[iDC] digital media curriculum

Andrea Polli apolli at hunter.cuny.edu
Wed Jan 24 16:31:58 EST 2007

We're seeing in these posts how vastly different digital media curriculum can be at different institutions.  Perhaps on this list we're headed towards developing some more precise definitions of programs, clarifying courses in 'digital art' versus 'digital media' versus 'new media', versus 'computer graphics' etc.   Defining these terms could help faculty developing new programs at institutions.  I know in my own experience it is always difficult to decide on course and program titles that fit a specific situation.  

I have a fine arts background, but a few years ago I developed a cluster of undergraduate courses within a 'media' major, a major that had a large number of analytical courses on things like mass media and culture, alternative media, history of media, journalism and pr, and a few courses in television and documentary video production.  

After vacillating between 'new media', 'interactive media' and 'digital media' to describe the courses, the term 'digital media' finally stuck among the faculty.  This may yet change and evolve, but the term 'media' will likely stay.   

In developing courses within a media department rather than an art department, I learned a new way of approaching the material to complement the other courses in media.  Students led the way, for example by making connections between the web and other forms of mass media like television and print media in their projects and class discussions, and as an instructor I found it refreshing to lead discussions about computers in a class of students familiar with McLuhan  and the FCC.
So, I tried to think about ways that the courses could encourage students to ask critical questions.  One successful project I developed was in a web programming course.  I wanted the students to really think critically about the way information is received through the web, so I developed a custom browser project.  Students had to design a browser (or, I should say because the students were also getting their first exposure to real programming, a 'pseudo-browser' that sits on top of an existing browser, no compiling required).  

For the project, students had to consider a browser as not just a container for information but a context and filter.  They had to consider how browsers might limit information.   For example, we've all seen on the well known search for 'tiananmen square' on google.cn, but how can students seeing that example move past relishing in the apparent freedom of google.com, and move towards looking critically at the top ten in their searches?  

In the case of this class, creating the browser helped students to realize how easily information can be restricted and re-directed.  Some student projects focused on just that issue, blatantly limiting information to only sites owned by big media conglomerates or redirecting users to 'safe' pages in the name of computer security.  Other students questioned how information is presented online by creating browsers that allowed viewing of multiple pages and histories at the same time.  It was difficult for students to learn the programming to make the browsers, but in a way even more difficult for them to get past the pervasive idea that a browser and the web itself is inherently neutral.

The ubiquity of computers has been mentioned in this thread and in my opinion our immersion in computer technology makes the task of getting students to understand code even more important.  I was troubled by the student Tiffany mentioned who suggested the school provide professional programmers to build the students' work.  Can students really create meaningful work in the medium without knowing at least some code?  Antonio Vivaldi created some of the most masterful compositions for strings ever written because he himself was an accomplished violinist.

Andrea Polli
MFA Director
Associate Professor of Integrated Media Arts
The Department of Film and Media, Hunter College
695 Park Ave. New York, NY 10021
t (212) 772-5589

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