THE TRANSITION TO DIGITAL VIDEO:
WHAT LESSONS HAVE WE LEARNED SO FAR?
Edward J. Fink
Digital technology is changing the environment of media production
education. This exploratory study assesses the changes that computers
bring to this learning atmosphere. The findings allow video production
educators to focus on the salient issues they face as they make the
transition to the digital era.
Qualitative research methods were used, consistent with the interpretive
paradigm. Data were gathered from 48 respondents using a combination of
observations, interviews, and surveys. The findings were collapsed into
four broad categories, which were induced from the responses themselves.
Digital technology was found to impact: (1) the production process, (2)
curriculum, (3) class interaction, and (4) budgeting. Each of these
categories was further divided into subtopics for discussion.
First Place Debut Entry
Production Aesthetics & Criticism Division
Broadcast Education Association Conference
Las Vegas, April 1998
Edward J Fink PhD
Dept Comm Cal State
Fullerton CA 92834-6846
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Edward J. Fink (Ph.D., Indiana University, 1993) is Assistant Professor
for Television and Film in the Department of Communications at
California State University, Fullerton.
THE TRANSITION TO DIGITAL VIDEO:
WHAT LESSONS HAVE WE LEARNED SO FAR?
INTRODUCTION & JUSTIFICATION
The proliferation of digital technology is changing video production
education. Computers continue to be integrated into the learning
process. It is important for video production educators to understand
and evaluate the issues that arise from the incorporation of this
technology. The objective of this study is such an assessment.
Digital technology is the subject of numerous writings. Some authors
address the technical aspects of these new media (Barron, 1995; Clarke,
1995; McGoldrick, 1996; Rzeswski, 1995; Shepherd, 1993; Solari, 1996;
Tekalp, 1995). Some describe hardware and software (Ankeney, 1996;
Bournellis, 1995; DeVoe, 1996; Mullen, 1997; Taufour, 1994). Some
examine the applications and uses of digital media systems (Baxes, 1994;
Mattison, 1994; Rodriguez, 1995; Stone & Johnson, 1994; Sykes &
Swinscoe, 1995; Watkinson, 1994a). Some focus on digital processes
(Gilster, 1997; Ohanian, 1993; Ozer, 1996; Rubin, 1995; Watkinson,
1994b). Some discuss approaches to digital production and editing (De
Leeuw, 1997; Galbreath, 1992; Grey, 1995; Korpi, 1995; Levin & Watkins,
1997; Luther, 1994; Ohanian & Phillips, 1996; Wolff, 1996). Some
compare uses of analog and digital technology (Kindem & Musburger, 1997;
Rosen, 1996). Others look at issues of culture (Darley, 1995), finance
(Schonfeld, 1996), globalization (Gross, 1995), jobs (Altman, 1995), and
policy (ADVANCED DIGITAL VIDEO, 1995). Many trade magazines also
publish articles concerning the digital media world (e.g., any recent
issue of FILM & VIDEO, TV TECHNOLOGY, VIDEO SYSTEMS, and the like).
None of these writings, however, directly addresses the impact of
digital technology on video production education. That is the focus of
The methodology for this study followed the guidelines of the
interpretive research paradigm. Respondents were contacted in
accordance with Lincoln and Guba's (1985) "hermeneutic circle" to arrive
at "emerging consensus" concerning the relevant issues. Qualitative
data were collected from 48 respondents in 1996-97, all practitioners or
educators in media production, six of them from foreign countries (see
Appendix A). A combination of non-participant field observations,
face-to-face interviews, and open-ended mail surveys was used (see
Appendix B). The data were then analyzed using Lindlof's (1995)
guidelines for inductively arriving at a "conceptual structure" for
reduction and categorization.
