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The moving bullseye: preparing students for a career in multimedia.

When The University of the Arts in Philadelphia first opened its doors in 1816, it faced nearly identical challenges as today: How do you educate students in a field where the technology changes virtually on a daily basis?

Back then, the institution was called the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art. Its mission was to train students to become designers for the exploding industrial revolution. 1876 was a banner year for technology, and Philadelphia was the Silicon Valley of its time. The city played host to the Centennial Exposition, which celebrated the first 100 years of the United States. While there was plenty of art and culture to see, the public was particularly fascinated by the 13-acre Machinery Hall, a sort of COMDEX for inventions. Inside were the latest marvels of the Industrial Age such as the telephone, typewriter, mimeograph and the latest in powerful industrial engines. Only two months earlier, Alexander Graham Bell had uttered his famous exclamation to assistant Thomas Watson. The modern age was beginning. The world would need designers and lots of them.

Since then, The University of the Arts has remained innovative, changing and expanding its curriculum as needed to prepare students for careers in design, visual media and performing arts, and emerging creative fields. Today it is the largest comprehensive educational institution of its kind in the nation.

The university encompasses three colleges: the Philadelphia College of Art and Design, the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, and the College of Media and Communication. The latter was formed last fall to emphasize the integration of art, technology and communication. So far, the college offers two bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degrees -- Writing for Media and Performance (which started last fall) and Multimedia (which began this semester). A bachelor of science degree in Mass Media Communication will be offered starting in the fall of 1999. The university's BFA in Multimedia is one of the first in the nation.

In developing a multimedia curriculum, The University of the Arts chose to use its existing programs (such as animation, photography, design, writing, music and performing arts) as the spokes of a multimedia wheel. It holds a significant advantage over other schools with multimedia programs in that The University of the Arts encompasses all of the disciplines used in multimedia. Because the university provides instruction in all disciplines, it is uniquely set up to administer a comprehensive multimedia program.

Part of learning multimedia is understanding all of these spokes and their roles in a multimedia protect. What students come to realize is that the variety and scope of multimedia is so vast that no one can expect to achieve expertise in every discipline. Each member of the multimedia team must have respect for, and understanding of, the various disciplines and be able to work collaboratively with experts in those areas.

The university sets its multimedia program apart from other schools by its emphasis on collaboration and an intense focus on content development, and its integration with visual elements, sound and music, interactivity and animation. And the university includes performing arts disciplines that few art schools offer: music, dance and theater, and performing arts.

A New Media Center Member

Central to the university's multimedia program is a brand new multimedia lab providing the technological "horsepower" for the integration of text, graphics, imagery, animation, music and sound. The multimedia lab is one of two state-of-the-art computer laboratories designed to ensure students have the tools necessary to develop practical skills in a challenging and stimulating learning environment. The labs are the primary classrooms for students in the College of Media and Communications.

The University of the Arts is one of only four art schools that are members of the New Media Centers (NMC), a partnership group of the nation's leading academic institutions and technology corporations dedicated to advancing technology in education. The NMC's corporate members -- which include Adobe Systems, Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Eastman Kodak Co., Iomega Corporation and Macromedia -- help academic institutions acquire and utilize the latest new media technologies. In return, the member institutions provide beta testing, software development and training.

The University of the Arts' new multimedia lab has 24 workstations. Half are equipped with PCs and half with Apple Macintosh computers. Each computer has a 2GB hard drive, 64MB of RAM, plus an Iomega Zip drive and an Iomega Jaz drive. The PC machines are Dell and Intergraph computers with 200 MHz Pentium Pro processors running Windows NT 4.0. The Mac computers are Power Macintosh 8500 and 9500 machines with 150 MHz to 200 MHz 604e processors running Mac OS 8 with dual monitors running on Matrox Millennium video cards.

All of the workstations carry popular software applications including Adobe's Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere and PageMill programs, plus Fractal Design Painter and Macromedia Director. Exclusively on the PC machines is Claris FileMaker Pro and Microsoft SoftImage, the latter a professional-level modeling and animation software package. Exclusively on the Macintosh is Strata StudioPro, a 3D design and animation package also targeted at professionals.

