Conference Takeaway

It is our pleasure to announce two new “Conference kits” reservable online for faculty to borrow from the Vitale Digital Media Lab at the Weigle Information Commons. The kits can be borrowed for up to eight days. Each kit contains an Apple Mac-book Air and several video adapters to make it easy to present at a conference (as well as in a classroom).

To reserve, login to WebCheckout with Pennkey, click on “Add Resource”, and look under “Presentation Aids” for the “Laptop Presenter Kits”. Please review our equipment lending guidelines for loan details. WIC provides workshops and tutorials on presentation software such as Prezi and PowerPoint, so let us know how we can help make your next conference presentation the best it can be!

Categories: Pedagogy

How to be Basic

This guest post is by Amanda Gisonni, a junior studying Psychology in the College. In this post, she describes various ways to gain basic skill sets in computer software programs by using resources in the Weigle Information Commons. 

This is not what you think it is. I am not here to instruct you on how to dress or how to act “basic.”  But I will tell you how you can gain some basic skills in certain computer software programs; in other words, boost your knowledge when it comes to Excel, PowerPoint, Illustrator, and more. Weigle Information Commons offers a variety of WICshops that demonstrate some introductory topics in a hands-on approach that will help get you started.

This is the WIC Seminar Room in which many workshops are held.

WICshops give a brief but thorough introduction to these programs. They are a starting point and meant to introduce you to the essentials of each program. You will start at the beginning, with opening the program, then you will actually get to use the program and finish by learning how to save your work. Also, these workshops are for people of all skill sets! So, if you are not so tech-savvy, these classes are great for you, and they are also great for people who have some knowledge and are looking to gain more.

Some of the ones I have tried and recommend include InDesign, Photoshop Basics, Photoshop Selection Tools, PowerPoint and more. This October and November, Weigle is offering a variety of workshops for students, some of which include:

  • Introduction to Latex: For those looking to create a scientific document, learn what Latex is and the uses for it in this class. Use various documents, page layouts, fonts and images.
  • Introduction to ArcGIS I: This workshop demonstrates the software and data behind creating maps and geographic analyses. There will be simple exercises to introduce the program to beginners.
  • Introduction to Text Mining: This class is for beginners and those who have some prior experience. “Learn the why and the how of text mining, methodology, cautionary tales, and preferred tools.”
This WICshop calendar is comprehensive and easy to use.

But why stop there? If you are too basic for these, then take some advanced classes! I recommend signing up for Advanced Illustrator Techniques and Audio and Video in PowerPoint.

Each month new WICshops are posted; check the website periodically to see if there is a workshop you are particularly interested in. I also suggest attending office hours if you have a specific question or need help with a certain program. Excel Office Hours and Copyright Office Hours are offered each week. Staff in Weigle and the Vitale Digital Media Lab will also help answer any questions you may have!



Categories: Pedagogy

Open Access Week – October 20 – 24, 2014

Open Access week is a global event for institutions around the world to discuss the ways open access is changing the worlds of publishing and scholarly communication.

Below is a schedule of events that Penn is hosting next week.  Please feel free to pass along to anyone who is interested.  You can view the full calendar of events and sign up at

These lectures, workshops, and movie screenings are open to the Penn community and all others who wish to learn more about open access.

Monday, October 20

Open Access Images
10:00am-11:00am, Goldstein Electronic Center, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
Learn to create and adapt open access images using a variety of techniques.

Tuesday, October 21

Lunch Discussion with Joshua Nicholson
12:00pm-1:00pm, Meyerson Conference Room, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
A skype discussion with Joshua Nicholson,founder of “The Winnower,” an open access online science publishing
platform .

Creative Commons: The License to Share Knowledge
4:00pm-5:00pm, Room 626, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
Creative Commons (CC): assign Creative Commons licenses to your own work and nd Creative Commons licensed works – images, texts, and other original material – that you can use in your teaching, scholarship, and creative productions.

Wednesday, October 22

The New Wave of Open Access Publishing
12:00pm-1:00pm, Meyerson Conference Room, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
A conversation about new open access publishing models including Humanities endeavors: Knowledge Unlatched
and The Open Humanities Library and Biology and medicine journal platform PeerJ. Register to receive readings
in advance.

