Friday, March 25, 2011

Connecting with the Community

Just the other week, I received the first Twitter “retweet” that was a milestone for me as a student and upcoming professional. As a first year MFA student at Champlain College, I’ve learned lessons both from lecture as well as classroom discussion with my instructors and peers. I initially enrolled in the program with a background in communication theory and hobbies of audio production and musical composition. Bringing these interests to the Emergent Media courses and classroom discussions have revealed ways to refine and expand my skills while developing a professional outlook for future opportunities and success.

Without further adieu, let me explain what exactly happened in the previously mentioned Twitter experience. The retweet came from Vermont Public Radio (VPR), sharing a link to my work with their nearly 5,000 followers. Beyond just feeling great having my work noticed by such a reputable organization, it taught me an important lesson about applying my education and professional skills to connect with society.

Making an animated sketch about VPR was not conceived with any particular goal in mind, nor it was it approached from one particular angle or focus. It was born from a combination of digital material and software skills I’m accruing as an MFA in Emergent Media student. Appropriately, one could even say the piece, as a whole, emerged. Allow me to elaborate.

As I was driving from Erik Esckilsen’s Digital Story Telling class, VPR was in the midst of their membership drive—a semi-annual fundraiser. By the time I arrived home, I already had a concept that could incorporate several original songs and illustrations on my hard drive, and a rudimentary understanding of Adobe After Effects. I put together a quick animation on the concept of the “hero’s journey,” which the MFA class had been discussing. At the outset, I had no goals in mind beyond strengthening my proficiency with certain software, and to express, humorously I hoped, a digital story related to VPR’s membership drive.

When I’d completed the video I shared a link via Twitter. I mentioned VPR (@vprnet) because it was relevant to the organization. I never anticipated a retweet, let alone a “follow” from either VPR or Brendan Kinney (VP of Development and Marketing for VPR), but this became the reality. In the end, I learned something much more important than how to use software proficiently. The experience taught me the powerful pull of applying emergent media to everyday society, and in particular its communicative impact for local organizations and communities.

Please view the sketch here:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ownership, Collaboration and Participation

The Flynn Center for Performing Arts received the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Innovation grant. As a MFA graduate student, I have been given the tremendous opportunity to work with their Innovation Lab through a partnership with the Emergent Media Center.

I recently attended their 5-day Intensive Week at the Airlie Center in Warrenton, VA. The goal of the intensive week was to investigate ways to stimulate a deeper engagement with their diverse community of stakeholders through online communication strategies. This innovative process would strengthen and embrace new media through the variety of ways we interface with the community.

Arts organizations are confronted with rapidly evolving online user generated content and it is essential that they use new media tools.

Audiences are yearning for a meaningful and participatory online experience. They are no longer satisfied to simply observe. Ben Cameron, Program Director, at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, also attended the intensive week. He stated, “Audience members are hungry for unmediated conversation.”

During the Intensive Week we metaphorically described this extended engagement as “Animating the Arc.” This would extend our communities’ experiences before, during and after the events, utilize video, interactivity and an enriched social media strategy, increasing the communities’ ownership, collaboration and participation in the artistic experience.

Chad Bauman, the communications director at Arena Stage in Washington D.C was graciously able to attend the retreat. His knowledge and experience helped increase our understanding of three major components needed for the undertaking of this innovation journey.

1. Organizational integration: How does an organization improve internal communication to expand on individual exceptional work? How can an organization embrace partners and stakeholders through multi-channel interconnectivity?

2. Mobile integration: Smart phones are becoming a key method to reach out to arts organizations. In order for ease and accessibility, an organization’s website must be smart phone friendly.

3. Social Media integration: The Web. 2.0 environment is friending, blogging and tweeting at a rapid rate. Organizations must take an active role in this online space in order to “Animate the Arc,” especially to engage younger demographics.

My experience with the Flynn has been extremely rewarding. They are at the leading edge for arts organizations in this country. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to help their mission of expanding relationships, deepening engagement and sharing experiences with their communities. I was inspired by the diverse and collaborative innovation team members including, John Killacky, Executive Director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, board members, and staff. Their passion and motivation was electric. It is my pleasure and honor as an MFA graduate student, working with the EMC, to support the Flynn internally and externally by embracing new media in this innovative process.

Check out:

The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts on Facebook

Friday, March 4, 2011

Can technology change the status of women in the world?

Can technology change the status of women in the world?

That was the underlying question of the workshop I participated in at the United Nations during the week long Commision on the Status of Women conference.
All this new technology is great, one participant from Zimbabwe said, but how does it help an impoverished woman from the countryside? An impressively eloquent and passionate high school aged girl in the audience spoke about how the Internet is used for trafficking girls all over the world.