Four general categories may be induced from the responses to form the
conceptual structure of the findings. These include replies concerning
the impact of digital technology on: (1) the production process, (2)
curriculum, (3) class interaction, and (4) budgeting. Each of these
general topics may be further divided into subcategories. Though some
responses are unique (1), the emphasis here is on commonalities. This
discussion of similar responses by category offers a framework for
readers to assess the validity and transferability of these findings to
their own situations as they make decisions concerning the transition to
In keeping with tradition, the impact of digital technology on the
production process is examined in terms of the phases of (A)
preproduction, (B) production, (C) postproduction, and (D) distribution.
The respondents agree that preproduction planning remains vital to the
success of any production. No matter how slick the bells and whistles
of the acquisition and editing technology, a good script and
well-planned story progression are necessary for a successful film or
Writing and breakdown. Students and instructors in most writing courses
utilize writing software for class exercises. These range from
traditional word-processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, to
dedicated screenwriting programs, such as Final Draft. Though not as
frequently used as writing programs, other software is sometimes used in
production classes, such as MovieMaster for script breakdowns,
scheduling, and budgeting.
Other. Additional software assists with storyboarding,
light/set/costume design, and even simulated "walk-throughs" in 2-D or
3-D. These latter programs seem to be utilized more in Art and Theater
Departments and less in Communication, Video, and TV-Film Departments.
This makes sense, given that most professional storyboard artists and
designers come from backgrounds in Art and/or Theater. To the extent
that instructors in these departments collaborate in production, digital
technology can help with communication, such as sharing script revisions
Digital technology impacts the image and sound acquisition phase of
production more today than just a few years ago. As digital products
become more affordable, educators are able to utilize them for learning.
Video. Digital cameras just became practical for the educational market
in the 1996-97 academic year as major manufacturers (Sony, Panasonic,
JVC) introduced digital "prosumer" cameras, which rival the image
quality of the professional analog Beta format but record on 6mm
cassettes, for under $4000. Other digital media also continue to
decrease in price, such as internal and external computer drives for
Audio. Several respondents note that digital audio is more affordable
than digital video and therefore can be used to offer students a digital
production experience. Digital audio tape (DAT) equipment continues to
come down in price. Audio also does not require as much storage in a
computer as does video, so direct-to-drive recording is more feasible
for audio acquisition than for video.
Technical and aesthetic quality. Digital image and sound quality
depends on the sophistication of the equipment and the extent to which
the image or sound is compressed. Nearly all respondents note the
continuing importance of emphasizing aesthetic quality, such as
lighting, composition, and so on (discussed later in the "Curriculum"
section). If students do not learn these fundamentals, then the
potentially higher quality images will still look bad aesthetically, but
they will look bad with greater technical resolution.
Design. Digital technology makes possible the design concepts of
virtual sets with virtual lights, as well as virtual wardrobes and even
virtual makeup. While some doomsayers see this trend leading to no more
set construction, lighting grids, costume sewing, and makeup on faces,
that trend is not close to being realized. For example, a realistic,
complex set, combined with believable camera and actor movements, is a
lot to ask a computer to generate. Virtual sets that are
graphics-generated backgrounds are common, but for realistic drama and
comedy, traditional set, light, costume and makeup design will continue
for some time, though digital technology will certainly continue to
impact them, especially in generating design plans.
Animation. In animation, computer generated images (CGI), as well as
sounds, continue to make inroads. Most animated films and videos
utilize computers for at least part, if not all, of their creation.
Relating this to production education, animation can be used to teach
many basics, such as lighting, composition, and editing. To the extent
that instructors and students find animation an affordable and useful
learning tool, digital technology can impact the production phase in
creating animated imagery and sound.
Graphics and other. In the field of graphics production, digital
technology has certainly had a significant impact. Nearly all graphics
are generated or edited in computers. Additional uses for digital
technology in production include electronic field logging (using a
laptop computer) and nonlinear editing in the field, which can help in
making decisions about what scenes to reshoot.