RiP!: A Remix Manifesto Screening
6:00pm-7:30pm, Class of ‘55, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
Immerse yourself in the energetic, innovative and potentially illegal world of mash-up media with RiP: A Remix
Manifesto (2008 documentary).

Thursday, October 23

The Feedback Loop Between Open Access & Altmetrics
1:00pm-2:00pm, Class of ’54 (3rd Floor), Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
Mike Showalter of Plum Analytics will describe and demonstrate the capabilities of using altmetrics to create your
own open access feedback loop (1 hour Webinar).

MOOCs & Beyond: An Open House Hosted by the Open Learning Initiative
4:00pm-5:30pm, Room108, ARCH Building, 3601 Locust Walk
Join the Open Learning team to learn more about creating a MOOC and what resources are available on campus.

Categories: Pedagogy

5 Must-Have Apps for Students

This guest post by Kelli Liu, a sophomore from southern California majoring in biology and Apple campus representative, provides recommendations on apps. This post reflects Kelli’s personal opinions and should not be construed as an endorsement by Penn Libraries.

With the industry for app development booming, trying to navigate the app market is overwhelming and often times exhausting. While it’s nice to have so many options, it’s easy to settle for an application even if there’s an even better option out there for you, and it’s especially easy to scroll right past an app that could change your life, or at least the way you work.

Here’s a guide to some must-have, top rated apps that are certainly worth the download, and definitely worth the price—free! So check them out, download them, and enjoy the luxuries of this generation’s application boom.

1. F.lux

Ever check your phone at night only to get blinded by the screen? Ever try to read a text in the daytime only to find your phone is too dim? Navigating your way through settings or messing around with control center isn’t a huge labor, but wouldn’t it be easier if your phone just did it for you?

My friend has been urging me to download F.lux, and being a skeptic that I am, I refrained for a long time. Two weeks ago I downloaded it, and it certainly lives up to all of its rave reviews.

2. Monolingual

With people downloading movies, textbooks, and hundreds of photos, the need for storage space is more crucial then ever. I try to clean out my computer once a month to throw out old downloads or applications that I don’t use any more just to make more space. However, these old files really aren’t the problem. Word documents and photos hardly take up any space in broad perspective. A lot of space is occupied with programs and information that your computer was pre-loaded with. One of these space stealers is the bank of languages that your computer stores just in case you want to convert your computer to Flemish, Urdu, or whatever language you will never learn how to speak.

Monolingual allows you to cut out these languages from your computer’s bank, so you save tons of space that used to be devoted to saving loads upon loads of foreign languages. Definitely download monolingual if you are like me and find yourself discarding documents that you don’t really want to, but don’t think you have any other choice to clear up some space.

3. ExamTime

As a student, having all of your academic materials you need in one place organized and ready is extremely useful and effective. A productivity to enhance learning, ExamTime helps with a wide range of student activities from projects to scheduling to presentations. Armed with a complexity of abilities to ease the study grind, ExamTime is definitely worth the time to test out.

4. Sworkit

Another problem faced by busy students is clearing up space to head to the gym during the week. Often times we find our gym time is the first thing sacrificed to fit in another GBM or study session, and while keeping up with social and academic events is extremely important, we shouldn’t forgo staying in shape in the process.

Sworkit provides the perfect alternative to this dilemma. It is built to accommodate any schedule without abandoning a little exercise. A circuit training app, Sworkit builds a custom workout for any place, any time requiring only your body weight a couple minutes of your time.

5. Alarmy (Sleep If U Can)

If you are like me, the ability to wake up at 7:30 for high school seems inconceivable. I have certainly lost my knack of being an early riser, and often times my ability to wake up to alarms—and then stay awake. Too often have I turned off my alarm only to wake up an hour later and have to scramble into class a half an hour late—or worse, miss it completely.

Sleep If U Can offers a unique alarm that forces you to wake up at your alarm by forcing you to get up and move around in order to turn it off. Instead of simply pressing a button, Sleep If U Can requires a photo (like of your sink, desk, etc.) to deactivate its alarm. Cool, huh?

Categories: Pedagogy

Copyright Myths, Steve Jobs and User Interfaces

There is a common myth that copyright law protects ideas. This is not true; copyright is about protecting expression of an idea, not the idea itself. In fact, the law states “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied.”