My response was that new media is a tool, and that like any tool, can be used for good and bad. I used the example of how video games; which have a reputation for being violent and mindless; can, like BREAKAWAY, be a vehicle for spreading positive and meaningful messages. I also replied that although the Internet may not be able to directly change the life of an illiterate woman in the countryside, others can use the powers of this highly connective medium to create awareness, raise money and facilitate change.

Nonetheless, the fact that these issues are so real and so easily overlooked really hit me. The digital divide grows by the day. Knowing this, how can we sit back and ride the tide of new technology further and further away from shore?

What good is giving a laptop to a boy who cannot read? How can organizations use open source tools if they don't know about them? These are some of the other questions that lingered for me.

The solution seems somewhat obvious -- tools are only what we make them out to be. Without the knowledge of how to use them, they provide no value. You can not just drop a pile of laptops in a village and leave. Putting literacy software on their computers is one solution, having educators facilitate the process is ideal. For just this reason, thanks to a new round of funding from the UNFPA, we will be developing a facilitators guide to travel along with BREAKAWAY.

What are your thoughts and ideas about this? Do you feel any obligation to help bridge the digital divide? How can we best use the tools at our disposal to help others?

Many thanks to Jimmie Briggs from Man Up and UN Women for putting this together!

Watch the video!

The EMC Waits: Early Morning

It's been some pretty busy weeks here at the EMC as you can see by the project-personnel boards below. Lots of projects, lots of travel, lots of interesting people coming and going. The students are about to be off for Spring break. Many, including project manager extraordinaire, Lauren Nishikawa, are at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco.
Lauren, Erik Esckilsen, MFA student Hilary Hess and myself have just returned from separate presentations of Breakaway at the UN Commission on Women this month. Tonight is the MFA Open House for interested candidates. We begin bringing potential MFA faculty candidates to campus through March and April. Next Monday undergrad students Chris O'Connor, Taylor Hadden, Matt Adamec and myself present game concepts for the Center for Financial Literacy's Summit.
But this morning at 7:00am the EMC awaits. Here are some fun pics of the EMC in early morning quietude.
We love our open office - shared by undergrads, MFA students, faculty, staff and occasionally project sponsors. It is a hot bed of ideas and plan(t)s.
Besides multiple grants and business development plans, warm wishes await Julie.
Sarah is a model of efficiency...
...and fun!
Myself-obviously over-extended and creative...
...and surrounded by inspiration!
These little guys miss Lauren and hopes she returns soon :-)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Champlain College in Top 10 game design colleges in the country!

Hot off the press! Here's the article from the NY Times announcing The Princeton Review & Game Pro magazine's "Top Places to Study Video Game Design - For Credit." Written by Jacques Steinberg. Source article can be found here. Champlain Game Dev students - head on over to the comments on the NYT blog and let them know what you think!

March 1, 2011, 2:18 PM

The Top Places to Study Video Game Design — For Credit

Are you a high school student who dreams of inventing the next Wii or Kinect sensation, or the next “Call of Duty”?
For the second year in a row, Princeton Review and GamePro Media, the publisher of GamePro magazine, a video-gamers’ bible, have joined forces to handicap what they consider the “Top 10” undergraduate and graduate programs in video game design.
For readers of The Choice who may have logged so much time on the X-Box that they have actually contemplated a career in this (virtual) world, a list like this is probably most valuable as a vehicle for brainstorming the names of universities that actually permit students to study such things. (And yes, I would count myself among those whose first response might well be, “Who knew?”)
Which undergraduate institutions made the list?
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles
2. University of Utah, Salt Lake City
3. DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Wash.
4. The Art Institute of Vancouver, Vancouver, B.C.
5. Michigan State University, East Lansing
6. Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass.
7. Drexel University, Philadelphia
8. Champlain College, Burlington, Vt.
9. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, N.Y.
10. Becker College, Worcester, Mass.
Princeton Review and GamePro said they had made their selections based on the results of surveys of administrators at 150 colleges and universities that offer video game design courses (and in some cases degrees). They also bestowed “honorable mention” status on five other undergraduate institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta); North Carolina State (Raleigh): Rensselaer Polytechnic Institution (Troy, N.Y.); Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, Ga.); and Shawnee State University (Portsmouth, Ohio).
The full list, including that of the graduate schools, will be in the April issue of GamePro magazine, due on newsstands March 8.
Do readers of The Choice, particularly those of you who are video game players or who are studying in these programs, have any wisdom of your own to impart here? Please use the comment box below to let us know.