Convergence of media. Several respondents address the theme of the
convergence of various media in the digital realm. The skills of text
generation, graphic design, photography, audio, and video all come
together in the binary world. Those who work in production, no matter
their specialties, utilize computers in their daily activities. Entire
programs, whether audio, video, or multimedia, can be originated in
Convergence of locations. Another type of convergence, certainly in the
acquisition phase, but also in pre- and postproduction, is the
convergence of communication from multiple locations. Films and
television programs can be "assembled" from different places, utilizing
technologies such as electronic mail, fax, and digital sound and movie
files transmitted via an Integrated Systems Digital Network (ISDN).
Convergence of acquisition and editing. Yet another type of convergence
is the merging of the acquisition, or production, phase of a project and
its editing, or postproduction. Editing, or "posting," can begin while
shooting continues, rather than waiting for all the shooting to finish
in order to edit the shots in linear sequence. In the nonlinear world
of digital video, an editor can begin work on a program as soon as the
first "dailies" come in.
All the respondents agree that digital technology has the greatest
impact in the postproduction phase, specifically in editing. Once
students, as well as professionals, achieve the learning curve to use
the technology, they are able to make edits faster and experiment with
more editing options.
Video. As the price of video editing software continues to become more
affordable, schools will utilize it more and more. But analog tape will
be around for a while. Most projects end up on VHS tape for viewing, so
that alone argues for the utility of some analog technology in an
increasingly digital world. When analog tape is the end product,
investing in the highest-end digital output capability is not justified.
Shelley Jenkins, an independent producer, offers an interesting
hypothesis concerning digital video postproduction: Digital video will
actually lead to more analog tape than before. She notes that in the
early 1980s computer word-processing, mail, and other forms of
electronic writing were predicted to replace paper. If anything,
society consumes more paper today than before, arguably in part because
of computers that make it easy to write, draw, layout, and then print to
paper for copying and sharing with others. Likewise, as digital video
becomes more affordable, more people will create their own videos and
"print" them to tape for copying and sharing with others. The concept
of a "tapeless" video world may be proven as wrong as the concept of a
"paperless" communication world.
Audio. Some respondents point out that audio postproduction is already
quite affordable, while video post continues to come down in price.
Many audio instructors already teach postproduction editing on
computers. Software, such as ProTools or the more affordable SoundEdit
16, allows students and professionals alike to process audio in the
digital realm, taking advantage of the relative ease, speed, and
versatility of digital audio post.
Technical quality and correction. Posting digitally retains the
technical quality of the original sound and image because there is no
generation loss when copying digital files for editing and outputting,
unlike the loss that occurs when dubbing analog tapes for editing and
distribution. This lack of generation loss results in a superior
quality rough cut for clients and producers. Digital technology can
also correct defects. Sophisticated equipment can search for
interruptions in data streams and fix them. Technology can also be used
to manipulate elements in image and sound, such as "matting" backgrounds
and adjusting audio "envelopes."
Aesthetic quality. In addition to providing improved technical quality
for rough cuts, digital editing can also improve the aesthetic quality.
Because the speed of digital editing allows time to experiment with more
options, a digital rough cut can offer more sophisticated shot
juxtaposition and sound layering than an analog edit. This gives the
producers or clients a better idea of how the final product might look
and sound (2).
Time. The issue of time savings in postproduction is important to many
respondents. While they agree that digital editing is faster than
analog, allowing edits to be made more quickly, they also point out that
saving time is only realized after the editors have learned the
technology. Additionally, once students learn digital editing, they
tend to enjoy experimenting and spend just as much time, if not more, in
the editing suites.
Digitizing. In the midst of mostly positive responses concerning the
eventual time savings of digital video editing, a few salient responses
concerning digitization stand in contrast. Alexandra Hedberg, Swedish
Television (SVT), discusses the need for her news editors to digitize
analog footage (Beta) into the workstation (Avid) to edit it, then put
it back out to analog tape for broadcasting. It is far too expensive
for SVT to convert to an entirely digital system, from acquisition
through transmission, so while analog technology is still used in daily
operations, the editors actually LOSE time because of the need to
convert footage between analog and digital.
