December 2021 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Barbara Chamberlin, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Barbara Chamberlin, New Mexico State University

by Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month’s featured researcher is Dr. Barbara Chamberlin, professor and interim department head for the Innovative Media Research and Extension Department, at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Chamberlin has assisted in creating educational tools for several water partners and enjoys making new connections with water experts across the state. The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) is excited to work with Chamberlin on their first formal collaboration titled, SWIM: Securing a Climate Resilient Water Future for Agriculture and Ecosystems Through Innovations in Measurement, Management, and Markets (SWIM). This research effort will focus on creating more advanced and robust data-driven information systems for stakeholders and other decision-makers by improving how information is shared. These information systems will improve the accuracy of water-based judgments, measurements, and evaluations leading to more secure, sustainable surface and groundwater use. For more information on the SWIM project, please visit the project’s website at the link above, or read NM WRRI’s November eNews article, NM WRRI Receives Funding to Investigate Improvements to Agricultural and Environmental Water Resilience, which describes the project and current collaboration efforts.

In addition to her work with NM WRRI, Chamberlin pursues other research opportunities by partnering with fellow researchers and educators to develop and design educational media. This can consist of games, apps, animations, videos, websites, virtual reality (VR) programs, and interactive labs. Once the media of choice is selected and created, she guides the project through instructional design. Chamberlin describes her job during the design process as “making sure the production team understands the needs of the user, the best ways to teach the content, and the usability of the final product.” She explains that her entire unit is full of professional graphic artists, animators, and programmers who are also instructional designers because they understand the most important aspect of this position is creating meaningful change in the users of their products.

Chamberlin graduated with her BA in Communications Studies and an MA in Agricultural and Extension Education from NMSU. She earned her PhD in Educational Technology from the University of Virginia. Her PhD research sought to improve the quality of educational media products by asking two guiding questions: (1) how to design educational media that is effective, and (2) how to measure those media successes. Chamberlin believes adhering to these guidelines assists in the creation of products that can be accurately measured and designed with intent. Concerning her research, Chamberlin stated, “I love so many aspects of what our team here does—from the creative activity of making a game, the process of testing it with kids or other users, and learning about the content for all the different products.”

Chamberlin has been affiliated with NMSU for over 30 years and feels like her position has evolved over the years. “In addition to making good projects, I realize it is my job to make sure our team members have great experiences as well,” she states. “That includes some amount of mentorship and training, but it’s also about managing our work processes and day-to-day operations to make our department a positive place to work and engage everyone on our team with work that is meaningful to them.” Chamberlin and her team have been awarded several honors for their games, including one titled, Night of the Living Debt, which won Best Overall Digital Game at the Meaningful Play Conference (2016), and gold recognition at the International Serious Play Awards. To view a list of some of their games, please click here.

Chamberlin encourages anyone looking to join the research field to consider the benefits of technology, and how it can be used to share research (such as a video or animation that summarizes it succinctly or communicates findings appropriately to the right audience), and help prepare people to use the results of that research. Providing producers and water managers with different avenues to view and comprehend data could help them better understand prerequisite information and enable them to make more informed decisions. She defines this creation process as articulating a problem to be solved and then developing a procedure to figure out what kind of change is needed to solve it. Creating technology can involve researching which audience is being targeted and then designing a product to address the problem. The solution can be a simple creation, such as a three-minute animation summarizing key points within a project, but sometimes it can involve a more intricate, multi-phase approach to accurately display research highlights.

Future research for Chamberlin and her team involves developing and perfecting VR projects. She is optimistic and sees this as a good opportunity for her department to display and blend their talents to create an entirely new experience. A list of current media projects she and her team are working on include social media education campaigns on growing and eating microgreens, food safety concerning chicken products, and developing materials for youth on preventing food waste. These projects are being developed alongside six other media projects related to food safety-related work and a new game on water markets.