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Special Annual Awards

2008 Campus Technology Innovators: Digital Media Training & Support

Innovator: Ball State University

While students develop highly valuable digital expertise that will benefit their future careers, faculty and staff receive high-level support on an impressive scale, and the university is fully realizing the potential of digital media throughout the campus.

With more and more technology being introduced into the curriculum in various disciplines across the campus, Ball State University (IN) administrators and technologists were seeing a real need to boost institutional expertise in digital media software such as Apple’s Final Cut Studio and Adobe’s Creative Suite. The idea of student support for faculty development projects was not new (it had been experimentally employed on the campus in recent years). What was new, however, was Ball State’s unique approach of developing a Digital Corps that would leverage a student labor pool while offering the students certified, real-world experience. In spring 2007, Ball State launched its Digital Corps in earnest, using a time-tested "guild" model to bring students up to speed on relevant software.

The Digital Corps was conceived to train student apprentices for existing industry-standard certifications. The university chose to use Certiport and, notably, the Apple Certified Pro and Adobe Certified Expert/Adobe Certified Associate programs, because of their wide recognition and the high standards of knowledge they require. There had been attempts at creating internal exams and standards, but it was clear that basing Digital Corps promotions on industry-recognized certifications was the most prudent option. Students would be able to take their knowledge-- and tangible proof of it-- out into the world, upon graduation.

Today there is a solid group of student-professional digital media experts on the Ball State campus, and the university aims to continue to expand that knowledge through a growing body of workshops and a for-credit course that students of any major may take, in order to learn the basics of media software. Students are excited to work alongside faculty on media projects and are happy to pass their knowledge along to other students, creating an enhanced sense of community on campus that overrides discipline borders.

The Digital Corps leverages a student labor pool while offering participants industrystandard certifications and top-notch experience.

Yet there is another plus: Campus administrators and technologists report there is growing anecdotal evidence that the additional knowledge the Digital Corps provides on campus is creating a trickle-down effect to the general student body. For those who would like to examine quantifiable results, consider this: Ball State went from zero certified experts to more than 50 in just 10 months. Faculty appreciate the support for in-class assignments, and various departments and institutes appreciate the on-campus expertise. Digital media technology is now persistent throughout the campus, and administrators and IT leaders feel its potential is being fully realized.

Ironically, there’s been an unintended consequence of the program that has caused real concern: According to Jonathan Blake Huer, director of the Digital Corps, "The biggest problem has been retaining students. As they have mastered their respective crafts, they have been recruited by outside companies and also by other units within the university." One Digital Corps member, for instance, was able to combine his love of both basketball and Final Cut Pro by getting a coveted NBA video internship. In that case, the student did actually graduate in absentia and is now sifting through numerous employment offers. In other cases, there is a temptation not to follow through toward degree completion.

The school does expect a return on its investment, however. "We provide opportunities for Digital Corps students to attend major conferences and software training outside the Indiana area," explains Huer. "Some have won scholarships and we encourage professional involvement." Yet, "Quite frankly," he adds, "the opportunities in Muncie to learn creative applications are few and far between. Because of this, each student who earns travel assistance is beholden to share that knowledge."

Undeniably, the Digital Corps students now have tremendous opportunities they might not have realized otherwise and, ultimately, therein lies the success of the program, says its director: Faculty and staff are benefiting, and the campus as a whole has much greater access to digital media, but "What really sets us apart," Huer maintains, "is that we are investing heavily in the people side of the equation."

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