Edwards and meet Dalya, a really cool undergraduate student that’s combining her BA and MA in advertising. I had the opportunity to sit down and eat my juicy hamburger with Professors Kim and Edwards [and discuss] what got them interested in advertising in the first place. We also debated the ways advertising is not dead. I later discussed my future advertising aspirations with Professors La Ferle and Noble. It was very important to me to see how they can guide me to work on my passion in the future. The BBQ was an interesting opportunity to talk personally with many intellectuals in one house. I am very glad I went. I left the BBQ full, eager and hopeful for the future.”

Graduate students, faculty, and staff enjoying the Cookout.

TAI is always looking for opportunities to enhance our students’ experiences, and we can’t wait to host more events like this!

TAI Students Attend Alumni Gathering in New York City

TAI Professor Willie Baronet (right) with TAI class of 2016 alums.

Thursday May 18, many TAI students attended an Alumni Gathering event in New York City as part of MayTerm courses in New York. They got to mix and mingle with many SMU and TAI graduates from many different classes. These alumni are now thriving in their careers in New York City and took the opportunity to connect with and talk to current students.

Many TAI students have aspirations of working in New York City after they graduate, so getting to meet with alums who were in there shoes merely a few years ago was very motivational for them.

“The event was such a great way to network with the NYC TAI advertising community,” TAI student Joanna Fennessy said. “Especially as a rising senior wanting to work in advertising in the city post graduation, I found the event extremely useful and inspiring. I was able to talk to all kinds of alums working in agencies, with brands, and for consultancies. It broadened my knowledge of the industry and my network within in a city other than Dallas for a change!”

TAI students Caroline Moss (’18), Morgan Hoff (’17), and Helen Rieger (’17).

Many TAI students on the Creative track appreciated the chance to meet former TAI Creative students and listen to their advice.

“The networking event was an incredible opportunity for the Creative track students,” TAI student Jolie Guz said. “It was crazy to meet other creatives who were in our shoes on the same trip a year ago, but are now working for agencies like Digitas and Wieden+Kennedy. I was not only able to meet SMU alumni in the New York area on this trip, but I also had the chance to get closer with a lot of my friends in the creative track as well.”

All the students on the New York trip appreciated the occasion to bond with fellow students and to learn more about advertising opportunities in New York.

Professor Willie Baronet (right) with current TAI students Kirsty McLauchlan, Jolie Guz, Lucas Crespo, and Matthew Smyth.

“The New York trip gave me key insights to not only what some of the top agencies in the industry are about, but helped better my understanding of what kind of agency I want to work for,” TAI student Samantha Shearson said. “I was so impressed with this trip and all of the SMU alums’ generosity on taking time out of their days to make this trip special for us. This trip exceeded all my expectations and will inspire me to work harder on my book.”

TAI Professor Suzanne Larkin Shares Experience Creating Program to Aid Learning in Children with Dyslexia

Since graduate school, TAI Professor Suzanne Larkin has had a relationship with Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and prototyped a program to aid learning for children with dyslexia. Professor Larkin got her Masters of Fine Arts degree in Visual Communication from Texas A&M Commerce (downtown Dallas), a program that combines Curriculum Development, Design Research, and Business.

TAI Professor Larkin

“My inspiration came from a challenge as I was acquiring an MFA,” Professor Larkin said. “The challenge was to connect with a ‘giant’ and create something that could benefit them, and do what we call ‘move the needle,’ which means collect data that shows efficacy of what we do as visual communicators. In that challenge I kind of conducted a search, like what people do for thesis topic development. And that started with talking to others to find problems in major organizations where visual narratives or visual solutions could be beneficial. So part of my talking to people came out of tools that we use in the creative industry, like mind maps. I created maps to focus on who to talk to, and in which organizations. I kept running into the same response, and that was that children with dyslexia don’t have enough of the proper resources to help them grow at early diagnosis point, like 2nd and 3rd grade. I was inspired because I love to have fun in my work, and I like to do whimsical concepts. I used to design greeting cards. I’ve done radio, broadcast, outdoor, print. I’ve done it all in my career. So I thought this was a great opportunity to touch a target audience and provide something that hopefully benefits them.”

The Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia at Scottish Rite Hospital for Children is the organization that formulated the first definition of dyslexia, allowing children to be evaluated and diagnosed. When Professor Larkin initially reached out to Scottish Rite, she received a response within 20 minutes, leading her to believe that there was a real need for help.

