Meet Northwestern Qatar’s new DAMA Lab

January 06, 2021

The Media Innovation Lab (MIL) went under a transformation last semester and will now be known as the DAMA Lab (Digital Advancement and Media Applications Lab). Under the leadership of Eric Espig, it will build a community of designers, journalists, researchers, students, and educators that will work on experiments in storytelling and research, focusing on three primary areas of collaboration - creative space and open lab; collaborative course work; and research partnerships and sandbox.

According to Espig, the DAMA Lab will position itself to better support research and classwork at Northwestern Qatar so that it is “more connected in helping and sustaining digital and interactive projects that are happening throughout the Journalism, Communication, and Liberal Arts Programs.”

With this new target in mind, Espig began the fall semester by experimenting with new ways of presenting classes, which included putting an online course on Microsoft Teams and running a certificate course with the Qatar Foundation. Other projects included supporting student projects through grants to work on VR/360 experiences. 

“There is another project that is the realization of a MacArthur Foundation Award,” Espig said. “This is a truly innovative and experimental application that can best be described as a kind of ‘virtual field reporting’ where students are placed in a 360 environment and can use a virtual smartphone to record and document events as if they were there.” Examples of “virtual events” that students can cover in the VR application, Espig said, include a firefight in Iraq and a Black Lives Matter protest in the U.S. An example of how the application can be used can be seen here.

The DAMA Lab is also working on an interactive timeline detailing the events surrounding the production of The Translator, a recent film by Professor Rana Kazkaz. Students Roja Pande and Shahan Ejaz used the same format to develop an interactive map highlighting Northwestern Qatar’s first 270 days in 2020, which was published by The Daily Q, incorporating interactive storytelling in its reporting. 

Commenting on his contribution to the interactive map, which takes users on a click-through trip around the world to read about the school’s events and milestones in 2020, Ejaz said: "It was initially challenging compiling various stories into a platform that was unfamiliar to me. However, going through these stories showcased how resilient the Northwestern family has been in such challenging times. " 

For her part, Pande, who also worked on the map, said: “The process of putting everything together for this story really helped me reflect on what has happened within our community, where students and faculty have been and what they've been doing since the start of this new decade. Even though we’re all apart in this time of social distancing and self-isolation, I think our main goal was to bring everyone together and celebrate the accomplishments of our community members.” 

With the new strategic realignments in place, Espig said the DAMA Lab plans to “create awareness and advocate for technology and innovation outside of Northwestern Qatar, and bring that into the school,” explaining that this will be supported by outreach and partnership programs whose purpose will be not only to invite industry experts to speak to the community but also to give exposure to student projects and connect them with outside partners for potential opportunities in research and development.

The first outreach initiative will take place on January 28, 2021. “The Media Innovation Symposium: Responses to the Pandemic,” Espig said, “will bring together global media experts in conversation with Northwestern Qatar faculty to discuss how they and their fields as a whole responded to the new context of a global pandemic. 

The event will include five panels and will be streamed online. In addition to Northwestern faculty, other speakers include Mike Rowbottom, chief feature writer, InsideTheGames; Hala Alyan, writer and clinical psychologist; and Heba Q. Almasri, director, Qatar SportsTech. 

Espig is optimistic about the future of the DAMA Lab and its potential to be more aligned with the work being done at Northwestern Qatar on all fronts. “With the Lab having been rebooted and rebranded we have begun the process shaping the scope of the work and the strategic plan moving forward so that we are better positioned to best serve the needs of Northwestern Qatar.”