Rethinking Digital Delivery
Last Friday, I joined a number of my colleagues at a showcase of graduate student work from a CMAP (Comparative Media Analysis and Practice) Maymester seminar titled “Creative Media Practice.” CMAP is a joint-Ph.D. program that is open to Ph.D. students from all disciplines at the University. It serves to advance the critical investigation of modern media culture and innovative making of digital objects. For example, a student in the program might be pursuing a Ph.D. in a foreign language, Political Science, or Chemistry, while also seeking a second degree in CMAP. I love the program, as it provides these students with not only disciplinary expert knowledge but also new ways of thinking about the production and consumption of knowledge. The Maymester course from which the showcase projects were drawn provided students with short tutorials on the use of a number of digital tools (e.g. virtual reality sets, GIS, Adobe products) and then required the students to produce digital content that would advance an argument they were working on elsewhere in their graduate work.
While the projects themselves were fascinating and creative—especially given the short amount of time in which they were produced—the showcase also offered comments by independent filmmaker Gustavo Vazquez, who was visiting from the University of California, Santa Cruz after serving as a mentor to the students. During his remarks, Vazquez pointed out that he saw his job as akin to being a director of a film. He noted that he wanted to set up every scene so that the actors could do their job with no obstacles. Hence, he worked hard to make sure the students could pursue their projects in an obstacle-free environment.
As the conversation with Vazquez went on, we began to move the discussion of “obstacles” from the individual level to the structural. Vazquez was talking about the futures of dissertations and research projects, and was commenting on how transformative digital tools could be in both the production and consumption of new knowledge. That was the point at which I got to thinking about how the University itself has to act as a director in the sense that Vazquez was speaking — how do we collectively remove obstacles that will help the students reach these new levels of success? And that is a big question. Do we change the requirements for a dissertation such that they can include more digital work? Could a dissertation be completely realized via digital media? Are we supplying adequate tools and support for those tools? Are we helping students rethink traditional forms of presentation, such as poster sessions, and encouraging new modes of production? In short, are we setting up the conditions on a University-wide level that help us see such digital production and consumption of knowledge as routine rather than as novel? If not, how do we do so? These are the questions we need to be asking.