Higher Education

what student-produced media means for college IT

To make a generalization about faculty, IT, and their relationship to training and support for themselves… I think you can divide faculty into a few groups.

  1. Faculty whose work is deeply involved with IT, often in a discipline-specific way, who rarely look for support and figure things out on their own. This could range from faculty working with scientific equipment and applications to those working with video or animation or other "high-end" professional media production.
  2. Faculty who use IT for presentations and course management. They do PowerPoint, show videos, use the campus CMS and so on. These are the faculty who probably draw most heavily on IT support as they likely don’t view general expertise in IT as integral to their own work.
  3. Faculty who don’t use IT outside of e-mail, word processing, and the internet.

The distribution of faculty in these groups varies from discipline to discipline as you might expect. On my campus my sense is that the plurality, if not majority, of faculty are in the third category. That might just be my perspective from the humanities, but I don’t think so. However it also seems to be the case that younger faculty are skewing more toward the second category.

In any case, I’m not interested in the bottom group. I’m interested in the middle group.

With the emergence of our culture of user-generated media, I think that the second group now needs to be subdivided to identify a group of these faculty that are now interested in having their students produce and share audio and video in their courses, just as we have seen the slow evolution (good or bad) of students doing PowerPoint. These faculty don’t want to have to teach their students how to produce audio or video or websites. They don’t want to acquire the level of technical fluency that would be required to teach media production. They want to be able to assign this work much like they assign papers. I’m not offering that as a criticism but simply as an observation.

I think this number could grow significantly if the infrastructure were there. We already have a good structure for faculty training, at least for meeting current demands. Incorporating student-produced media into curriculum raising other ancillary problems however:

  • initial training for students in the technical matters of media production
  • education in the rhetorical challenges of media production
  • out-of-class technical support for students
  • availability of equipment from cameras to computers for media production
  • network and storage space
  • availability of "smart" classrooms where student media can be shared in class

More importantly, for faculty to make this switch, they will need to recognize the value or importance of such work in their discipline. Just as faculty in this group have recognized the usefulness of an online discussion in a CMS or using various media as part of their teaching materials or having students do PowerPoint presentations, they would need to see the value of student-produced media.

Such shifts happen organically with the passing of teacher lore in the hallway, perhaps supported by incentive grants in these areas. I’m not much of one for direct missionary work. However, I think that one can help make available information about "best practices" and also the kind of support that might be available. As I see it, the big challenge every faculty member must meet is figuring out how or if a technology will be useful in hir classroom. Each professor needs to devise how technology will be integrated into the courses s/he teaches. That’s a large enough hurdle in itself but perhaps not insurmountable if one felt other problems would be taken care of.

That is, I wonder how many professors in that second group would take a stab at integrating student-produced media in their courses if

  • their own training would not be too time-consuming
  • they didn’t have to worry about training the students
  • that a portion of the students entered with enough experience to serve as in-class mentors
  • that all the technology would be there and supported

I can think of maybe as many as a half-dozen in our English deparment, and that’s just counting the tenure-track faculty. Even if it was less, even if it were more like four of us, that would still be 20% of the faculty in English. And what if 20% of the faculty across campus had their students producing video in even one of the courses? Let’s say they only did them in small classes (avg size of 25) and did them in groups so there were five projects in every class.

That would be approx. 500 video projects involving 2500 students every semester. The statistics just start to get dizzying from there. For example, if every group produces around an hour of video (that’s 15GB), that would be over 7 terabytes of data.  And god forbid the day we move to HD and that 15 GB  moves closer to 400GB and the average student produces an hour of video a semester each! Then your talking close to 3,000 terabytes of data produced every semester.

Now that’s just hyperbole of course (right?). We aren’t going to be there overnight. But how long is the question.

Given the funds we could train 100 faculty over the summer. We’d need to give them cameras and related equipment and portable HDs and computers with editing capacity (yes that is the sound of a cash register).

And then we just need to figure out how to support 2500 students…

Fortunately there probably aren’t 100 faculty who would just jump on, but I bet we could find 50.

Anyway I apologize for wandering about in this post. A lot to think about I guess.


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