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
Mary Grush: What is
the most exciting opportunity for Syracuse University students who take part in
the LA Semester program?
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
Grush: Do they
emerge with a real-world view, then, and a clearer picture of their potential
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?
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?
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
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
Grush: And that’s
how they learn to navigate their profession…