Multimedia in the Humanities – Geoffrey Rockwell
Questions to consider when starting a new program: Who is it for?
What will it do to your community?
What are you not going to do and what are others not going to do as a result of your taking up the attention of administrators?
"Multimedia" as a name conveys both the object of study and "humanities"
R. notes that in his program, targeted funding is going to other places, i.e., Research funding is sucked up by Health & Engineering—because they require matching funds from the University, funds are used to match instead of being spread across disciplines as in the past.
Beware of funding with strings attached: getting matching funds can be time consuming; there can be associated hardware and staffing costs (for example, you may have to create mock-ups of what you’re doing to show to the proud sponsors, which takes staff time away from other projects you’d rather be doing). Remember to budget the cost of these strings.
Consider students’ expectations—they have very high expectations for a program that is just getting started. The promotional materials, etc. should reflect actual offerings and expectations in the current program.
See Multimedia Program Competencies (handout)
--Competencies should be introduced, developed, reinforced—analysis of current program shows an imbalance in design of course sequence. Need to incrementally build technical skills.
Interdisciplinary Theme Park: dangers of interdisciplinarity—leaves no time to do your own work—you’re too busy educating yourself about the other disciplines.
You’ll end up spending a LOT of time with admissions, recruitment, transfer credits, etc. At McMaster all this is handled by one academic advisor.
Suggestion: Don’t write too much down or you’ll find yourself in a bind. Make the procedures flexible, especially in the program’s early stages.
Budgeting: software soaks up more money than hardware. You need to budget money to make mistakes—useless software, hardware, faculty. Remember also to include funding for lecture series, admin, tech staff. Funding needs to be *ongoing*. And you need tenure-track faculty of your own.
Space: create community space among students; labs, classrooms—labs must be under your control so you can do things at the last minute & not by committee.
Hiring faculty: this has been tremendously difficult at McMaster—not enough people out there with the right skills. Retention is also difficult—faculty is lured by more money in the corporate sector. R. finds they are constantly running job adds—huge administrative costs here as well.
Creating a student community where students learn from each other is important.
Develop an IP policy for student projects. At McMaster—student is granting a 1-time license for evaluation. If the profs want to, they can buy material from students, with contracts—non-exclusive license. Beware of people wanting to use students as free labor (having them set up course web pages, etc.)
Politics: Talk with people on evaluating committees; chairs, etc. before the program proposal goes up for a vote.
Ontological Rationale: "Multimedia" is easier to point to as an object of study than "Humanities Computing" or "Informatics", etc. It is (or should be) distinguished from Media Studies, referring only to *computer-based* multimedia.
R. notes that at conferences, in journals, etc. the word "multimedia" is becoming a focal point.
Need for content providers: Get stats on need for students with humanities and computer backgrounds for working with humanities objects.
Problem of division between manual labor/technical skill and the traditional humanities/academic work—R. advocates making this division and object of study in the program (turn the problem into part of the field’s realm of inquiry).
Fears that the discipline is tainted by money—selling out.
Some see Humanities Computing as the humanities’ experiment with selling out--& so they feel if they’re going to sell out, the field should bring in a lot of money for the rest of them. There is also a fear that this program will steal resources from other programs--Draw up clear budgets to assure them this won’t happen; show you’ve covered all the hidden costs.
Concerns about stealing TAs from other departments; Concerns that even more demands will be placed on graduate students.
R—McM budgeted for new TAs and encouraged students to take TA-ships in their home departments. They also use fourth-year and recently-graduated students, and pull in computer science MAs who don’t get funding from their own department. (In this case you have to be sure the computer science students fit in with the humanities students—some tend to be scornful).
How many students are in McM’s program?
Students apply in their second year. 25-35 are accepted per year; the dean wants to increase that number to 50.
lab computer to student ratio: 1 high-end multimedia computer for every 4 students
Adding students to the program requires more space, more hardware, software licenses, etc. To accommodate more students, McM wants to increase access to computer labs to 24/7. Upper level students get keys. Security was increased to make students comfortable being at the labs at any time.
Building funds: does this take funding away from other sources?
