Bartosz Wojdynski named Jim Kennedy Professor of New Media

Grady College has named Bartosz Wojdynski a Jim Kennedy Professor of New Media.

Wojdynski is an associate professor of journalism and director of the Digital Media Attention and Cognition Lab, which conducts eye-tracking research to evaluate effective message design and media consumption.

“Bart is known for his groundbreaking research on consumers’ understanding of sponsored news stories and the influence of news design on consumers’ visual attention,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “Bart came to Grady with the goal of establishing a leading eye-tracking research laboratory dedicated to the study of visual attention to digital media. He has accomplished this, and his collaborative research has made significant contributions in health communication and advertising.”

The professorship is supported and named for James C. Kennedy, the chairman of Cox Enterprises.

Wojdynski studies the effects of digital media design on attention and cognition, focusing on native advertising, online misinformation and the role of images in information processing. He is particularly interested in the role that visual attention to message elements plays in shaping understanding, emotional reactions and persuasiveness of content.

Wojdynski uses a computer inside his eye-tracking laboratory. (Photo: Dorothy Kozlowski)

In the DMAC Lab, Wojdynski and student research associates measure, in real time, consumers’ attention and emotional responses, and examine the relationship between these factors and consumers understanding and attitudes. This process can provide a more detailed understanding of message effects than post-exposure questions alone.

Wojdynski has presented his research at a number of national and international conferences, and his papers have been published in journals including Journalism, Journal of Advertising, Media Psychology, the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, and Computers in Human Behavior, among others.

He teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses in multimedia journalism, data visualization, experimental design and psychological effects of communication technology.

“To serve as a Kennedy Professor of New Media is a great honor,” Wojdynski said. “Jim Kennedy endowed these professorships in the spirit of supporting innovation, research and outreach related to the changing media landscape, and these same goals underlie my own research program as well as the work that my student lab members and I conduct in the DMAC.”

Wojdynski expects the professorship will allow him to pursue more ambitious interdisciplinary experiments in digital media attention with institutional partners, as well as help ensure that student researchers have access to the state-of-the-art training and materials and that research findings reach the audiences that need them.

Grady College has four Jim Kennedy Professors: James Hamilton, Karen King and Karen Russell and Wojdynski.

Grady College faculty member studies media consumption

The following was written for UGA Columns and UGA Today.

As a faculty member, Bart ­Wojdynski derives satisfaction from seeing the switch flipped within the minds of his students.

“I love watching students develop interests they didn’t know they had,” he said. “My goal is to try to meet students at the intersection of what they want out of a class and where they might want to go in the future.”

Coincidentally, that is exactly what happened to him in a research methods class at the beginning of his master’s program that led to his career. The lightbulb moment happened when he realized he would not have to choose between being a journalist or a social scientist, but instead could study the social science of how people understand journalism and other digital media.

Since then, Wojdynski has been on a fast track, teaching digital design and media research classes while conducting experiments to understand the role of design and attention in how consumers’ attitudes are shaped by media content. In ­addition to the ­coding classes where he teaches journalism students content creation in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, he also teaches courses in data visualization, digital media design and media psychology.

Whether he is teaching a traditional in-person class or one that’s online, a format he has worked with since his first faculty position at Virginia Tech, he said he feels fortunate to be teaching classes in his wheelhouse.

Much of Wojdynski’s research involves conducting eye-tracking studies on digital news and advertising, which follow and measure how people view on-screen information within fractions of a second. He was first exposed to eye tracking in 2008 while at UNC assisting a faculty mentor with a grant exploring how online news consumers used content like story carousels, audio slideshows and homepage hyperlinks. The main goals were to establish how readers recalled content and whether they were persuaded.

Wojdynski maintained an interest in eye-tracking research throughout his doctoral program and his two years as an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, but it wasn’t until he started teaching at the University of Georgia that he was able to conduct his own eye-tracking research and work with doctoral students on their own projects.

Wojdynski said that the move to UGA was appealing not only because of the reputation UGA has, but also the strong communication research and Ph.D. program at Grady College. The fact that Grady was willing to investigate what would be involved in establishing an eye-tracking lab was an added benefit.

With support from the college and university, Wojdynski started the Digital Media Attention and Cognition Lab in his first semester at UGA. Since then, Wojdynski has been mentoring doctoral students in designing media research experiments in a highly collaborative, teaching hospital-type environment.

Wojdynski, who was recently promoted to associate professor with tenure, is equally energized by using his research and that of others to inform his teaching.

“I try to show my students how humans look at content and what messages they come away with,” he said. “Whether I am teaching designers, writers or videographers, I hope they come away from my class with the desire to bring a little more of a human-centered, evidence-based perspective to the content they create.”