Spring Semester Classes: Totally Awesome

By Stephanie Schwartz, iMedia Class of 2013

Sometimes it seems that capstone gets all the love.

Well, not quite. It certainly seems to get the most press when it comes to talking about the program. But the dirty little secret of second semester is that we have other classes, and they take up a lot of our time.

Only two students among our group of 26 are taking an internship this semester, but even they take two classes outside of capstone. While our fall semester was regimented, our spring semester is made up of options. Essentially, every class outside of our capstone is an elective.

This year, we had five choices: Application Development, Media Management and Economics, Intellectual Property Law, Public Opinion in New Media,  Multimedia Storytelling, and the Converge Practicum, which was admission-only. The nine students who secured a spot will be heading to the Converge Southeast Conference in a month.

Under the direction of Brad Berkner, the Converge students have been working on a campaign to raise awareness of the iMedia graduate program to Elon undergraduates. We surveyed undergrads to see how they found out about events on campus, what technologies they used and what they knew of the iMedia program if they had heard about it, as well as interview alums to see what their thoughts were. We took this information and began to brainstorm some ideas that would describe iMedia in an accurate yet compelling way, designing logos and shooting footage for a 30-second clip that will be featured on a one-page website later this semester. We have started presenting workshops to undergrads on topics like basic web design and search engine optimization.

Harlen Makemson’s Multimedia Storytelling class is largely a workshop, where students work on a different open-source tool every few weeks to create short stories. A part of the class is to identify and share other tools, resources, and examples of digital storytelling. There is so much great stuff out there – highlights have included the wedding site of Jessica Hische  and Russ Maschmeyer, Coal: A Love Story, Interactive Narratives, and the UNC Digital Story Lab.

We have discovered that there are so many different ways to tell compelling stories, and that each tool has its strengths and weaknesses. Most of the new tools tried in class so far – Zeega, Meograph and Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker – are only a few months old, and are still very buggy, much to our consternation.

Public Opinion in New Media might be a theory class, but Professor Kenn Gaither is all about application. Despite freaking everyone out by having a midterm and a final (!), he tests us on concepts and challenges us to put them into practice. To illustrate social proof, groups of students slowly had to go outside and stare at the flagpole, while others recorded actions of passersby – to see how others would react. He also gave everyone 45 minutes to come up with a strategic campaign for the National Sleep Foundation, and we had an enjoyable discussion on the PBS Frontline special The Persuaders, all about the advertising industry. Within a week of viewing the film, Slate published an article discrediting one of the featured leaders, French marketing executive Clotaire Rapaille. How’s that for relevant? We’ve also had passionate discussions and analysis around coverage of issues in the Middle East and in India. Considering we all barely passed his first-day quiz of basic international issues, we’re all glad to be exposed to such interesting and topical content, making our class that much better.

Intellectual Property Law was an intense half-semester course, where students were given a survey of communications law — copyright, trademark, patent, privacy, fair use and internet piracy. This class was anything but boring — we got to make our own syllabus, and every class offered a different shape configuration of seats. Like Professor Gaither, Brooke Barnett made sure that we could apply our understanding of the laws and apply and interpret them. We had to think about where we stood on issues, and some of us were surprisingly conservative or liberal in how we applied them. Like Public Opinion, this class was discussion-based, but the cases were very interesting and the goal was for students to feel comfortable in understanding how to use content.

Media Management and Economics is co-taught by Connie Book and Jack Stanley, a 45-year executive at Time Warner Cable, now retired. Each session, he goes over current events of the past few days, as we discuss shifting television patterns and greater reliance on mobiles and tablets. The bottom line for us, whether we will be content creators or managers (or both), is that everything comes down to money. That might be obvious, but for many communications majors, it’s worth repeating.

For a good portion of the semester, we will be focusing on one case study: the Google Fiber broadband push in Kansas City.  Being iMedia students, we are often so surrounded by technology and live this life so fully that it’s hard for us to sometimes understand that there are people out there who have no interest and see no use for something we consider so necessary: the Internet. Google plans to expand broadband – high speed access – to areas that do not have it, for an affordable price. The company picked Kansas City (both the Missouri and Kansas locations) because they felt it was a real growth opportunity.

And last but not least, students got Google Analytics certified. We are all very excited to put this on our resume, as we know how important metrics are to understanding the role of content and audience to a message, thanks to our professors!

With all the talk of mobile, iMedia would be remiss if it didn’t offer a class on application development. Taught by Brian Walsh, our HMTL and CSS instructor, his Application Development class first made web-based applications — essentially websites designed for mobile phones — and then geolocation apps, where they were able to detect a user’s location, add custom points, and populate the map with nearby businesses and landmarks. We will now be accessing APIs, which means our applications can power the camera on the phone, and have begun working on final project ideas, where everyone will make a very simple app showcasing some aspect of basic data, like pictures and descriptions.

While classwork this semester is just as intense and consuming as last semester, we seem to be enjoying it more, and it’s not because graduation is on the horizon — that makes us even more stressed — it’s because we truly love our classes. We’re working on topics we’re interested in and exploring tools and mediums we like. As a bonus, all of these classes have in some way dovetailed with our capstone or our career ambitions, as professors try to tailor their assignments so we can pursue our own interests. Both the theory and production classes have turned out to be valuable in one way or another — not a distraction from capstone, but an enhancement.
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