Emory Report
January 28, 2008
Volume 60, Number 17

On his desk
Between his work in gaming competency and having a wife who is a computer scientist, Michael Prietula doesn’t consider an old machine’s destiny to be the landfill or recycling. He considers them collectibles and is proud of the “antiques” he’s gathered at home and work. Here’s what you can find on his desk at Emory:

1. Original Macintosh
2. iMacs
3. Mac II
4. Next Cube
5. Nextstation

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January 28, 2008
Diving into different fields: Professor perfects practice, comes up with new entities

By amye walters

Before becoming a professor at Emory, Michael Prietula taught at a very different level: below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface. With a family based in Jacksonville, Fla., Prietula was “always into water sports.” His initial exposure to scuba diving was with instructors from the nearby Mayport Naval Station, and he soon became a certified PADI instructor. Prietula continues to dive recreationally, but focuses his teaching efforts on dry land.

Though well-known for its engineering program, Carnegie Mellon University has the country’s oldest drama department. While teaching in the business school there, Prietula built an acting course to improve his students’ communication skills. The course, which is still offered, was unique in that it truly was an acting class that developed all the skills needed to communicate, rather than a business communication class. Prietula had the vision that certain dramatic skills translated well to a life off the stage, whether that meant a boardroom, an interview or a research environment.

Since joining Goizueta Business School six years ago, Prietula has brought similar innovation to this campus. Last year he ran an international conference, gathering the world’s leading social science computational modelers at Emory.

In addition to serving as a professor of information systems and operations management, Prietula is an adjunct professor of psychology. His “Psychology of Technology” course will be a component of the University’s partnering with iTunes U. In remodeling the course, Prietula turned to his students. Their study project looked at the best uses to apply when iTunes U launches.

As evidenced in the courses he’s created, Prietula has a habit of combining elements of differing fields into his own freestanding entity. He also takes this approach in his research endeavors. Prietula, along with Jim Buehler, a research professor and physician in the Department of Epidemiology, are members of a team that chase disasters to study the relationship between public health issues, information flow and technology. On another project, he is on a team studying emergency operations centers and building a “virtual EOC” computer simulation platform.

Reconnecting with his contacts at Carnegie Mellon, Prietula is working with an old friend, Don Marinelli, a co-director of the school’s Entertainment Technology Center. The pair, along with Buehler, are bringing a novel approach to the One Laptop Per Child project. “We want Emory to be at the forefront in developing public health games for kids in developing countries,” says Prietula.

From language to cultural differences to varying public health needs, much consideration is necessary during development. When designing these games, Prietula and his colleagues must contemplate what issues are at hand: safe drinking water or AIDS education; which characters appear within the game; should an elder or friends be the teaching mechanisms? The Entertainment Technology Center will work with the Emory team and implement it as a game.

These researchers are just getting started on this project and recruiting their team, Prietula says. Worldwide integration will take years. Where many would find this a daunting challenge, Prietula exudes obvious enthusiasm over the idea of “making a game and changing the world.”

Much of Prietula’s work is centered around the study of expertise and acquisition of skill. In an article published in the July/August 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review, titled “The Making of an Expert,” Prietula and his co-authors propose that expertise comes from time spent practicing, but practicing in very particular ways: “The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice and honest, often painful self-assessment.” Prietula has found the time to practice many fascinating concepts.