Storage and sharing. Digital technology allows file storage and sharing
that is not possible with analog media. The ability to store and share
information easily, however, leads to a problem in sharing computer work
space. Limited drive storage demands that a student often finish a
project in one sitting, from input through editing to output. This is
not realistic. It causes students friction and stress and can actually
lead to less creative output. Offering external hard drives (e.g.,
Jazz, SyQuest, etc.) and requiring the students to purchase cartridges
is one solution, but this may not be affordable for everyone.
Digital Depot. Another solution, though even more expensive, is the
concept of a digital depot. All digital media files, including text,
graphics, sound, and still and motion images, are stored in a central
server, or "depot," and can be accessed by whomever needs to access them
for decision making, effects rendering, editing, and so on, like
different trains entering and departing a depot. For educators, a
central storage space, or local area network (LAN), for all digital
files that all students can access for learning offers intriguing
possibilities. For example, the instructor and students could post
files to this depot for sharing with the class and for working on
projects. Gross and Ward further explicate this concept (1997, p. 256).
Digital technology impacts the distribution of programs, as well as
their production. Computers are used for everything from poster design
for promotion to tracking shipments of film prints and videotapes.
Entire programs. Productions themselves may be distributed digitally.
For instance, Russell Myerson, The Gameshow Network, notes that his is
the first all-digital network. All gameshows purchased by the network
are transferred to the Digital Beta (DigiBeta) format from whatever
medium was used for archiving. Additionally, all programming originated
by the network goes to DigiBeta. Moreover, film distributors and
exhibitors are exploring satellite transmission of movies to theaters
using high definition digital video and audio.
The Web. Some respondents point out that the World Wide Web offers a
relatively new outlet for distributing productions. Though currently
the technology is rather slow and the image quality is rather poor for
posting entire movies on the web, short audio clips of under one minute
and video clips of 10-15 seconds may be found at many Web sites. The
potential for producers to have their work screened electronically on
the web will continue to be realized more and more as the technology for
fast, high quality image and sound transfer improves.
Servers. Reg Russ, Television New Zealand, asserts that server-based
linear and non-linear playout directly from hard drives, including
possibilities for user interactivity, creates many opportunities:
"Digital video provides efficiencies, versatility and economics, which
enable high quality products for niche markets in the visually rich
information era we are now entering. Old tasks that might have been
done verbally or in writing may now be done in pictures. Pictures are
the tools of the communicators to the new millennium and a visually
rich, stimulating communications systems with interactivity to allow the
choice of content at the user end is the emphasis which is required."
Potential. The respondents agree that digital technology has the
potential to make all phases of the production process more efficient,
leading to more creative output. It also has the potential to provide
higher quality images and sound than current analog technology,
especially as higher-end digital equipment becomes more affordable for
universities. Finally, production creators will have greater
opportunities in the future to distribute their work digitally.
Actual. However, there is some disagreement concerning the actual
extent to which this potential is realized. The limited budgets of most
universities do not allow a significant number of digital workstations
for the students to realize their creations. Moreover, with limited
storage capacity, the quality of the video must usually be compressed,
yielding small-image, pixelated movies rather than attractive,
full-screen, full-motion, broadcast video. For the World Wide Web,
high-quality, full-screen movies are not yet practical, given the
slowness of most people's computer systems, though this will change as
the technology progresses.
Jenkins notes that, while producers have digital tools to improve their
preproduction planning and shooting, she rarely sees them take advantage
of that. More likely is that producers spend less time in planning and
setting up shoots, relying on digital bells and whistles to fix any
problems in post, which can lead to poorer aesthetics because not every
problem can be repaired in editing. Moreover, some producers wait until
post to make their critical decisions, which can yield a weaker story
and message. By not planning shots in advance, a producer might select
sequences based on what is technologically possible at the moment,
rather than on what is best for the script (3). To the extent that this
is true, it is a dangerous trend. The need for solid planning remains
critical to the success of production.
