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Communication Research Institute

The Communication Research Institute (CRI) of William Penn University is a semi-independent center for student-driven entrepreneurial study of issues in modern communication that cross boundaries of art, technology, and storytelling, and is dedicated to searching for unique solutions to ancient problems. An external, client-driven fulfillment center, the CRI works to solve humble and extraordinary media needs for the campus at William Penn, the town of Oskaloosa, the county of Mahaska, Iowa State, the United States, and the world. Operated by the division of Digital Communication, it is first and foremost a place for active, practical learning and problem solving

Our Philosophy: The Digital Scriptorium

In 782 CE King Charlemagne of the Franks had a problem. He and his family had rapidly gained rulership over a wide expanse of lands in the previous hundred years, but he lacked both the education personally and the access to literate peoples to effectively rule this territory. To solve this he drafted a retiring monk named Alciun of York from his cloisters with a single idea: that he, his children, and the people who helped him rule had to be properly educated.

Alciunʼs first task when he arrived at court might surprise the listener: he set up a technology lab. At this time there was no real way the average student could get writing utensils, paper, and a suitable surface to write on, all these items had to be made by hand. Part of being educated was knowing how to make and use these utensils to communicate with. The Muslim world and the lands of the Romans (which we call the Byzantine Empire) had this technology commonly available and many markets were dedicated to the art of writing. In the lands of the Franks it was nearly unknown outside of monasteries.

Later evidence shows that Alciun decided that the lab would consist of cubicles, each with lighting, a desk, proper ventilation (to dry the paper but not allow bursts of wind to ruin work in progress), storage for finished copy, a holder for books being referenced, a place to store quills, sharpeners, and ink. These labs were expensive, but would be the main centers of creative and scholarly thought until Europe developed an industry to support writing in the 12th century. Modern writers refer to these spaces as scriptoriums, although there is no evidence Alciun or later instructors of the Abby schools called them by this name. We just know from illustrations in manuscripts and in the archeology of the buildings of the era that they existed; for the users of these places they were so basic they hardly mention them in their writings.

The space itself served many purposes. Students of writing learned their craft here. Accomplished writers including professors used special parts of the scriptorium to produce advanced works of writing and illumination. The king and local officials could call on people working in the scriptorium to reproduce or originate texts. Finally, the art and science of writing itself was advanced in them. Technologies like rules of grammar, special characters sets of punctuation, more uniform spelling systems, and even new ways of binding and organizing texts were researched by the denizens of scriptoriums, to the benefit of all of civil society.

Scriptoriums were often supported by merchants guilds, local governments, colleges, and other organizations not only as centers of writing, but also for their general utility. Gerbert, who would become Pope Sylvester II, used scriptoriums to introduce the astrolabe, decimal numbers, rational discourse (and the difference between it and mere nominal discussions) and to advance many areas of discourse. From scriptoriums the papal schism, the rights of man, and even further developments of the technology of writing such Lily’s grammar, written at Oxford, were published and considered.

The Communication Research Institute is merely a scriptorium where the pens are digital, and the books endless and held in cyberspace. Dedicated to exploring the convergence of art, technology, and storytelling, its role starts in the most local levelL serving the college campus as a learning center and production facility.

At the heart of who we are:

Be Humble • Be Just • Be Meek • Be True • Be Patient • Be Grateful • Be Merciful • Be Diligent • Be Loving • Be Thrifty • Be Generous • and Be Temperate

We are artists, storytellers, and scientists who embrace the Quaker ideals even if we are from many backgrounds and religions.

Advice Ladder

The Film and Television Studios at the Musco Technology Center

Our digital scriptorium is a series of advanced media labs where students can explore a wide range of technologies while learning how art and storytelling intersect in an entrepreneurial world. Located in the Musco Technology Center, the labs are not just fixed resources but contain a suite of equipment designed to be taken on the road such as single camera digital film kits. Our current labs include:

The Atrium

The Atrium is our large, central meeting area at the entrance to the Musco Technology Center. This is not just an impressive portico, but an active community commons hosting many events for our students and the community at large. The atrium is dominated by an original painting by Michael Brangoccio dedicated to language and communication.


Television Studio and Control Room One

Tucked back into the angle of the building is our basic television studio where talk shows, news programming, and simple television programs are made. Graced with a permanent set, robotic cameras, and traditional graphics and switching technology, basic students often begin their adventures here, many before they enter their freshman year with various technology exchanges.

