Ohio University Departments, Schools Collaborate On Regional Water Project

By
Kelly Martin


Updated Fri, Aug 29, 2014 11:30 am

Water. It’s something that affects our communities in many ways. We wash in it, drink it, use it to bathe our children and for industrial purposes. Flooding can devastate a community, but also can bring industry and jobs to the region.

How does the region protect this vital resource? The Water Project, a new interactive website, aims to provide information about water issues, including a community forum and environmental research. On Sept. 4, at 4 p.m., a launch event and reception will take place to celebrate the collaborative project and work in progress. The event, which will take place in the lobby of the Steven L. Schoonover Center for Communication at 20 W. Union Street, is free and open to the public.

The School of Visual Communication, along with WOUB Public Media and in collaboration with Ohio University’s Department of Geography, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, School of Communication Studies, School of Media Arts & Studies and The Voinovich School of Leadership, have joined to provide the public with an easy way to find information about issues that may affect their water resources.

According to WOUB Public Media General Manager Tom Hodson, the project was started with the community in mind.

“Water is really our most important resource,” said Hodson. “It’s really taken for granted even though it touches multiple parts of our lives. We wanted to have a ‘go to’ place that the community could get different perspectives on issues involving water.”

The Water Project offers text and video with hopes of being an incubator for ideas and solutions. Sections of the site will include information on topics such as Watershed, Industry, Connection and Biodiversity.

Lisa Villamil, formerly an assistant professor in the School of Visual Communication, said that the committee thought a collaborative project could bring multiple benefits.

“We were excited about the possibility of bringing our students together to tackle something big,” said Villamil. “Tom Hodson assured us all that it didn’t matter if we succeeded, it just mattered that we tried. This was freeing, so we all went forward.”

Andy Alexander, a Scripps Howard Visiting professional in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, helped coordinate the project and suggested that it be focused on water.

“As we kicked around ideas for a collaborative project, it became obvious that the issue of water quality is of critical importance to the region,” said Alexander. “But we also recognized there is enormous expertise about water quality throughout the university.”

He said the collaboration is a way to pull many sources of expertise from within Ohio University.

“Most universities don't have a good track record of cross-campus collaboration,” said Alexander. “We viewed this as both an opportunity and a learning experience. The benefits are obvious. We can draw on an amazing range of expertise to focus on this critical issue.”

Villamil said the collaboration was complicated but worth it.

“Collaboration is the only way we can produce excellent, complex work today,” said Villamil. “We need specialists who can produce and create together, and that’s a difficult skill to master. We have to let go of old labels and confront our own egos.”

Scripps College of Communication Dean Scott Titsworth echoed the need to evolve and collaborate to produce dynamic, meaningful work.

“Changes in the field of communication, primarily brought about through disruptions stemming from an increasingly connected and digitally augmented world, requires greater collaboration across specialties in the field,” he said. “Despite that recognition, finding robust projects that provide opportunities for faculty and students from multiple schools to collaborate is a challenge. The Water project provided that opportunity, because it integrates so many different types of information and modes of thinking. The importance of the project for our region, coupled with the complex issues surrounding regional water quality issues, made this an ideal project for our attention.”

Alexander says a big part of the project was the experience for students working on the project.

“For students, one benefit is learning that collaboration can result in a project that has added scope, depth and creativity,” said Alexander.

“I think the students found out how different the disciplines think and this was surprising and enjoyable,” added Villamil. “They discovered there were many ways to approach ideas and to solve problems.”

“Some of the best opportunities for student learning involve challenging problems that defy the clear-cut answers often found in textbooks and lectures,” said Titsworth. “Regional water issues are one of those types of problems. It brings together so many issues and so many stakeholder groups—this is the type of problem-based learning that helps students truly understand how their knowledge and skills can be applied to real-world issues.”

Villamil says an added benefit was her own learning of water issues in the area.

“While working together was a great experience and making a beautiful multimedia production rewarding, I have to say what I learned most was about the environmental issues of water in our region.”

The Water Project will continue to expand in the future, offering additional stories, a room for blogs and other editorial pieces added from the community and additional media organizations.

“One of the things that makes this project so unique is the collaboration that has been created between so many different units,” said Titsworth. “Not only are multiple units in the Scripps College represented, but we also have colleagues from the Voinovich School and the Department of Geography who have contributed to this project. That collaboration has paid off with a product that is both visually stunning and information-rich. This project represents the very best of what can happen when the resources of a university are brought to bear on an issue of importance to our community.”

The Water Project is housed at http://ouwaterproject.org

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