The respondents offer insight concerning the impact of digital
technology on media production curriculum. Specifically, they address
the need for those developing curriculum to: (A) integrate change, (B)
balance time between skills training and conceptual learning, (C)
emphasize fundamental principles, (D) be interdisciplinary, (E) evaluate
continuously, (F) offer real-world relevance, and (G) consider distance
The respondents point out that production professionals utilize digital
technology more and more, therefore this technology must be integrated
into the learning curriculum. It is important for students to have some
knowledge of, and experience with, the processes used in the production
industry in order for them to be prepared to work in that industry.
Flexibility. Lynne Gross of Cal State Fullerton notes that some
instructors have added modules to their syllabi concerning digital
production, including interactive multimedia. Ralph Donald of the
University of Tennessee argues for a different approach: The curriculum
should be revised to incorporate digital technology throughout, not to
segregate the technology into modules. It is the concepts that are
important, and technology should be integrated only as a means to
realize those concepts.
Russ offers this advise concerning the integration of technology into
"The approach to digital media is of flexibility -- open-ended
instruction from which creative students may derive new ideas and new
approaches.... The curriculum revisions likewise have to include
open-ended components to allow for topical updates. The basic teaching
program has to be reviewed frequently."
Transition. Gross offers another point about integrating digital
technology: "Once [students] have tasted it, they don't want to go
back." This leads her and others to look forward to the day when they
can make the transition entirely to a digital environment. Others
caution against dumping analog technology too soon. Musburger
summarizes the arguments for this cautionary approach:
"Students can learn the process (maybe not the aesthetic techniques)
faster on analog post production equipment than digital [though it must
be noted that many respondents, including Jenkins and Kearns, find the
opposite in their classes].... We are being forced... to bring digital
techniques into the classroom before the "real world" has... decided
which will become the standard.... Most broadcasters are moving to
digital only as rapidly as they are forced to do so."
These points suggest that universities follow the industry and gradually
make the transition to digital technology, rather than abandoning analog
technology at the first opportunity.
Though the argument for gradual integration of digital video into the
curriculum has logical support, two arguments stand out for the opposite
view -- going digital as quickly as feasible. First, the industry is
typically years ahead of academia in its technology. Second, the
balance of time in the class setting is critical.
Educators must consider the balance of time in class between skills
training and conceptual learning. Instructors in the analog environment
necessarily devote a certain amount of their courses to hands-on
training, and that continues in the digital environment with software
training. If an instructor finds her/himself using both analog and
digital technologies during a transition period, that increases the
amount of class time necessary for skills training.
Dual technologies. This author, for example, is in just such a
position: integrating one short digital exercise (15-second PSA) using
a very low-end video editing application (VideoShop) during limited
hours on some shared computers, while maintaining two longer projects
(2-minute documentary and 2-minute narrative) on analog equipment where
the students have greater access. I have to train the students on the
editing software, which I wouldn't have to do if I had decided to stay
in the all-analog environment: a decision I rejected because I believe
in the benefits of at least some digital exposure for the students.
Additionally, I have to train them on the analog equipment, which I
would not have to do in a completely digital environment. Doubling the
skills training time means necessarily cutting back on some conceptual
Limited computers. To this predicament of balancing skills training
with conceptual learning, Musburger adds that the limited number of
computers most departments have often dictates that students use them in
shifts, which adds even more to the total time spent on skills training.
Donald echoes many of the respondents' concerns when he states: "We
need to continue to provide a balance between how much conceptual
learning and how much time students are assigned to spend with
hardware." Roberts, Jenkins, and others summarize that it is desirable
to provide students with as much hands-on as possible, but not to the
detriment of learning the aesthetics of production. The emphasis in the
curriculum should continue to be the principles of clear storytelling
and message dissemination.
