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INNOVATORS 2005: Hamilton College

Innovation: Multimedia Presentation Center

Innovators: Hamilton College

Hamilton College aspires to be the national leader among liberal arts colleges for teaching students to demonstrate their knowledge and insights effectively through written, oral, and other forms of communication. The challenge was to provide multimedia technology and support to allow students to incorporate large-format posters, graphics, and video in their presentations. The Multimedia Presentation Center (MPC) and coordinated support services were created to address this challenge.

Key Players
The Multimedia Presentation Center (MPC) is a public multimedia authoring facility for the entire Hamilton community. The VP for Information Technology, David Smallen, and Couper Librarian, Randall Ericson, obtained funding and space to create the state-of-the-art facility. Collaborative support services were provided by the library and IT staff. The HILLgroup (Hamilton Information and Learning Liaisons) provide direct support to faculty desiring to incorporate multimedia assignments in their courses.

Technology Choice/Project Design
Project leaders selected Apple ( hardware and software in order to have the greatest flexibility for the integration of multimedia authoring applications. Efforts to maximize cross-platform potential led to standardizing on the QuickTime media architecture ( Students using the MPC were to become creators, as well as users, of multimedia materials. Included in Hamilton’s goals for designing and managing the facility were to meet multimedia needs for at least three years into the future. To this end, the MPC configurations are reviewed annually and upgraded when necessary to continually provide scalability and plenty of room for creative freedom. Hamilton designed and configured each and every aspect of the facility to provide the highest level of support for teaching and learning.

In support of a major institutional strategic focus, the MPC provides modern technology and integrated information and technology services to enable students to become creators as well as users of multimedia materials. In the spring of 2005, 22 courses and one-fourth of Hamilton students used the resources of the MPC to create multimedia presentations using digital video, audio, and large-format poster projects.
The Multimedia Presentation Center at Hamilton College differs from many academic multimedia labs because it is a public facility. Anyone can access complete suites of multimedia authoring tools from any of 22 workstations. The challenge of providing support services for public multimedia authoring resources is met by the Information Technology Services organization and the HILLgroup, a partnership of instructional technologists, reference librarians, and oral communication experts. The HILLgroup model of “course support” focuses on structuring resources and services to achieve learning goals. From the instructional technology perspective, this is different from teaching how to use a course management system, or how to make videos. In Hamilton’s approach, technology and content work in concert to support a learning process.

Multimedia Successes
Sharon Rivera, a Hamilton government professor, went to the HILLgroup this past fall with the goal of having a semester-long political party simulation that included video assignments. The support plan used a course management system to facilitate group dynamics, a graphics component in which groups collaborated on creating a single visual that would establish their identities as political parties, and a video campaign ad to publicize each groups’ political platform to “voters.” The course culminated in a public debate that paralleled a real political process. As a result, freshman in this course were introduced to library research strategies, intensive writing, oral communication methods, visual literacy, and multimedia communication technologies.

In another course, Jesus in the East: The Spiritual Traditions of the Byzantine and Russian Orthodox Churches, students were given the assignment to research the symbolism and theological significance of a pre-selected group of medieval Russian icons. Their presentations included large-format posters illustrating their researched deconstructions of the icons.

Working collaboratively with faculty to define scalable, sustainable, models for support of multimedia projects requires planning. In addition, it is important that faculty provide sufficient flexibility in scheduling assignments so that students in all courses can succeed.

Collaboration is always hard work. The library and ITS at Hamilton are separate service organizations with different approaches to providing service. A commitment to provide excellent support for teaching and learning provides a focus for those services.

Next Steps
Hamilton will continue to focus on the technologies that best support student presentation. This is a dual focus on both the technology and the emphasis of the institution’s strategic goals and curriculum. Multimedia technologies will continue to change, and support approaches must recognize that. On the immediate horizon is the need to support the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which will build on the current use of multimedia tools.

Project leaders at Hamilton stress service and support. “Maintain a focus on delivering excellent services while at the same time continuing to look ahead,” they say. Ongoing professional development for technology staff is considered essential. To deliver the most useful support, they urge IT organizations to reach out and partner with other academic support organizations. Collaboration is hard work but ultimately very rewarding, they say: “Aligning technology goals with institutional goals helps to assure that IT resources will be effectively used.”

Related Links and References

Hamilton College Strategic Plan

The Multimedia Presentation Center (MPC)