Multimedia Labs to Enhance Commons System

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Nicha Rakpanichmanee

Part of an ongoing effort to integrate technology into the commons system, the first of several multimedia editing labs will open this spring in the basement of Pearsons Hall, equipped with over $10,000 in high-end machinery.

The brainchild of Associate Provost and Associate Professor of American Literature and Civilization Tim Spears, this project is a collaborative effort between the Center for Educational Technology (CET), the Library and Information Services and the Provost’s Office.

“The increasing importance of computers is going to change the way education is done,” said Spears. “But I don’t think students have enough opportunities to use technology in an experimental way, outside the academic framework of the College.”

Earlier this fall, Spears sent out an e-mail invitation to all students regarding a preliminary project meeting. “About four showed up,” he recalled. He later reached out to students through the commons system. Two to three spots for training in digital filmmaking at the CET were offered to each commons.

Thirteen Middlebury students attended the three day afternoon workshop on Jan. 23 to 25. From film majors to undecided first-years, they ranged widely in the breadth of their computer and digital film experience. Most say they began with little knowledge of what to expect, but came out further technologically adept and intrigued.

“I started from ground zero,” said Chris Howell ’04. “But they gave me all this fancy equipment to play with, and now I’m just really into it.”

Hector Vila, associate director of the CET, applauded his students for volunteering their time for over 12 hours of intensive instruction. The workshop led students through the fundamentals of videography, composition skills of capturing and compressing and editing techniques. CET also offered critiques of the finished product.

The participants work on projects in their respective commons teams. CET has lent each team a Macintosh Powerbook with I-Movie film editing software, a digital video camera and a tripod. Now equipped and trained, the students are thinking up a variety of short digital videos to present at the Winter Carnival in February.

Morgan Jones ’04 said his team is preparing for a 15-minute documentary on Middlebury’s program with the Posse Foundation of New York City. Through this process, his group will introduce students on campus to the multimedia project.

Workshop participants are already exploring the many possible uses of advanced digital technology. Jones makes dance videos for his Generation Today break-dancing club. Howell, too, has been recording his friends’ birthday celebrations and turning them into artistic renditions and music videos.

These creative works are exactly what Spears wants to happen in the basement of Pearsons and, eventually, at some location for all five commons. He also emphasized that the project aims to be entirely student-run. “It’s like we’re setting up a sandbox in a playground,” he remarked. “Go to it, and see what you can do.”

Jones expressed excitement about the multimedia lab. At the same time, he was “concerned” about this expensive “playground.” Spears himself expressed hope that the program will receive some grant funding in the future. Currently the costs are covered by the Provost’s Office.

“I think this is a really cool thing to have, honestly, to take out and borrow,” said Jones. “But some people might see all this new technology and think ‘This school is too rich for its own good.’ I’m holding this equipment myself, sitting in my room with a computer that’s not mine. It’s a lot of money.”

“I guess [the use of high-end technology] is going to happen no matter what,” continued Jones. He acknowledged the possible advantages “if you could use it to accommodate you and what you need.”

With two advanced computers fully equipped with digital film-editing programs, the Pearsons multimedia lab has the potential to provide a new hobby for many students. And of course, film majors are keenly interested.

One of several film majors who participated in the workshop last week, Bernadette Gunn ’04 sees the project as an excellent alternative to fighting for the two computers with film-editing software at Sunderland.

“For a four minute video, you need at least eight hours to edit,” she said. Additionally, having these computers in residence halls of each commons would make it “more convenient” and “more spread out” on campus.

“A lot of people who major in something different like English or religion might have taken ‘Sight and Sound’ but not pursued it,” said Gunn. “They might still have this interest and talent for film. What this project will do is tease the creativity out of people who are not film majors.”

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Multimedia Labs to Enhance Commons System