Sound Stage and Control Room Two

This large studio space with an unobstructed ceiling for advanced film and television work is married with an innovative, 4K “small iron” research control room. Equipped with jibs, cranes, sliders, robotic cameras, LED lighting, and advanced audio equipment, nearly any student project can be achieved.

The Media Lab

Ever want to work with laser cutters, 3D printers, and the latest design software? The media lab is an artist’s dream where students can explore the farthest dimensions visual communications with tools that are always changing in their complexity. Our media lab is a crucible of creativity in the physical arts, and shares many resources with the division of applied technology.

Chamber of Secrets and the Edit Caves

Many students ask us, “How close will we be working with professionals from the film and television industry?” To find out merely visit the strange world of the CRI Chamber of Secrets and the associated Edit Caves. The Edit Caves are two-person edit rooms right around the corner from our producer’s office and the offices reserved for Fellows and even the Director of CRI. In the middle of this space is the student creative collaboration room. Called the chamber of secrets the room is lined with windows that overlook the studio floors and uniquely, is not wired for Internet or electricity. Instead it is a place where students can communicate with each other planning creative adventures.

Central Offices

Computers are central to our work, and each students shares a permanent work station with three other students, currently all located in “Central,” or the Central offices of the Communication Research Institute. These offices include the equipment cages, Central Conference (our main conference space), our reception space, and the facility manager’s office.

The Division of Digital Communication

The Communication Research Institute uses its technology and resources to support the William Penn University Division of Digital Communication. This has the advantage of allowing students in this division unprecedented access to advanced technology, worldwide contacts in entertainment media, and gives the Research Institute a body of well trained students dedicated to changing the world we live in using old Quaker traditions and new technology married together.

The Division of Applied Technology

Visitors often ask us what happens in the rest of the Musco Technology Center. Our partners in the space are the Division of Applied Technology where you will find the innovative Digital Impact Team, a group of technology researchers every bit as passionate as we are, and the innovative engineers in the associated technology departments that set William Penn University apart from the run-of-the-mill college.

The Ladder, KWPU 90.5 FM

With the generous help of Musco Sports Lighting, the Communication Research Institute operates a terrestrial radio station for local community programming.


Leader Speak Series

The Leader Speak Series is an annual initiative that reaches out to the community with diverse leadership-based themes. Each year we invite a series of people with important messages to Oskaloosa to speak to the local community, and through the power of the Internet the world, about how they achieved change through leadership in entertainment and business. Past speakers have included generals, major artists, the president of Rwanda, and even local visionaries whose efforts to shake up the status quo have made their voices important in the market place of ideas.



September 19, 2019

Markus Haala, a visiting artist at the Communication Research Institute (CRI) on the campus of William Penn University, says he never expected to end up in central Iowa, but is glad the opportunity came his way. “I was born in the Ruhr Valley and grew up in this great industrial region of Europe where nature and machinery often sits side-by-side, which is really different from Iowa, however I was ready for Iowa because of my undergraduate college, the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The countryside in Iowa around Oskaloosa looks a lot like the countryside in the Netherlands, filled with green field and blue skies.”

“Why come to Iowa?” We asked Markus as he walked outside of his southeast Oskaloosa home.

“A lot of people have asked me that, and the answer is easy. William Penn University is one of the best creative education colleges in the country, and Iowa is a great place to make art.”

“I like to point out the advantages that Digital Communication offers students over a traditional multi-media journalism degree at a big state university. First, the whole university here is geared to push students to be the best artists they can be. I have better equipment in my labs than students at the New England colleges I used to teach at, and I can allow students to use it from their first semester here. For me as an artist that means I am not alone creating art in a cornfield like some people may think. Instead I have dozens of undergraduates who have the opportunity to get exposed to advanced technology and the chance to work closely with me developing their artistic senses.”

To find out more we talked with the Director of the Communication Research Institute, Steve Jackson. “Markus is right on two fronts. First, many colleges have the same equipment we have, from laser etchers, to drones, to 3D printers, but Freshman have to pay a tax in a dozen pre-requisites before they will ever put their hands on the good stuff.

Our students are our creative colleagues from day one, with their own desk space, a shared computer, 24/7 access to the labs, and enough practicum classes that during four years’ time they will have lots of chances to work closely with visiting artists and faculty.

The second is that Iowa is less expensive and more efficient than other places in the country. Donate ten thousand dollars to an east coast college and not as much as you might think gets into the hands of students, if they will even allow you to donate to labs. Donors who support us get to see their money getting exactly where they think it is going.”