A famous example of someone who believed that he would protect his idea utilizing copyright was Steve Jobs, who learned his lesson the hard way. In the 1980s Jobs copyrighted his idea for the Apple computer’s user interface. Not long afterward, Bill Gates created Windows with a system similar to Jobs’ design. Jobs sued, but the courts found in favor of Gates because “Apple cannot get patent-like protection for the idea of a graphical user interface, or the idea of a desktop metaphor.” Jobs later used patents, trademarks, and other methods to protect Apple products. However, this example demonstrates how everyone can use ideas under copyright law, even when they are similar.

For more information about the Gates vs. Jobs Lawsuit go to:,_Inc._v._Microsoft_Corp.

Categories: Pedagogy

Transforming your Research Within the Constraints of Copyright

Join Shawn Martin for a discussion about the possibilities for creativity within the constraints of copyright  on Monday, October 13, at noon in Meyerson. Transformation or “transformativeness” is an important aspect of fair use doctrine under Copyright law. Being better informed about the balance of both possibilities and restrictions under the copyright law can lead to innovative approaches in how you accomplish work and work creatively with existing materials. With this in mind, join us for a copyright workshop that should build on your existing copyright knowledge and that will practically address copyright issues that arise regularly teveryday. The workshop is open to the Penn Community.

Date & Time:    1:00pm – 2:00pm, Monday, October 13, 2014
Location:    Meyerson Conf Room, 2nd Floor, VPDLC

Categories: Pedagogy

New Digital Scholarship Workshops @ Penn Libraries

We are offering a new round of workshops this semester and the next one is coming right up.

 Introduction to Text Mining
Learn the why and the how of text mining, its methodology, cautionary tales, and preferred tools. If you have experience to share, please come and join the discussion! Presented by Mitch Fraas, Penn Libraries, Kislak Center and Digital Humanities Forum, Molly Des Jardins, Penn Libraries Area Studies Specialist for Japanese Studies, Dot Porter, Penn Libraries, Kislak Center Curator for Digital Servies.
12:00pm – 1:00pm, Wednesday, October 8, 2014,Kislak Center Seminar Room 625, 6th Floor. Van Pelt-Dietrich

And two more to follow:

Make the Most of your Visit to the Archives
Returning to the libraries to share their insights into working effectively in archives, Professor J.C. Cloutier, English and History Ph.D. Candidate Emily Merrill will provide guidance both practical and philosophical on making the most of the often limited, and therefore precious, time available for conducting research in archives. Join us to prepare a tool kit for your backpack and for your mind.
12:00pm – 1:00pm, Thursday, October 30, 2014, Kislak Center Seminar Room 625, 6th Floor. Van Pelt-Dietrich

Sharing Research Through Social Media: Scholarly Commons,, and more
Your opportunities to share and discover scholarly work across a global community are expanding, from the Penn Libraries’ ScholarlyCommons, to social media sites for academics, which include, ResearchGATE and more. What are the intellectual property issues, how might these sites intersect and complement each other? What are the overall benefits? Join us to explore these issues whether you are just beginning to think about posting your work or already doing it and willing to share your thoughts and experiences.12:00pm – 1:00pm, Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Kislak Center Seminar Room 625, 6th Floor. Van Pelt-Dietrich.

Questions? Contact

Categories: Pedagogy

Jaime — new WIC Intern!

Hello PennWIC Readers– I’m Jaime!

I’m a brand new intern who just started last week. I’m very excited to share information and stories with you all about tech, education, and the library. As a book native and a millennial, I’m interested in hearing what’s on your desks this fall. As I type this, I’m looking at the September Issue of Wired, and longing to flip through its glossy pages. A complicated photo of Edward Snowden hugging the American flag is on the cover:

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to sympathize with him or feel sorry for him. What controversial figures in tech are on your minds this fall? Or are you just excited for all of our tech classes? Speaking of WICshops, my friend Marta, a new graduate student at SP2, commented on my Instagram photo of Penn WIC from my first Saturday on the job to tell me how pumped she is to take advantage of our resources–

I have to say, I’m very excited to work with fellow students! I started off at Penn in publishing (in fact I am still in publishing at Penn!). One of the big questions in publishing is how readers will engage with the written word in coming years–will it be through ereaders, the print book, magazines, journals, or all online databases only?

Please help satiate my curiosity and tell me what gets your blood pumping and your heart racing in regards to your fall reading. Is it the New Yorker? Is it Wired? Is it a tech blog? Is it your own blog? Are you getting all your tech and educational news on social media now? If so, which platforms?

