New media | Viewpoint

SULA: Real World Learning in the Entertainment Capital for Media Industry Students

A Q & A with media industry pioneer David Tochterman

Today, colleges and universities have many options for offering undergraduate students exposure to their potential future careers, through technology-mediated experiences, fieldwork, or the opportunity to learn from professional faculty or guest lecturers. A unique LA Semester program located at Syracuse University’s West Coast-Los Angeles campus gives entertainment media students a real-world, onsite exposure to the entertainment industry capital while using new media to model professional communications and industry trends. CT asked SULA emerging technology professor and media industry pioneer David Tochterman how he provides his students with genuine professional experience using the tools they’ll need in the rapidly changing entertainment media field.

Mary Grush: What is the most exciting opportunity for Syracuse University students who take part in the LA Semester program?

David Tochterman: The most exciting part of it is the opportunity to learn in real time, from the industry, while things are actively happening. I know that is a very big part of the appeal for the university (which is very forward-thinking to create something like this), and it’s quite frankly an appeal for me too. I know students are not otherwise going to get this kind of exposure in college, where there is no one working on the front lines of the industry, or who could bring in the kinds of guests who are working on the front lines of the industry.

And the students are also exposed to the same events in real time that I am as an industry professional. For example, if I am attending a media conference, I show them how to follow that media conference, whether it’s through live streaming or social networking--they are learning how to follow the flow of information in real time, just as I do. We are going through this together.

Grush: Do they emerge with a real-world view, then, and a clearer picture of their potential profession?

Tochterman: There’s no question about it. It’s de-mystified and made more tactile for them. They can understand the choices they are going to make about their careers. They realize what they’re going to need to be prepared for when they get out of college; that the industry has changed so much in terms of becoming a multi-platform universe. And whether you call it digital media or emerging media, this is where the industry is now, and this is the job marketplace they are going to enter. They are going to be so much further ahead [of their peers] because they are being exposed to this. If you are in a professional program and you are not exposed to the real world, you are going to have to guess what that is when you get out of college. [Through real-world examples] they are getting knowledge that is invaluable to them when they hit the marketplace.

Grush: It sounds like students are getting not just a quick taste of the culture and tools of the industry, but an opportunity gain some facility in actually using the tools. Is that right?

Tochterman: The emphasis is not just on theory, but practical knowledge about the world beyond the classroom. It’s one thing for them to understand it, but another thing for them to understand what they can do with that understanding. How do you translate academics to real-world solutions? I think in the area of media and technology, where all the rules are still being written, the best and brightest minds in the industry are solving these questions every day. And the rate of change is accelerating at a pretty amazing pace right now. So the opportunity to have a hands-on learning environment like this is very unique.

Grush: What would be an example of a major trend students might explore?

Tochterman: The big trend, of course, is that all the old rules are being rewritten. Where media has traditionally found their audiences has changed tremendously. There are two things at the root of what you would consider new media [in this industry]. One is technology, and the other is consumer control. The combination of those two phenomena has had quite a disruptive affect on any old or traditional media models. For example, advertisers have traditionally controlled the message. There were a limited number of places where consumers could be entertained, and the advertisers had control. Now, it’s almost exactly the opposite. Consumers are everywhere and the advertisers have to find them. The messaging is no longer one-way. You now have to have more of a conversation, an engagement, an interactive relationship with your consumers, and build loyalty… It’s a very different model than the traditional one where the big media companies controlled all the avenues of distribution. It’s gone from the economics of scarcity to the economics of abundance. These are big changes for the media ecosystem. And the technology of the emerging media ecosystem is what’s put more control in the hands of the consumers.

Grush: Do you take a look at social software and some of the common technologies students use, for examples of emerging media and its implications?

Tochterman: The personal aspect of this class is one of the best aspects, for students. One of the ways I give them examples is through their own habits. I show them how their own habits are being affected by these changes: how they consume music, they way they communicate with their friends, how they use their iPads… I put it to them in a real-world context. I found that it’s valuable to them to understand the pace of information and how it is affecting them in their own lives.

Grush: And what’s an example of following a current event in the industry?

Tochterman: At the beginning of the semester I always tell students that there is going to be a huge game changer, one that will take place over the course of the semester. And each semester, that’s true. For example, one semester, there was the launch of Google TV. And much of the coursework and reading and learning were based around understanding the implications of this. I do tell them that they are going to see an enormous amount of conflicting information--just as many articles about how Google TV is going to be a huge failure as how it is going to change the world. And that’s just another an indication of the fact that so many of the rules are still being written. The students are going to get to learn about it as it happens in real time, and they can draw their own conclusions.

Grush: And that’s how they learn to navigate their profession…

Tochterman: Exactly.

comments powered by Disqus