The Iomega Zip and Jaz drives were selected because of their reliability and prevalence in the market. (Indeed, graphics service bureaus were the first to embrace the Zip format, with its 100MB capacity media.) The demands of the university's multimedia work required some type of economical, cross-platform, high-capacity portable storage media. Many students were already using Iomega portable hard drives to store their work, making the drives the university's unofficial standard for file storage.

Two of the lab's workstations contain digital video cards for downloading analog video to computer and outputting digital video files to analog tape. One PC uses a DPS Perception video board for this task, while one Macintosh uses a Targa 1000 video board.

All of the workstations are on a 10Base-T Ethernet network linked to a 4-gigabyte server running Windows NT Server 4.0. This intranet server provides temporary file storage for students, allows for sharing of information and handles all print queue services. The network printers are an Apple LaserWriter 16/600 PS for black-and-white printing and an Apple Color LaserWriter 12/600 PS.

All decisions in equipping the lab were based on providing the most powerful technologies available. In addition, because of the unnaturally rapid obsolescence of computers, the university's academic computing experts sought equipment that could be upgraded, such as by adding more RAM or installing faster processors.

The Cross-Platform Lab Is Deliberate

The PC/Mac cross-platform environment was deliberate. Macintosh computers continue to be the main platform used by most multimedia designers and is still heavily utilized as a content-development platform. However, PC machines are the dominant end-user platform, and they are making their way into the content-development arena as well. For these reasons, all serious design studios are dual platform in one form or other. The university would he remiss to select one platform over the other.

Of course, transferring a multimedia program from one platform to the other is not always easily accomplished because of the technical differences between Intel-based computers and Apple Macintosh computers. But because it has become a standard requirement in multimedia development, students will be guided to master the development of programs that run successfully on both PCs and Macs.

To prevent the dynamic faced at other schools, where some students may know more about a particular area of technology at one point in time than a faculty member, faculty at the University of the Arts are professionals who are actively working in their fields and upgrade their skills and knowledge on a regular basis to keep current. Nevertheless, in the collaborative environment of multimedia, the learning dynamic is more reciprocal between students and teacher and among students.

Blurring the Boundaries

The bottom line in teaching multimedia is this: no matter how state-of-the-art a lab is, content is king. The equipment will change but the concepts of effective communication and compelling, interesting, provocative, educational and entertaining multimedia will not. For example, 20 years from now Adobe Photoshop may no longer be relevant, but the aesthetic issues will remain the same. It's even doubtful that computers then will be anything like they are today.

But students can be assured that cognitive skills and aesthetic awareness will not change. What is good multimedia? What makes it effective? How do you evaluate it? These complex issues are at the heart of good, compelling multimedia.

In multimedia the boundaries of traditional disciplines increasingly are blurred. Until now, the arts could be successfully compartmentalized. At the University of the Arts, the traditional disciplines are thriving; photographers learn all aspects of photography, including digital; musicians play brass instruments and synthesizers, and make analog and digital recordings. However, in the digital environment of multimedia, each discipline already uses the same tools and the same language. With everything digital the compartmentalization of disciplines breaks down and becomes a continuum.

The University of the Arts' method of teaching multimedia emphasizes collaboration and interdisciplinary knowledge. Multimedia involves so many different disciplines; no one person can be an expert in all of them. Teamwork, cooperation and interdisciplinary thinking are therefore key. The idea is balance -- understanding what others are doing and relying on their expertise. A healthy multimedia program encourages students to grasp the basics of all disciplines and then has them focus on one or two for greater study. That is what the university has emphasized in its curriculum.

The program even includes the study of group dynamics to help students develop their team-building and leadership skills Multimedia is a collaborative art form and students must be capable of stepping in and out of leadership positions. The most successful ones will be those who can grasp interdisciplinary thinking and work collaboratively.

The Real Challenge

The university's multimedia advisory committee's biggest challenge was developing a four-year curriculum for a field that will be vastly different for the school's first graduates in 2001 than what it is today. For example, virtual reality (VR) is in its infancy. The technology is still far out of reach of the average consumer. But in three years or so, it's not unrealistic to expect off-the-shelf VR software and hardware that is affordable to consumers. VR will become the newest spoke of the multimedia wheel.

For a historical perspective, five years ago few had heard of the Internet. Yet today, having a business Web site or an e-mail address is becoming as common as having a phone number. The university developed its curriculum to emphasize the conceptual elements, and thereby be dynamic and fluid enough to adapt to technological changes as they emerge.