In other news, I lucked into one of those coveted “invite-only” accounts on Ello. Ello is being billed in the tech world as an “anti-Facebook” social media site. Here is their “manifesto.” Privacy concerns reign supreme. No one can question the rise of the importance of big data and issues in privacy that are coming into debate with recent changes in the terms of use for many social media sites. So, do you think you will join the Ello platform? Is it worth the hype?

If not, which social media sites do you use and for what uses? I personally have a LinkedIn for work, a Twitter for news, a Facebook to connect with friends and certain colleagues, an Instagram to “curate” and document my life, and a WordPress for my college alumni club in Philadelphia.

My social media accounts all serve different needs I have for interacting with the “interwebz.” I am not sure yet where Ello fits in or if it will take off. We will see! Digital Projects Fellow, Vickie Karasic, has also written about social media and the uses for different accounts. She taught an excellent class on six major different tech tools we all should be using and why. I’m linking her great overview here. The most useful piece of that document, I think, for all the patrons of the WIC is to understand how different social media platforms can be used as scholarly or professional tools. Here is Vickie’s wonderful chart:

I’m looking forward to meeting many of you and talking about social media/tech/education this semester. I’m here on Saturdays from 12pm – 4pm. Come stop by and say hello! Tweet at me @Jaime_Marie or the Penn WIC account @PennWIC to let me know what you’re reading!

Don’t forget to sign up for our WordPress Basics Class, with Natalie Lyon, on October 23rd if you’re interested in learning how to build your social media community!

-Jaime Marie Estrada
Penn WIC Grad Intern

Categories: Pedagogy

Make Your Voice Count!

Please take a minute for our student survey. We ask about perceptions of active learning spaces, video integration and technology tools. Your answers will inform faculty conversations at our annual Engaging Students Through Technology Symposium. We expect that understanding individual experiences of Penn students will be useful for our faculty as they consider how to make their teaching as effective as possible.

Categories: Pedagogy

Reach for the light this Halloween!

Register now for the 2014 Engaging Students Through Technology Symposium on October 31. Our thanks to Tayarisha Poe (we will miss her!) for the Halloween-themed logo!

Our guiding question is: How can technology empower our students, and us, as learners?

We will begin with a faculty panel featuring Jeffrey Babin, Marybeth Gasman, Jeffery Saven and Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw. Peter Decherney will facilitate our popular annual undergraduate student panel. (We welcome all students to share your thoughts on our survey!) After an informal lunch in the WIC Data Diner, we’ll explore workshop topics from hands-on Canvas to discussions on flipped-classroom teaching. We’ll wind up the day with a lightning round of two-minute talks.

Categories: Pedagogy

Farewell, Tayarisha

I want to wish a fond farewell to Tayarisha Poe, who has served as a lab consultant in the Vitale Digital Media Lab since July, 2013.
Tayarisha is leaving to focus on free-lancing full-time.  In the short term she will be working on photography projects for HBCUs. She is also working on a series of short films called “Selah, and the Spades,” funded by the Leeway Foundation, which will be finished in November.

I will certainly miss her, as will the students, faculty, and staff at Penn whom she has worked with and taught during her time here at the Libraries.
Tayarisha will be staffing the lab until 5pm today if you would like to stop in to say good-bye.

Categories: Pedagogy

Android to iPhone, iPhone to Android

At long last, the Apple iPhone 6 and 6+ have been released into the wild, along with iOS 8. And the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Android 5/Android L are set for release soon.  These have been the topic of much discussion here in the Vitale Digital Media Lab, and I’ve heard several conversations about people switching from one platform to the other.  But how do you do that exactly?  Not only do you need to get your data from one device to the other, but there’s also a bit of a learning curve for people who are adopting an entirely new operating system on their phones.

Here are some links to make your transition easier:

Lifehacker has a guide on Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher’s Guide

Apple created a guide on Moving Content from your Android Phone to iPhone (which I also discovered via Lifehacker) also has some training content you might find useful during the switching process.  If you’re not a subscriber to yourself, remember you can reserve one of our licenses (at least 1 day in advance, and up to 7 days in advance) and watch the training videos in the comfort of your own home.

iOS 8 New features
Android Essential Training
(you’ll need to be logged into Lynda in order to watch those online courses)

Do you have other suggestions for people making the switch?  If so, please share them in the comments!