We caught up with Markus exploring an old stone building on the edge of William Penn University campus, where he agreed that Iowa was a great place to build an artistic career. “Groceries cost half as much as Boston, rent is a third and your landlord is usually a friendly person who stops by and chats with you on weekends. And you are right that projects are more efficient here.

When asked how he plans to take advantage of his visiting artist position at the Communication Research Institute and William Penn University, Markus replied, “Working with students is the greatest opportunity a visiting artist has, and digital communication allows visiting artists a chance to work on a wide range of projects.

Finally, at WPU we are proposing a new visual communication major, and learning to use lasers, robotics, and 3D printers in new ways. Plus we have plans for another visiting artist and other professionals whose skills will expand the scope of the institute.


Community Building Rehabilitation Program

The Communication Research Institute will occasionally find a building in our community that needs rebuilding and love. Stay tuned for our next project here in Oskaloosa.

Field of Drones

The CRI is developing a state of the art drone training program along with a flying field called the field of drones.

Fellow of the Communication Research Institute

A fellow is an appropriately credentialed and experienced person whose is given access to the CRI labs and allowed to teach courses in the Division of Digital Communication that is being structured.

A fellow is an appropriately credentialed and experienced person whose is given access to space and technology in the institute and may teach courses for the university. Fellowships are cross disciplinary, meaning they need not be restricted to communication fields, may be applied to faculty who are already members of the William Penn community, and may or may not be compensated. Fellows – except when designated emeritus – are yearly appointments without expectation of tenure. Fellows are appointed by the Dean and Director based on need. If you wish to become a fellow of the institute, please send a letter describing how you would be compensated, a letter of research and teaching interests, a CV, and three recommendations to:

Director, Communication Research Institute
Fellow of the CRI Program
201 Trueblood Avenue
Oskaloosa, IA 52577

Unless you are chosen you will not be contacted by us concerning your application and we are unable to comment on your application unless you are chosen for an interview.

Visiting Artist Program

The Visiting Artist Program is how the Communication Research Institute brings artists to our community for a longer stay, allowing them to tackle significant projects over a period of two to three years and to develop both teaching and curriculum development skills.

The CRI is dedicated to developing mid-career artists, helping them become innovative faculty members able to maintain their creative credentials while working as a researching creative professor. To aid in this process, the CRI occasionally funds an artist who has achieved a terminal degree in their field and has demonstrated at least ten years of increasingly challenging creative projects. People chosen for this honor receive a two year visiting artist contract, a competitive salary, lab space and funding for their art, and are made fellows of CRI. On occasion a visiting artist who successfully builds a major and demonstrates excellence in teaching, student recruitment, and research, will be advanced to full-time faculty status.

If you feel you are a good fit for this honor, have the right to work in the United States, and are willing to relocate permanently to Mahaska County, Iowa, then please send us a proposal by U.S. mail that includes a physical cover letter, a C.V., contact information for three references, an artistic mission statement and a discussion of goals for your stay at William Penn University, and links to your creative work. Send it to:

Director, Communication Research Institute
Visiting Artist Applications
201 Trueblood Avenue
Oskaloosa, IA 52577

Unless you are chosen you will not be contacted by us concerning your application and we are unable to comment on your application unless you are chosen for an interview.

***Special Note: If you are a cosplay enthusiast with an MFA in fashion or fiber arts, extensive skills in hands-on design and manufacture of costumes, and a desire to explore practical job getting education paradigms, please send us your CV.***

Steve Jackson

Steve Jackson, Chair of Digital Communication, Director of CRI, Associate Professor of Digital Communication

Director’s Statement

We are an agile, technologically savvy, international team of artists whose goal is to disrupt the old traditions of creative education and faculty research by accepting that our role is to serve our greater community by training the next generation of professional storytellers. Our mission is both mundane and esoteric. Close to home we serve our local community – college campus, local businesses, and artists with production services of the highest quality that take advantage of our decades of personal experience and an innovative “small-iron” studio. In a larger sense we are a group that partners with industry, higher education, and non-profits to shake up the world one story at a time.

One important aspect of this is our dedication to undergraduate training. All of our research and projects are staffed with student labor working as apprentices, gaining cutting edge skills while just beginning their educational journey.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention that the institute, while being ecumenical, is steeped in the Quaker concept that all humans have value. The CRI remains dedicated to finding the good in humanity and transmitting it around the world.

Steve Jackson, Summer of 2019