R—ask for building/rooms with overlapping uses; for alliances with other departments. Example: McM has one room used as a nursing/cancer research lab, a blackbox theatre, a film screening room, and a traditional classroom.
What is your program’s connection to/relationship with computer science?
R—McM’s CompSci dept had a dysfunctional relationship where they were in the Sciences, so they moved to Engineering. His program benefitted from their being asleep—there was no opposition because they weren’t paying attention. They have been friendly; don’t feel threatened.
Connection to art/drama rather than to the U. library?
U. Librarian at McM has not been interested in multimedia. A data/etext center was created just last year—mainly deals with census/geographical data.
Differences in curriculum: undergraduate vs. possible grad program:
R—In a grad program, there would be more stressors on technical issues, and teaching them outright would be harder to justify.
Suggestion: assess incoming students on a portfolio exhibition of skills
R—you will still find major gaps (ie, if they’ve never thought about text editing, how will you get them to pick it up?—shortcourses, or weaving it into courses?)
Suggestion: proposal about granting advanced standing in some areas to some students
R—perhaps you could offer senior undergraduate courses for graduate catch-up. Credits would not count toward the graduate degree. (UVa—could be 500 level courses, which do count)
Suggestion: Summer Boot Camp (Carnegie Mellon)—in the summer before beginning the program, students take summer classes in the areas they’re weak in—can be English, can be Computer Sciences, etc. The camp is required--designed to establish proficiency.
Concerns: May scare people away with such a program. (Or could be a bonding experience).
A summer requirement may keep out those who must work to earn money to pay for school. [Having been there, I second this concern—even if funding is offered for the summer, you still wouldn’t have time to earn & save enough to get through next semester if you had to take summer classes--M.]
Suggestions: Offer skills classes in the first year as extras for those who need them; make the term of the degree flexible (i.e., some may take one year, and some may take two to graduate).
Transform colleges’ investment in the MA—have funding for the MAs—see this funding as an investment (a public investment). MAs could TA undergraduate courses.
Work out an ROTC-like arrangement, where a company pays for an MA in exchange for a certain period of work afterwards. –Problem with corporate influence in the selection process. Suggestion: set it up so that a student would apply for, for example, the "Nortel Fellowship" in the second year.
R—in a stand-along MA, it’s unclear what students will do with the degree once they graduate. Such a program may cut off their chance to go on to a PhD. McM offers a combined honors degree, so students can still apply to graduate study in their other field.
R—the thorniest problem is accounting of all kinds: money, who gets paid, using space—course accounting—how does the program take shape to allow a degree in a field AND in Multimedia studies?
Programming—what is its relative importance?
R—at McM, we integrated the learning of programming languages into other courses. Didn’t hire a computer science person (who would need to understand Humanities computing culture)—computer science didn’t fit (he considers this a weakness of the program)
Classes at McM—2hr weekly lecture, 1 hour hands-on lab in smaller groups. In these, students build by cut & paste; in the advanced classes they learn scripting.
Text markup, etc. –2nd year course.
Challenge students to re-think what a text is. They encode a representative sample in XML with a DTD; lots of analyzing of components, document analysis.
The final project is a paper based on their text analysis. Emphasis: design your own markup language.
Expectations are a point of tension in the program: Students want to make cool things; Professors want more critical analysis.
Suggestion: Design a 2-track program: (1) create artistic/literary works; (2) critical/theoretical approach.
R—all courses step back & examine what they’re doing critically—employ self-conscious reflection on methods.
R—notes that enrollment is lower in the text courses.
To what extent does demand drive curriculum?
R—This combines with the hiring problem—candidates are strongest in text, yet skills/research abilities you want are in theory, etc. Instructional abilities differ.
Suggestion: propose long term (5 year) part-time positions to lure people from industry—ie, hire a musician working with electronic media.
Text is a multimedia environment itself—computer technology is its direct descendant. It is important to recognized this and integrate new tools into this understanding.
What issues in professional schools need to be brought in?
Management course; intellectual property rights
Beware shared resources (faculty)—enthusiasm for sharing may wane. Hiring/tenuring becomes difficult when faculty are shared between departments.