“I met with Karen Avrit, who is the Education Director,” Professor Larkin said. “We got together during therapy time and talked about what the patients were doing. I asked ‘Why are the children trying to read stories from text when they have reading challenges? Have they ever seen these stories?’ Of course, I’m thinking about this as a visual communicator because pictures say a lot. Karen thought that was a valid question since they didn’t have a visual representation of the fluency stories.”

At that point Ms. Avrit and Professor Larkin realized that there could be a way of using visual narrative to help in teaching punctuation.

“Their fluency program already has a brand called ‘Take Flight,’” Professor Larkin said. “So I thought, if I’m going to create intellectual property for the punctuation, I’ll need to give it a brand too. And of course I got really excited, because I love to create brands. Then I started thinking about color, typography, style of graphics, and on and on.”

Ellah’s Tools Logo

From there Professor Larkin developed Ellah’s Tools. Ellah, standing for Experiential Language Learning At Home, could act as an at-home supplement to “Take Flight,” a fluency program developed by the Center for Dyslexia.

“Karen asked me if there was a way to allow parents access to the tools so they could use them at home for supplementing what was being done during therapy time at school,” Professor Larkin said.

Professor Larkin did extensive research and concepting in the process of creating Ellah’s Tools. She had to find a way to animate and teach six basic punctuation marks to children with learning differences, in a way that would keep them engaged.

“Just like with branding, when things are always the same sometimes consumers get tired of it,” Professor Larkin said. “So of course these consumers would be second and third grade children so I want to make it exciting. Every week I gave them a different genre. The comma is based on blues. And I thought, okay, who is someone that inspires me when it comes to blues; well that was BB King. So the song was the style of BB King’s music.”

Throughout the creation process, Professor Larkin never had any sort of budget. She used a combination of her own talents, friends’ talents, and purchasing inexpensive stock music to create prototypes. She used Garage Band to create and edit the music, and Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Flash to create the final product.

Storyboard for Ellah’s Tools

“One of my Professors at Texas A&M actually has a blues band,” Professor Larkin said. “They’ve been around for years, and so Bill Ford was gracious to sing the lyrics for the comma. And sang it in his style to music that sounded like typical BB King blues. Because I don’t have a budget, I used a high definition recorder that I purchased. And we recorded in closets and small office spaces, so that there was limited echo. All of that came together in Flash and what we decided to do was instead of flushing out everything at the beginning, because it’s research…and things change, we thought…let’s do it in segments.”

Ellah’s Tools is designed to be a visual curriculum that reinforces what students learn in therapy. In creating the first prototype, Professor Larkin got parents involved through solicitation with therapists at schools in Wiley, Texas. Each week, she gave the therapists a package that include a DVD for parents to use at home and games to go along with the fluency stories.

“Parents were excited to participate. One parent told me that her daughter kept reminding her not to miss the meeting! I met with them for coaching on how to use the prototypes that we were putting together,” Professor Larkin said. “One of the stories was about different types of animals on a farm, so I [created] a scavenger hunt [game]. Another story was about some kids at the beach, so I created a word and image match game. The parents had that to play with alongside a list of prompts that they could use to excite their kids, what kind of conditions that the environment should be in when the kids are interacting with the tools for best case scenario.”

Professor Larkin was able to get feedback from the parents as well as the therapists collecting data. She created a pre- and a post-test for the therapists to evaluate the students. Both tested students not only on their fluency, but on prosody, and their comprehension of punctuation.

“The post-test revealed encouraging data,” Professor Larkin said. “All of the students showed improvement in their reading abilities and comprehension in at least one area. That was really exciting for what it meant to have children experience learning in a different way. It was multi-sensory and reinforced their therapy at home but in a fun way. When the study was done the parents participated in a survey on Survey Monkey. The feedback was great.”

Professor Larkin is hopeful for the future of design research. Last semester she met with the Budd Center at SMU, looking for the potential of sharing the punctuation prototypes with public schools in Dallas. She is also waiting to hear back from a unique school in Dallas that was created specifically for children with learning differences.

“My hope is that there is a way to be able to share these tools, and create more,” Professor Larkin said. “Right now there still isn’t a budget, so that means grant writing, begging, and convincing. I think visual narratives can assist all learning styles.”