All the respondents agree that teaching the fundamental concepts of
production, such as good planning and scripting, sound recording,
lighting, framing, composition, continuity editing, and so on, remains
the most vital element in any production curriculum.
Process. Instructors must adjust their curriculum to some degree to
reflect the technology, but the technology has no value in and of
itself. It is a process to be used only in realizing a creative
production. Jenkins writes:
"Communicating a message, telling a story, selling a product are still
the goals of most video productions. The technology used to achieve
better images faster was never meant to replace production planning."
Gross agrees when she states:
"The most important consideration to become an effective video
communicator is the ability to convey a good story or present an
information item clearly. This really has very little to do with
technology. In today's video world, people expect special effects and
whiz bang presentations, so it behooves students to know how to create
these. But lacking a good message, the effects will soon wear thin."
"The most important considerations to become effective video
communicators are the storytelling abilities -- the skills to research,
procure and manipulate the content to tell a story. It's all about
content, not technology."
The risk of sacrificing content to technology exists not only in
academia but in the professional world, as well. Hedberg writes of news
editing at Swedish Television: "I'm afraid the digital technology
creates more quantity instead of quality." The ability to experiment
more with digital editing equipment can lead to more edits, but not
necessarily better edits.
Application. Having agreed on the point that conceptual considerations
are paramount, some respondents note that in order to apply these
considerations, students must necessarily have enough skills training to
produce projects. If those skills can be with digital equipment, the
students arguably have a leg-up finding work in an industry that
continues to "go digital." To that end, Jenkins agrees that technical
skills must be a part of the curriculum, but she argues for introducing
the technology only after the aesthetics have been covered.
Others, such as this author, argue that the aesthetic and technical
components must be taught simultaneously. Students cannot wait until
mid-term to begin to learn equipment. Like shuffling cards, the theory
and practice must be folded together, each reinforcing the other.
Concepts are best learned when they are immediately applied, so each
week's class time should consist of some discussion of conceptual
principles (something like the traditional lecture/discussion period) as
well as some hands-on work that applies those principles (something like
the traditional lab period).
Some respondents discuss the role that interdisciplinary cooperation can
play in a curriculum where digital technology is integrated. For
example, Larry Ward of Cal State Fullerton suggests the idea of
requiring a set of software skills before the students enroll in a
digital production course. The students could acquire those skills
through the extended or continuing education office on campus, or in
anther department that uses the same software (such as Photoshop in a
Communications or Art Department), or at another campus or junior
college, or on their own simply by doing the tutorial that comes with
most applications. The students could then be given a skills test, such
as editing a short sequence of shots accompanied by audio to demonstrate
proficiency with the video editing software, before they are allowed in
the class. In addition to sharing skills training, the departments or
schools share the cost of equipment.
Cross boundaries. Productions themselves may cross conventional
academic boundaries. For example, writing students might create a
narrative; film and video students might plan and produce it; art
students might design the graphics and other imagery; theater students
might design the sets and lights and act in the production; and
multimedia students might post the project on the web. Though some
respondents suggest this level of inter-departmental cooperation is
rare, they note that the various skills needed in production, from
scripting through distribution, demand cooperative effort in the
professional world, so learning to cooperate in all phases of production
at the university can provide students with valuable lessons for their
Denver exemplar. Jeff Rutenbeck, University of Denver, oversees an
interdisciplinary Digital Media Program. The approach in forming this
program was to invite the entire campus community to participate. Three
departments proved to have the greatest stake in the program:
Communications, Art, and Math and Computer Science. A
cross-disciplinary committee formulated a curriculum that includes an
introductory class that introduces the concepts across the fields, some
core classes from within each field, and some additional electives for
the student's chosen area of specialization. For administrative and
budgeting purposes, the program is housed in the Department of Mass
Communications and Journalism Studies. This exemplar demonstrates how
digital technology crosses conventional boundaries and can lead to
Some respondents discuss the need to evaluate curriculum on an ongoing
basis in light of changes in both the industry and in technology. A
point for instructors to consider is involving real-world practitioners
in evaluating their curricula. For example, Martin Aichele, College of
Furtwangen, Germany, consults with working professionals to determine
their needs in the industry. He brings guests into his classes at times
to evaluate student work. He also utilizes a scoring sheet for projects
that borrows its evaluative criteria from working professionals,
incorporating into his curricula categories and point assignments that
industry employers recommend.