The University of the Arts' multimedia curriculum doesn't try so much to anticipate change as it does to prepare students with the fundamentals, which remain constant regardless of the technology being used. The technology of multimedia is a moving target. The goal is to give students the wherewithal to express themselves using the most appropriate tools, whatever they may be.

The best method of learning how to create a successful interaction among the various multimedia disciplines is realizing a series of varying, collaborative projects--having others critique each project and then improving it until it meets the objective of being interesting, compelling and useful.

The university has set up its program in just such a manner. The faculty acts to provide guidance and project analysis as well as stimulate critical thinking. Students benefit from their expertise and professional experience and bring to the projects their imagination, creativity and growing skill.

The Next 25 Years

Today, remnants of the Centennial Exposition are on display in the Smithsonian Institution on the Mall in Washington, D.C., reminding us of the excitement of an age that saw machines as the answer to man's toils. More than 120 years later, the computer and the Internet stir similar imaginations.

To predict accurately where multimedia technology will lead next is impossible. Twenty-seven years after the Centennial Exposition, the Wright Brothers flew the first heavier-than-air plane. Twenty-four years after the end of World War II, man walked on the moon. Twenty-five years after that, computers more powerful than those used in the Apollo space program were available to consumers. In each instance, only a few soothsayers dared to predict such marvels.

In the end, the best preparation for a career in multimedia emphasizes its interdisciplinary, interactive, collaborative nature: the very things that make multimedia unique. The goal is to teach students how to communicate effectively. While technology continues to provide potent new tools, it will be made meaningful through the imaginative investigations of well trained, creative people.

Charles Altschul is a consultant specializing in the use of technology in art. He is currently Chair of a committee of the Yale University Council formed to study the future direction of the Yale School of Art. Prior to creating the nation's first BFA program in multimedia, he was a consultant to the president of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, executive director of Creative Media Center, director of education at the Kodak Center for Creative Imaging, and senior critic in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art. Altschul has lectured at a number of institutions including the MIT Media Lab and the Columbia School of Journalism. He ultras Chair of the 1996 American Center for Design conference, Design for the Internet, and has judged international new media competitions for Communication Arts magazine and the Art Directors' Club Annual.

Laura Zarrow, Assistant Provost for Academic Affairs at The University of the Arts, administers the development and implementation of new academic programs. Prior to this, she served as an assistant to the President of the University of Pennsylvania and was the Associate Director of Admissions at the University of the Arts. Zarrow has lectured at the New York State Counselors Association Conference on the identification and preparation of high school students for a formal education in the arts, served as Juror to the New York Art Teachers Association, and caught at the University of the Arts Summer Institute. E-mail: ljzarrow@aol.com

See The University of the Arts home page: www.uarts.edu

Products and companies mentioned:

Adobe Systems, Inc., Mountain View, CA, (800) 642-3623, www.adobe.com

Apple Computer Corp., www.education.apple.com

Dell Computer Corp., Austin, TX, (800)289-1180, www.dell..com

Director; Macromedia, Inc., San Francisco, CA, (800) 945-9085, www.macromedia.com

DPS Perception Video Recorder board; Digital Processing Systems, Inc., Florence, KY, (800) 455-8525, www.dps-inc.com.

FileMaker Pro; Claris Corp., Santa Clara, CA, (800) 325.2747, www.claris.com

Intergraph PCs; Intergraph Corp., Huntsville, AL, (800) 763-0242, www.intergraph.com

Millennium video cards; Matrox Graphics, Inc., Dorval, Quebec, Canada, (800) 361-1408, www.matrox.com/mga

Painter; Fractal Design Corp., Scotts Valley, CA, (800) 647-7443, www.fractal.com

SoftImage; Microsoft Corp., www.micrrosoft.com/softimage/

Strata StudioPro; Strata, Inc., St. George, UT, (800) 678-7282, www.strata3d.com

Targa 1000 video board; Truevision, Inc., Santa Clara, CA, (800) 522-TRUE, www.truevision.com

Zip (100MB) and Jaz (1GB) drives; [omega Corp., Roy, UT, (800) 6978833, www.iomega.com
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Title Annotation:Technology Information; The University of the Arts' multimedia program
Author:Altschul, Charles; Zarrow, Laura
Publication:T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)
Date:Oct 1, 1997
Words:2497
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