Dennis Trinkle is CIO at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind.

Feb 09 2007

Ahead of the Curve

Valparaiso University's advanced digital media lab puts students and faculty in the vanguard of the movement that is shaping the future.

Valparaiso University's advanced digital media lab puts students and faculty in the vanguard of the movement that is shaping the future.

When Valparaiso University opened the doors to its advanced digital media lab last October, students and faculty immediately began dreaming up new ways to make use of the cutting-edge technology to enhance the learning experience.

And why wouldn’t they? Video production is the new desktop publishing. Anyone can be a video producer, filmmaker or podcaster these days, using readily available, user-friendly technology.

The integration of this technology into the educational setting was a slam dunk. After all, college students are the core users of some stunningly successful vodcasting ventures, such as YouTube and MySpace. How successful? Google bought YouTube last October in an all-stock deal worth $1.65 billion. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought MySpace in 2005 for $580 million.

We decided we needed to be at the forefront of this digital learning curve — and we did it by creating an open-access advanced media lab to allow students to edit and produce digital videos, master DVDs, generate podcasts and vodcasts, and experiment with 3D modeling and advanced simulation.

“It opened up a whole new way of teaching and learning,” says religion professor Nelly VanDoorn-Harder.

The students in her Muslim- Christian Relations course were eager to use the lab for projects that would help them explore and better understand the often emotionally charged issues they were discussing in class.

“I’m always looking for ways to get the students out of the books and into the real world,” says VanDoorn-Harder.

Her students researched, scripted, shot and edited videos on subjects of their choice.

One group produced a video on Muslim women’s clothing and how it relates to their religious beliefs. Other groups explored Muslims and interfaith dating, pluralism on campus in the post-9/11 world, and children’s views of Christian and Muslim religions.

“The students were interested in exploring these topics,” explains VanDoorn-Harder. “The advanced media lab made it possible.”

English majors also have used the lab to produce video for one of their required courses: New Literacies, Cultures and Technologies of Writing.

They interpret media through the use of new media — and learn the challenges and advantages of using video in place of or in addition to the written word.

Digital Video Takes Off

Given these early successes, it is not surprising that the lab has spawned two new courses to be offered in the spring semester.

One class will meet regularly in the media lab and will explore digital video as a creative art — looking at how the medium can be used for expressive artistic goals, as opposed to documentaries or basic storytelling. Students will use the lab’s four highend digital cameras for course work.

Graduate students who take my business course, Innovation and Emerging Technologies, will learn how digital video and vodcasting can be used to gain strategic and competitive advantage in the marketplace. Students will work in small groups to create two- to threeminute vodcasts for advertising, marketing or internal communication purposes. I want them to think about and experiment with where businesses are headed, so that they are ready to be innovators and thought leaders when they graduate.

How We Built the Lab

The advanced media lab was created mid-year on a tight budget, and its success and design show how a small- or medium-sized school can create a cutting-edge facility on a modest budget. The total cost of the lab was less than $10,000.

We have eight high-performance multimedia desktop systems. The machines — PCs and Macs — are connected to the campus network with commodity gigabit Ethernet cards. All of the computers are equipped with special video and photo editing software, including Macromedia Suite 8, Adobe Creative Suites, Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 and Audacity.

The computers have peripheral devices to broaden the range of services available. Two have scanners for photo and slide editing; two are equipped with built-in tape decks to capture and convert audio from personal recording devices to a digital format. Users can do legacy conversion from older formats and devices, such as records and phonographs, to incorporate sound into modern or historical projects. The library staff will use these peripherals during the summer months to digitize old collections.

The lab is on the ground floor of the university’s award-winning Christopher Center for Library and Information Resources, where it is easily accessible to all undergraduate and graduate students.

Our experience in building the advanced media lab has proved that publishable video is no longer the realm of experts. It’s an everyday communications medium. Businesses and graduate schools are looking for recent graduates who have mastered digital video — and our students are as excited about expressing their academic creativity through sophisticated video production as they are about using it for social and professional communication.


  • Provide a well-defined, pleasant space where students can work with cuttingedge technologies — video, audio, Web design, 3D and animation.
  • Encourage faculty members to include new media assignments in their courses.
  • Urge faculty and students to create new courses — taking on topics made possible by the new technology.
  • Give students the maximum opportunity to work with and learn the latest new media technologies by giving them easy and open access to the lab equipment.

— Dennis Trinkle