Meet UAH's new Communication Arts faculty member Candice Lanius

candice lanius

New UAH faculty member Candice Lanius is involved with user experience projects between the Departments of Communication Arts and English.

courtesy photo

Let's get one thing perfectly clear: Candice Lanius is not interested in computers by themselves; rather, she is interested in how people interact with and create meaning through computers.

A full time Lecturer in The University of Alabama in Huntsville's (UAH) Department of Communication Arts (CA), Lanius is also involved with the user experience projects between the English and CA departments.

"Candice Lanius is a vital addition to our faculty as we add User Experience (UX) to our areas of emphasis in the new MA in Professional Communication. This exciting and lucrative new area is only starting to be taught in a handful of graduate programs. Luckily, Ms. Lanius’ graduate education in rhetoric and big data included some crucial classes in this emerging area. She also will teach our public relations classes beginning next fall," said Dr. Clarke Rountree, Chair and Professor of Communication Arts, in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

She discovered a passion for research after earning her undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Statistics from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "I fell in love with research. I was interested in online socialization and community formation, so with that research agenda in mind, I applied to the MS/PhD program in Communication and Rhetoric at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY."

The communication and media department at RPI focuses on the intersection of human communication and technology. "My doctoral research is on the mining of insights from social media data by engineers and social scientists: for example, using Tweets and mood analysis to predict fluctuations in the stock market," Lanius explained. "I do a comprehensive overview of the field to understand how patterns are interpreted and used in decision making processes." At the moment, Lanius is in the process of "polishing" her dissertation in time for a May 2017 graduation date.

Her study helps users of technology understand the role of big data in decision making by looking closely at the role of rhetoric and interpretation within the process. "Everyone uses social media in today’s society, but few realize how that data and the 'digital shadows' are used by researchers, the government, and private companies. I work to give students a critical understanding of how their social media data is used."

Lanius' first published work (2011) is a study of speech communities on YouTube. "I find it fascinating how an identical phrase said in one community is an insult, but in a different online space it is a term of endearment. I have a new chapter coming out “Telling the Quants from the Quacks,” in online communities (2017). With so much information circulating online, it can be tricky to know what is true, especially when it is shared with statistics that appear feasible. It is important to be critical of online news to get an accurate picture of the world."

She is fascinated how people integrate technology, human-computer interaction (HCI) into their daily lives. "I grew up at the perfect moment, where I clearly remember analog technologies, but I was still young enough to adapt when new digital technologies flooded the market," Lanius said. "The cultural transformation is astounding: It is difficult to explain to young students what it was like when I was a teenager. We had to make plans and then stick to them; there was no way to contact the other person to say you are running late or to suddenly change the location," she added. "My personal experience with seeing how much technology has changed human communication is helpful in the classroom and in guiding my research questions. Today, I teach user experience design courses to help development teams ensure that new information communication technologies work for the end-user. To minimize the 'growing pains; from adapting new technologies and adjusting to new interfaces."

Lanius is impressed by UAH's student body. She enjoys teaching students who are majoring in computer science and engineering disciplines next to the aspiring writers and future doctors: "The mixture of perspectives in the classroom keeps me on my toes and leads to exhilarating discussions. The department was just approved for a new masters in Professional Communication, and I get to teach the first course in the new User Experience track—CM 552 User Centered Design."

Her current research is specifically focused on wearable trackers and ensuring that the digital data collected from smart phones, Fitbits® and similar devices are used for the best interest of the individual user. Earlier this year, Lanius gave a medical grand round presentation to the Department of Psychiatry at Albany Medical Center (Albany, NY) on “The Hidden Anxieties of the Quantified Self Movement,” where she explored how the patient’s experience can benefit or become worse because of tracking technologies.

"Ensuring that computers are usable is extremely important in modern society. If the system does not work well with the human operator, it is at best a massive delay and frustration. At worst, bad interfaces cost lives. With the advent of artificial intelligence systems and more information communication technologies, designers and programmers need to be cognizant of designing for human computer interactions," she said. A recipient of numerous prestigious fellowships and awards, Lanius said, "I have always tried to live by the adage 'never put all of your eggs in one basket' and 'it never hurts to try'."

On getting rejected professionally, she is even more candid. "For every success, whether it is an academic degree, publication, award, or conference, there are as many letters of rejection and missed moments. My double major in Anthropology and Statistics was to ensure I could find research or work 'no matter what'. For my doctoral research, I have been fortunate to have advisers and opportunities where I can stretch out and do truly interdisciplinary work, but it requires an open mind and willingness to take chances. I am constantly seeking new scholarly relationships, research opportunities, and educational moments."