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iSchool professor creates new course to help nonprofits use digital media, with assistance from Imagining America grant

November 10, 2009

Margaret Spillett
(315) 443-1069

When School of Information Studies professor Marilyn Arnone first learned about a grant to fund new courses at SU that exemplify the University’s mission of Scholarship in Action, she jumped at the chance to apply. The Imagining America (IA): Artists and Scholars in Public Life grant supports new courses that allow students and faculty to collaborate with the community in developing innovative solutions to local issues.

“I’ve been wanting to do something with digital media for a while now,” Arnone says. “I came up with the idea of ‘Digital iCreation in the Context of the Community’ as a course in which students would work with organizations that have very little funding for producing digital media on their own, and would like to have more of [an online] presence.”

Imagining America is a consortium of colleges and universities based at SU that supports public scholarship and practice. The consortium liked Arnone’s idea for the new course and awarded her the grant in April. Launching in the spring semester, the course will provide student teams with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in applying information media to solve the problems of a local nonprofit organization. The course will be a combination of classroom work, media production labs and student work conducted through the iSchool’s online learning management system (LMS).

Students will look at the overall goals of each organization with whom they work to decide what piece of the plan they can realistically enhance through online media in one semester. They will learn a mix of theory and practice; digital, informational and visual literacies, along with production skills.

Graduate student Kunal Kabra G’09, who is assisting Arnone with the course, is currently testing out media tools, such as Windows Movie Maker, Adobe Elements and Adobe Premiere Pro. “I am most excited about the creative aspect of the class,” Kabra says.

Assignments will include video production as well as the creation of an iportfolio, a personal website showcasing the work the students have done throughout the course. The students will be creating projects using production skills they will learn in class. “The students will definitely learn how to create actual digital media,” Kabra says. “They’ll gain Web-related skills, as well as learn about legal and policy issues.”

Data Momentum of Ithaca, a Web development firm, volunteered some of its services to help prepare the course website where student and organizations’ digital media will be showcased, http://digitalicreation.org. Students interested in enrolling in the course can learn what the course entails and see the partnering organizations already committed to participating in the course, including the CNY Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Jail Ministry of Syracuse and the Reformed Church of Syracuse. The website also provides information about the purpose and mission of each organization, as well as the information problems they need solved.

As the class enrollment is limited to just 20 students, Arnone hopes to give this opportunity to students whose background and interests most appropriately fit the purpose of the course. Although programming and HTML skills are a plus, Arnone emphasizes that it is not mandatory for interested students to have an advanced technical background to do well in this course. “I want students not to be fearful of digital media or creation,” Arnone says. “I want them to be enthusiastic about the creative possibilities for content generation.”

Arnone is grateful for the support of Imagining America. “This all started as a result of the Imagining America grant, and I believe in this project so much,” Arnone says. In fact, she is so passionate about the new class that she has allocated her own faculty funds for extra expenses. She ultimately hopes to see the course become a staple in the iSchool’s academic program.

“Helping community organizations increase their capacity through digital media creation benefits both the community and students,” she says.

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