Categories: Pedagogy

The New Mac Pros have Landed!

This is the first of a few blog posts announcing some exciting upgrades to the Vitale Digital Media Lab. I’m really happy to announce that after QUITE a few years of waiting, we have 10 brand new Mac Pros for you to use in the Vitale Digital Media Lab.  They’re incredibly sharp looking (although we’ve heard comments that they look like R2D2, Darth Vader, a vacuum cleaner, a funerary urn, a trash can, and one of those things at the gym you use to dry your bathing suit before putting it in your gym bag.)

We’ve been testing them, and we’ve been incredibly impressed with their speed. Ours are running 3.5GHz 6-core Intel Xeon E5 processors with 32GB of memory.  They have Dual AMD FirePro™ D500 graphics processors with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM each. They’ve got USB 3.0, so you can finally take advantage of all that transfer speed, and thunderbolt ports. We’ve also updated the operating system to Mavericks (OS X 10.9).

You should notice a significant improvement in performance if you’re working with video or large graphics files.

One key difference to know about is that these new Macs don’t have built-in CD/DVD drives.  So if you need to read or write to a CD/DVD, please ask the lab consultant on duty and they’ll be glad to attach a portable CD/DVD drive to your machine.  We can also supply card readers if you need to get data from an SD card, Compact Flash, etc.

Please come in, give them a try, and let us know what you think!

Categories: Pedagogy

WordPress Help for the Ward Project

Amy Hillier from our Faculty Advisory Group gave us a heads-up about a great opportunity for students to work on The Ward: Race & Class in Du Bois’ Seventh Ward project. She is looking for research assistants through the Fox Leadership Program and the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society. Students would get the chance to master WordPress and web design (with WIC coaching if needed) and contribute to an important effort! (You might remember our posts on an interview with Haftom and the 2011 Legacy of Courage film screening.) Here’s the official announcement:

Founded in 1999 through the generosity and vision of Robert A. Fox (C’52) and Penny Fox (ED’52), the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program is dedicated to enriching the Penn undergraduate experience in ways that equip and empower students and recent alumni for present and future leadership roles.

The Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society is seeking two undergraduate work-study eligible research assistants to work on The Ward: Race & Class in Du Bois’ Seventh Ward. Interested students should send a cover letter and resume to Chuck Brutsche at

Job description: research assistant with media experience:

Student will assist in various capacities on The Ward: Race & Class in Du Bois’ Seventh Ward, a history research, teaching and public history. His/her primary responsibilities will include video and audio editing as well as posting and managing data on the website, hard drive, YouTube and iTunes. He/she will also assist with research on primary sources (e.g., news articles, photos, reports) as needed.

Seeking a self starter and team player, interested in history, research, and able to conduct research in an organized fashion. Student should be able to learn/ or have familiarity with video editing, video uploading, posting materials on WordPress websites and creating excel spreadsheets. Intern must be able to work independently and produce quality work. Attention to detail, follow-up communication, and ability to focus in details as well as broader goals is necessary. We seek a work study eligible student available to work 10 hours a week.

The Ward: Race & Class in Du Bois’ Seventh Ward Project

We seek to continue W.E.B. Du Bois’ unfinished business of promoting the full humanity of all people and moving closer to the American ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” THE WARD, an existing teaching, research, public history, and outreach project based on Du Bois’ 1899 book, The Philadelphia Negro, uses a combination of old and new technologies to interpret the “problem of the color line” over three centuries. With the voices of scholars and everyday history makers, we explore how racism has also been reshaped, reinvented and reinforced over three centuries. We also consider class, place, identity, agency, and structure as sub-themes to investigate diverse histories and perspectives across the color line. Our goals for this project are to:

  • Elevate the history of the Seventh Ward and W.E.B. Du Bois’ scholarship on the color line.
  • Share lessons from the stories of everyday history makers from the Seventh Ward, particularly the ways they understood and negotiated the color line in their personal and professional lives.
  • Identify and address the unfinished business related to racism, race relations, and racial equity by promoting listening.

Categories: Pedagogy

A Great Password Manager: Free for a limited time!

Keeping track of all of your passwords is no easy feat these days. Many of us end up using less secure passwords, or using the same password for every account because they’re easier to remember that way.  A password manager solves that problem by remembering your passwords for you, secured by a single strong password that will be the only one you need to remember.  This allows you to choose longer and more complex passwords and reduce the chance of a malicious hacker getting access to your email, taking money from your bank accounts, or even stealing your identity!