Bottom line. In addition to evaluating curriculum for technological
relevance, several respondents discuss the need for other real-world
relevance. Brad Mooberry, Ad Dimension II, argues for the importance of
students learning that the production business, whether audio, video,
film, or multimedia, is driven by the bottom line: money. For
instance, the CD-ROMs he produces are sponsored by advertisers who get
photo ads on the disks themselves and multimedia ads at different spots
along the nonlinear, interactive "paths." Advertising revenue drives
Goal-orientation. Dave Master, Warner Bros. Feature Animation, argues
for real-world goal orientation in developing curriculum. He notes that
his company hires animators not based on any digital equipment skills
but on artistic ability, specifically the applicants' portfolios.
Because a portfolio is an artist's entry into film animation, the
distance learning art courses he supervises are designed with the goal
of each student creating a marketable portfolio. In essence, Master
works backwards. Instead of deciding what text chapters and lecture
material to cover each day and when to schedule exams, he starts
planning with the end product -- student portfolios -- and works back
from there, planning each days' exercises to take the students one step
closer to that objective.
Distance learning is a hot concept in education today, made possible by
digital technology. Much has been written about distance learning, far
more than can be discussed here. For this study, it must suffice to
note the importance of this learning strategy and its relation to
technology, but to refer the reader to the education literature for
in-depth treatment of this salient topic.
The impact of distance learning on media production education
specifically offers intriguing potential. Sample video clips and
production projects can be transmitted interactively between different
locations, opening up learning possibilities beyond any single classroom
on any single campus. For example, Steven Spielberg could visit a
studio classroom next door to his DreamWorks complex at Universal
Studios in southern California and offer a live, interactive critique of
a student film in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Because of such possibilities,
distance learning curriculum is mentioned as a relevant issue in this
study of digital technology, but given that this subject is treated
elsewhere, it is not detailed here.
Potential. Digital technology opens many creative possibilities in
curricular design. The technology itself, though, must be learned only
as a tool to develop the more important aesthetic concepts of
production. With the emphasis on aesthetic fundamentals, and with an
eye on real-world relevance, digital equipment can be very useful in
reinforcing student learning.
Actual. In reality, training on digital equipment takes time, perhaps
more or less than on analog equipment, depending on the sophistication
of the system. Instructors often find they need to spend more time than
they would like on skills training to the detriment of teaching the
theoretic concepts of production. Also, maintaining relevant training
for the real world, both technically and aesthetically, poses problems
of time and money for instructors. The challenge for production
educators is to stay abreast of production techniques in the industry
and to find the proper balance in class between the necessary technical
training and the more important conceptual learning.
Related to curriculum is the actual interaction among students and
instructors in the class setting (I avoid the term "classroom" because
learning can take place anywhere, inside or outside traditional rooms
for class meetings). Respondents discuss some ways in which digital
technology impacts the class setting, both for (A) instructors and for
Technology training. Many respondents note the challenge for
instructors to be trained in the digital technology they use in their
classes, from audio editing to image processing to multimedia authoring.
Because this issue is relevant in the discussion of budgeting in the
paragraphs ahead, it is addressed again later.
Industry. The need for technical training exists in the industry as
well as in academia. Hedberg, for example, notes that her editors have
a difficult time getting trained on the Avid before their first deadline
for a news package. She writes: "New technology is a great help if you
have TIME to learn and explore it. If not, it creates stress."
