Education for a digital generation: 10 New Media schools

STUDYING New Media involves some risk, indicated by the word ‘new’. Unlike law or civil engineering, new media is often uncharted territory. Essentially, most New Media or Digital Media courses are built around digital methods of audio and visual production underpinned by the techniques for storing, showcasing and distributing the results. ‘Web 2.0’ – online interactive multimedia – is centrally important, demanding high levels of craft and creativity to use well. For the less technical, courses in online or digital journalism can also provide an attractive career opportunity.

The histories of new media and digital journalism are closely connected. The interactive quality of each and the entry-level use of increasingly inexpensive technologies link the two together – both owe much to the coalescence of various technologies around ‘Web 2.0’. Taught in higher education, there are important differences too; typically, digital journalism courses begin when journalism schools attempt to modernize.

HKBU School of Communications

Pic: HKBU School of Communications.

Journalism professors are all too aware these days of the widespread belief that amateur journalists, enabled by blogs, Twitter and social networking, are taking the place of professionals. Yet as Dr. Andrew Calcutt of the University of East London explains, “the simple equation of Internet expansion with the contraction of professional journalism does not add up.” Prospective journalists need to be proficient in the latest technologies and platforms, but many of the old talents – a ‘nose for news’, clear writing, professional judgment – still have to be acquired from somewhere.

As with New Media courses, students of Digital Journalism should be clear about the exact type of degree they are signing up for. Whereas some courses offer Journalism Studies – typically concerned with the sociology of newspaper and broadcast journalism – others promise to train up the Pulitzer Prize winners of tomorrow. Some journalism departments or faculties will have worked with what they are good at, meaning existing expertise becomes a solid platform from which to teach.

However, since digital journalism is a relatively new branch of the profession, it can’t be assumed that hacks-turned-academics will bring with them the new skills needed to operate in a multimedia environment. Often professional journalists find themselves fighting for their livelihoods amid a ‘perfect storm’ caused by falling advertising revenue and competition from User-Generated Content (UGC). In response, the strongest, most professional courses should incorporate the latest technologies into their teaching. Who wants to learn how to work in a 1980s newsroom these days?

Scholars teaching on both types of degree typically debate the actual meaning of ‘New Media’. New York University’s Jay Rosen says we need to think not of ‘old media’ and ‘new media’ but just ‘media’ instead. Philosophical differences can influence both course content and teaching styles, making it important for the student to know exactly what s/he is signing up for. Be sure to determine whether your future studies are going to be scholarly or more practical in character.

Assuming one is looking for a practical course, what are the key issues? If you want to be intellectually equipped to work in multimedia-based industries, you will probably need to think about the specific profession you wish to adopt. This could mean developing expertise in animation, audio engineering, web or computer game design, or digital video production (to name but five). The products a student must devise in order to pass such courses can also act as a future calling card in their chosen industry, or fill the New Media graduate’s portfolio with samples of work that demonstrate their potential. Making such projects successful will require learning how to operate the necessary technologies to a high standard. In the same spirit, a Digital Journalism degree should deliver the expertise needed for a multimedia newsroom while instilling the best attributes of the professional journalist in its graduates.

York University Digital Media

Image from Ladybug, a time-based video installation created in the Augmented Reality Lab, Faculty of Fine Arts, York University.

For many universities this presents a dilemma too, as they try to keep their educational mission separate from the training supplied in the workplace. After all, why study digital media at a higher education institution, when industry training could be available closer to home?

Mohd Shahzan Shah Bin Amin Shah explains. The 19 year-old student from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is taking an Audio Engineering Diploma at SAE Institut Beograd. Something of a local celebrity – reportedly the first Malaysian student to study in Serbia – he likes both the speed of his current program (a one-year diploma, as opposed to three years at home, which can convert into an intensive two-year degree) and being taught in English while using the latest equipment.

“Don’t be afraid of living in new countries and make sure you do your research beforehand,” advises Mohd. “The social side is important too, because the friends you make will be your future professional network too.”

The pace of change within Asian economies is an important factor here. Five years ago Dubai, with its majority Asian workforce, seemed fixated with using newspapers as the bedrock of corporate communication (through advertising and public relations). These days an ever-increasing number of companies and institutions treat their websites and smartphone apps as the platforms for reaching out to a widening customer base. Social networking media has become increasingly important. It’s in these contexts that having trained in New Media in an English-speaking environment can pay off.

If it’s a practical course you are looking for, your considerations should include how new the equipment and the software on campus is, and how much machine-time you will actually receive. Numerous institutions are keen to publicize ‘graduate destinations’, meaning that applicants should ensure that their preparation looks at a New Media school’s alumni, seeing who is now working where. (Being a current student of a particular college will often grant you some access to the former students now working in your industry.)

Excellence in New Media teaching and training is an ongoing concern precisely because so much importance is now attached to multimedia communication and social networking. With the right training and education, students who want to benefit from the enormous growth in this area could find themselves leading the technological revolution.

Pic: AP.