For a very short time (possibly today only), one of the best password managers out there, 1PassWord, is available for free on iOS—a substantial discount off of it’s usual $17.99 price.  1Password not only stores your passwords securely, but also other things like text documents, credit card and bank account numbers, as well as scanned copies of your passport or driver’s license, which are useful when traveling.  See the 2-minute video below for more details

Even if you don’t think you’re going to use it, get it anyway.  If you change your mind later on, at least you won’t have to pay for it.

Thanks to Ted Moskalenko at ISC for bringing this to our attention!

1Password – No More Sticky Notes from AgileBits on Vimeo.

Categories: Pedagogy

Media Lab Schedule Change

We’re changing our schedule slightly this semester.  The Vitale Digital Media Lab will be open on Saturdays from Noon-6pm instead of Noon-9pm.

Categories: Pedagogy

Meet Award-winning Animator Cissy Tan

Last semester, Video Contest 2014: Make a Point was conquered by WE, an existential animated short as thoughtful as it is charming. This summer, I got to sit down with the film’s creator Cissy Tan to discuss her theory, her method, and her aspirations as an animator and director.

Feeling inspired? Well you’ll be happy to know that while the patience and discipline for animation are still rare, the tools are more accessible than ever before. iStopMotion is a very affordable solution, and while not as robust as Dragonframe, it’s more than capable enough. Even Photoshop has its own rudimentary system for animating frame by frame and exporting either as a video or as an animated .gif file. In Cissy’s case, the process consisted of photo editing, scanning, printing, arranging, and photographing–working from digital to analog to digital again.

If you’re interested in experimenting with stop motion, the Vitale Digital Media Lab has software to help with animating (Photoshop, After Effects, Premier, etc.), cameras and tripods available to borrow (the very same used to film this interview!), and we are happy to offer advice on setting up your own animation studio. You can also check out our Photoshop and Graphic Design WICshops this semester, which teach fundamental skills for working with static digital images–of course we can show you how to string multiple images together as well!

Looking back at the winning videos of past mashup contests, you’ll see that each year the bar is raised. Cissy’s work is no exception, and I know her video will motivate students to continue exceeding our expectations.  Remember, it’s never too early to start planning your entry to next year’s contest!

Categories: Pedagogy

Lab Closing Early this Saturday

The Vitale Digital Media Lab will be open this Saturday from Noon-6pm instead of our usual Noon-9pm.  We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

Categories: Pedagogy

Screening of Student Video Creations

This guest post by Ellen Reynolds, Lecturer in Fine Arts at Penn Design and video creation guide for our Seltzer Award winners, describes an upcoming event on September 11 to showcase student creativity.

I’m delighted to present, on behalf of The Undergraduate Department of Fine Arts, a screening of student video work this Thursday. We offer a course sequence in Video Production that is challenging, rich, and exciting! You probably know (if you’re reading this blog!) that video production is very time consuming. In a 13 week semester, students always work until the last possible minute on their videos and as a result we frequently don’t even have an end of the semester screening – making it random and rare to see work produced in one of our classes. What a shame!  I hope that students, staff and faculty who are interested in taking a video class with us, or in learning more about our course sequence, or who just love innovative short films, will come to our Screening and enjoy some cookies, beverages, and conversation about filmmaking at Penn!

Selected Student Work from Fall 2013, Spring 2014
Thursday, September 11th, 6:30pm – 8pm
Gregory House Screening Room, 40th and Spruce

Categories: Pedagogy

Interview with Dr. Charlene Wong

Researchers (from left) Mike Kaiser, Charlene Wong and Cjloe Vinoya (Photo by Emma Lee/WHYY) Link to WHYY NewsWorks story below.

Charlene Wong is a pediatrician in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program here at Penn.  I spoke with her about her recent study on how young adults use Healthcare.Gov to choose health insurance, and also about the ways in which the WIC was able to support her team in that process.

Q: Hi Charlene.  Tell me about the study you did.

CW: We did a study looking at how young adults are able to navigate and make decisions about the health insurance plans on We were really excited because from the study we were able to make 6 recommendations about how to change and improve to better support people in making informed, smart decisions about health insurance.

Q: So you weren’t looking at what plans were offered—you were really looking at the interface that users were interacting with?

CW: Exactly. There were 27 health insurance plan options that young adults had to choose between. These were all young adults in Philadelphia age 19 to 30, and we were looking to see how is it that they were choosing between those 27 plans: What did they like about the website? What did they not like about the website? How did they think that this website could be improved?

One of the reasons why we were considering these questions in the millennial population is that young adults are uniquely positioned to make thoughtful recommendations on how to change the web-based health insurance marketplace platform, because they’re a generation that’s grown up online – shopping online, rating things online. So, they’re able to give us some really creative suggestions about how to improve this online insurance shopping system.

Q: What was the process you used to do this?

CW: There were two parts to this study. In the first part we brought them in and put them on a laptop computer here at the Vitale Digital Media Lab.  We watched them for 30 minutes as they went through the process of trying to choose a health insurance plan for themselves, and we asked them to go through the process as if they were sitting at home.. These were young adults who were actually looking for health insurance for themselves during the first open enrollment period, so it was not a hypothetical study setting.  While they were navigating online, we asked them to think aloud about what it was they were doing on the screen and what they were thinking about as they saw new plans come up, because we wanted to capture their reactions and thoughts in real time. The great part about the observation period is that we used ScreenFlow software here in Vitale, which enabled simultaneous screen and voice recording and helped us capture some really rich data from this part of the study. Right after we finished the period of observing them on, we interviewed them using a structured interview guide.

Q: And, what did you discover?

CW: One of the fundamental challenges of this process for anyone is that health insurance in the US is complicated. These plans vary across so many different dimensions. But despite these inherent challenges, these young adults identified 6 recommendations that are relatively simple changes to be made to the web based platform that we think will help better support people in making insurance choices. Not necessarily just for young adults in Philadelphia, which are the group that we were looking at, but for people of all ages and all over the country. The recommendations included things that are as simple as giving better explanations for health insurance terms, like deductible and co-insurance, that a lot of the young adults weren’t familiar with. Think about it – anyone would have a hard time choosing a health insurance plan if you didn’t understand those terms because they’re fundamental to processing the different prices displayed when shopping for health insurance.

Other recommendations were making it clearer what health insurance benefits are included in different plans. For example, a lot of the young adults wanted to make sure that preventive care would be affordable in their health insurance plan. Well, as it turns out, preventive care is included in all of the plans for no additional cost because it’s an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act.  But that wasn’t obvious when looking at the details about each plan, so their recommendation was to more clearly state these benefits up front when looking through plans. They also again drew on their experience of being very internet savvy, saying things like, we wish there was a better way that we could narrow down our options using checkboxes or sliding bars where you could indicate price ranges that you would be willing to pay for the premium or deductible. You’d be able to check off what important insurance benefits you’re looking for: do you want dental coverage?  How about mental health coverage? They pointed to other websites like Amazon or where these sorts of tools are readily available.

Q: Have you been in touch with the folks running the website to give them your recommendations? If so, what have they said?

CW: We have sent our results to contacts in the Office of Health Reform because we know they are redesigning and trying to improve the website before the next open enrollment period in November of this year.  We hope to have some in-person, or at least phone briefings with them to give them even more information about our recommendations. But certainly, we’re also very thrilled that these recommendations are now publicly available in the article and also with the press coverage that’s come from it.

Q: Where was it published, and what other press have you gotten about the study?

CW: The study article was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. I  also published an Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer with David Asch and Raina Merchant that summarized the results of our study. The Inquirer also wrote a separate article on the study because we were highlighting how local young Philadelphians who participated in this study made recommendations they may change the way people all over the country are going to experience selecting health insurance. The local NPR affiliate WHYY and Knowledge@Wharton Sirius XM radio ran segments on our study. The Leonard Davis Institute has also covered and helped disseminate our findings.

Q: Why did you choose this topic?

CW: At the beginning, when the health insurance market place was opening, a lot of the focus was on’s technical issues and how the website was failing. But I started thinking about how difficult it’s been for me in the past as a doctor–someone who has a lot of experience with health insurance –to choose insurance for myself or my family. And then, as a pediatrician specializing in adolescent and young adult medicine, I was thinking about my young adult patients and how they are often purchasing health insurance for the first time.  And I wondered how is they were going to manage the process of navigating selecting a health insurance plan, and in particular on this brand new platform that had previously never been tested in this sort of broad sense. So that’s really where the study idea came from. It became clear early on that one of the biggest impacts of the study was going to be that these young adults had great ideas about how to improve the website.  That’s how we targeted getting these study recommendations out first—and quickly, because we wanted to make sure there’d be time for these recommendations to reach the people in Washington who are redesigning the website.