Below is a cross section of 10 institutes across North America, Europe, Australia and Asia that illustrate the breadth and depth of education options for Asian students interested in studying New Media:

The Specialized Honors BA Program in Digital Media offered by the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Science and Engineering is an innovative interdisciplinary and cross-faculty program that engages contemporary digital culture from both arts and science perspectives. Students in this four-year program develop a deep knowledge of digital media in tandem with practical skills through an interdisciplinary curriculum that transcends the boundaries of computer science, fine arts, cultural and communication studies and social science. Students can enroll in the Digital Media program either through the Faculty of Fine Arts or the Faculty of Science and Engineering. All Digital Media majors take a common set of required courses, but may choose their electives from the area that best aligns with their interests. Read the full profile…

The leading third-level media and communications educator in Hong Kong, HKBU’s School of Communications (COMM) offers an impressive range of programs in new and traditional media. It hosts three departments – the Academy of Film, the Department of Communication Studies and the Department of Journalism, bringing together about 1,000 students each year from across the region. About 60-70 per cent of journalists, editors and managers in the media and communications industry in Hong Kong are HKBU alumni. These strong industry links ensures COMM keeps its finger on the pulse of a fast-changing media landscape. Its journalism courses prepare graduates for the online as well as the traditional newsroom, and the use of state-of-the-art equipment ensures students are up to date with current trends. Read the full profile…

A leading post-secondary educator in Toronto, Canada, Humber College is home to 17,000 students, with more than 850 international students. The School of Media Studies & Information Technology  offers Bachelor Degrees, Advanced Diplomas, Diplomas, Certificates and Graduate Certificates. Home to a vibrant Digital Arts and new media industry, Canada is the perfect starting ground for anybody who wants to launch a career in the sector.  Humber provides training in both technical skills and professional portfolio building that will allow students to pursue a creative career in this booming industry. Specializations include web design and development, Internet technologies, rich media, 3D animation, interactive games, digital design, and digital art/illustration. And due to Humber’s reputation among employers, companies are actively recruiting skilled graduates from the School. Read the full profile…

Loyalist College in Ontario is a renowned Canadian post-secondary education institute with a reputation for producing job-ready graduates. A modest student population of just over 3,000 and a teacher-student ratio of 1:25 ensures an intimate atmosphere and personal attention for every student. The College offers an impressive range of full-time, part-time and online diploma and degree programs. It also has a number of university transfer agreements with institutes in Canada, the US and Australia for students who complete diploma programs and wish to complete their degree elsewhere. Loyalist offers a range of full-time programs across the digital media disciplines in areas such as computer animation, 3D film production, journalism and graphic design. Read the full profile…

DigiPen Institute of Technology

An example of a DigiPen student's work. Pic: DigiPen Institute of Technology.

With its main campus situated not far from Seattle, USA, DigiPen Institute of Technology is rapidly becoming a world-renowned leader in education and research in computer interactive technologies. Originally a US operation, DigiPen now has new campuses in Singapore and Bilbao (Spain). All three campuses offer undergraduate and graduate degrees that equip students with everything they need to succeed in the game design industry, while existing professionals can hone their skills with DigiPen’s continuing education programs. It has already developed a formidable reputation in the industry, with graduates such as Kim Swift, famous for developing the award-winning game, ‘Portal’. DigiPen’s degree programs are all offered on-site and in person to provide students with an optimal level of instruction, support, and collaboration to prepare them for success in the burgeoning gaming industry.

This school offers an impressive range of programs centred around digital media and successfully brings together a number of disciplines. Perhaps its standout program is the B.S. in Digital Communications and Media. Students are offered the choice between two concentrations – Time-Based Media: Video and Motion Design or Interactive Media: Web and Mobile Devices – before delving into innovative and exciting areas such as Digital Media Management, Web Design, Motion Design and Interactive Design. At postgraduate level NYU SCPS offers an M.A. in Graphic Communications Management and Technology and an M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media. A range of diplomas is also on offer for those who wish to concentrate on particular areas over a shorter period of time.

British university the University of Leeds holds high repute as a leader in international education. A popular choice among Asians, this university provides high-quality education along with one of the UK’s most enviable campus experiences. Digital media students learn their skills at the Institute of Communication Studies. This teaching and research center offers various taught programs in a range of areas, ranging from Communications to Photography. The New Media undergraduate program at this institute encourages critical thinking, creativity and imagination, and the opportunity to study a diverse curriculum. Broadcast journalism study includes undergraduate and postgraduate programs, with the MA in International Journalism considered one of the leading programs in the field.

Canadian institute of higher education the University of Toronto (U of T) provides an esteemed learning environment to more than 75,000 students from across the world. ArtsZone is a U of T initiative to support the university’s Arts Council and to celebrate the dynamism on offer in this institute’s arts programs. Working alongside academic departments, galleries, performance groups and students organizations across the university’s three campuses, ArtsZone is a unique hub of artistic and creative talent. Programs on offer include BA Specialist Designation in Arts Management; BA Curatorial Studies; Communication, Culture, and Information Technology Major Program (CCIT); Dynamic Graphics Project; Joint Program: New Media Studies; Knowledge Media and Design Institute Research Program; Visual Cultural and Communication Program; Master of Museum Studies; and Arts and Culture Specialist Program.

Digital Media

Pic: AP.

Popular US institute University of California Berkeley, also known as UC Berkeley, hosts some exciting media programs, not least its New Media Curriculum. This course addresses the big issues facing the profession today and produces graduates who are perfectly equipped to survive in a fast-changing landscape. Students are taught to report using multimedia right from the off, including video, audio, photos, text and animation and how to best publish them on websites and other digital media. Students still get a solid grounding in journalistic skills and values, but have the added edge of being able to produce and publish effectively across a range of digital media.

The School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland in Australia works relentlessly in its mission to empower global leaders. With a commitment to integrity, scholarship, professionalism and diversity, this School has earned itself high praise and is an Australian institute of choice. Students can choose from a vast range of programs. Undergraduate programs include qualifications in Communication, Journalism, and Arts; postgraduate programs offer certificates, diplomas and masters in Journalism and Communication. Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy Degree Programs are also available. Graduates from this School stand out from the crowd as successful journalists and communications professionals.