Q: Tell me what resources you used in the Information Commons and the Lab and the Library, and how we were able to help you through this process?

CW: There was no one on our research team–and we have a pretty large, multi-disciplinary senior research team–that had the technological expertise to recommend how to do screen recording on that we wanted. So meeting with you and Anu from the Weigle Information Commons and the Vitale Digital Media Lab was instrumental in making the study feasible for us.  Otherwise, we weren’t sure how we were going to capture the data that we needed. WIC also provided us with essential equipment—a laptop, an audio recorder, and a microphone in addition to the screen capture software we used.  You all also  taught us how to use it all, because no one on our team had experience with these tools. On top of that, we were also able to do the actual study, here, in the WIC.  The location was accessible and easy to find for the local young Philadelphians who weren’t affiliated with the university. You all also helped use arrange for weekend and evening access for study participants, which was really helpful since many of them work during the day.  This flexibility was important for reaching our study recruitment goals.

Q: And you used study rooms at WIC?

CW: We used the study rooms here at WIC, which again was really fantastic because we wanted a quiet, private space for the participants to be talking to us about what they thought about the website.

Q: I understand you used a program called NVivo in this study.  Can you tell me about that?

CW: NVivo is a software program used to analyze qualitative research. We’re using it for the study transcripts, which we read through and then develop what are called nodes or themes. The software allows you to rearrange qualitative data transcripts into these themes. That way, when you’re analyzing your data, you can say, “62% of participants discussed” this particular theme.  We’re also using NVivo for our screen recordings because it can store video and time-stamped video transcription. That way we’re analyzing all of our data, videos, audio transcripts, all within this one program. It’s been great.

Q: Where do you use it on campus?

CW: We use NVivo in several places.  It’s available here in the WIC. We also have access to it in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program office and the Penn Medicine Mixed Methods Research Lab.  But WIC has the most available computers with this software, so we have done much of our analysis here.

Q: How did you find Cjloe Vinoya, who worked with you on this study?

CW: Cjloe was our research coordinator, and the two of us did all of the study sessions.  She had worked as a SUMR Scholar, who are undergraduates who get paired with health researchers at Penn. She did such a phenomenal job in that program that she was asked to stay on with her principal investigator at the time, Karin Rhodes, and at the Leonard Davis Institute (LDI).  When I was looking for a research coordinator, she was very highly recommended to me by LDI staff.  And it worked out so well. She has such great rapport with participants, which was important for this qualitative study. Everyone really enjoyed working with her, and she’s incredibly organized.

Q: So what’s next?

CW: We are still in the process of analyzing more of the study data. This article that came out was just a brief article with the 6 recommendations. We have a lot more information to share about young adult’s perspectives on health insurance. We also have data on which plans they actually selected and how satisfied they were with their decisions, so those analyses are still ongoing. Then, as a physician, what I’m also very interested in is looking at how young adults are planning to use their health insurance–which we explored a little bit in this study.  And then trying to identify how to better help them use their health insurance to be healthy.

On top of that, we partnered with a national organization called Young Invincibles, which works on issues affecting young adults including healthcare.  In the study, we identified some knowledge gaps around health insurance, for example health insurance terminology literacy . So they’re considering developing some web based, more accessible explanations for young adults or any adults who aren’t as familiar with concepts like ‘deductible’. If you haven’t ever had to pay the deductible before, it’s a little bit complicated to explain just using a glossary definition. In addition, the young adults wanted more examples  about how to choose between all these different health insurance plans or tools that help them make a decision because there was so much information to process. These are issues that may be the focus of future projects coming out of this work.

Q: Thanks so much for talking with me.

CW: You’re welcome!


Annals of Internal Medicine (via Penn Libraries. The Experience of Young Adults on Suggestions for Improvement. August 5, 2014)

Tech-savvy subjects test website, advise changes (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Op-Ed about the study (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Study of young Philadelphians’ experience on health insurance site may guide improvements (WHYY NewsWorks)


Categories: Pedagogy
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