Instructional training. In addition to skills training using the
relevant hardware and software, instructors need new skills in
instructional design and the preparation process for teaching. Much
rhetoric exists in academia today concerning the shift from a "lecture,"
or "teaching," paradigm to an "interactive," or "learning," paradigm
(4). The role of the instructor is changing, and perhaps has already
changed, from the traditional disseminator of knowledge (lecturer) to
that of an interactive facilitator: one who initiates, guides, and
oversees the interaction of students with students, students with
instructors, and students with computers. Developing the skills to
facilitate interactive learning while moving away somewhat (though never
completely) from traditional lecturing is a challenge for production
instructors in the digital age. Russ offers one suggestion to meet this
challenge: "Use real world visionaries from the industry to paint the
present and future scene for the students, rather than implant the old
ways of doing things."
Interaction. Learning through interactive group efforts, along with
computers, has a significant impact on students in an era of digital
technology. Students can no longer expect to be passive absorbers of
facts (if they ever could). Learning must be a process of discovery
through cooperative efforts with others, often enhanced by hands-on
learning activities (which it might have always been).
Working in groups is a reality of education today, and with increasing
demand to use limited digital workstations for various production
exercises, group projects will only continue to grow in significance.
Students must increasingly be responsible to take the initiative for
their own level of work. The downside is that less adept students might
be "left in the dust" much quicker.
Computers. Several respondents note the importance of computer skills
for students to be successful: certainly in the workplace after
graduation, but increasingly in the school environment itself. Those
who hire in the industry understand that students cannot be expected to
have the software training necessary for high-end applications, such as
3-D modeling and rendering (though they often expect skills with some
nearly-standard applications, such as Microsoft Word). The students can
learn the high-end software on the job. What is required is a level of
comfort and skill with computers in general: formatting disks, copying
files, using pull-down menus to select options, and so on.
A few respondents assert that in the near future even skills training on
high-end applications might be expected because universities and trade
schools are turning out more and more graduates who have those skills.
In an effort to keep their students competitive, some schools are
investing in high-end applications so that their graduates have high-end
training, as well as the necessary conceptual learning. Moreover,
"Despite their claims to the contrary, employers hire graduates who are
both conceptually literate and equipment-skilled. Many graduates
applying for entry-level media jobs have both sets of these skills and
abilities.... [Employers] select the bright, intelligent, well-spoken
young person who can demonstrate that s/he can do it all. Anyone less
skilled need not apply."
Writing. Some respondents remark that writing skills are even more
important for students than computer skills. For example, Saundra
Willis, NBC-4 Los Angeles, notes that she sees many interns who lack the
ability to follow the basic rules of grammar, business letter layout,
and so on. She looks for students who can both write and use computers,
but if she has to choose between one or the other, she prefers a student
who can write. Computer skills can be learned fairly quickly; good
writing ability takes time to develop.
Passion. Another necessary quality for students to possess in order to
be successful in the age of digital production is passion for that
production. Mooberry, for instance, notes that he prefers to hire a
person who has a "fire in the belly" to do production work. The
training can be done later. What can't be taught is the "lustful
desire" to do the job.
Potential. With digital technology, the potential exists for more
learning to occur than ever before with instructors facilitating
interactive sessions and students becoming more engaged in their own
education. As students' computer skills increase along with their
conceptual knowledge, the level of learning they bring to the work
environment can only increase. In this way, the impact of technology on
class interaction can greatly enhance learning.
Actual. An increase in interactive, group learning might leave some
students behind, particularly the shy ones, as well as the lazy ones.
Also, while interactive learning offers advantages over traditional
lectures, there still is the learning curve to figure out the
technology. Equipment training takes up some class time before truly
interactive learning can take place. Some equipment training is
necessary as students are increasingly required to have technical skills
(particularly basic computer skills) in addition to conceptual knowledge
(especially writing ability) in order to be competitive.
The final set of responses concern elements that relate to budgeting.
These include: (A) real costs, (B) annual expenditures, (C)
partnerships, (D) access, (E) facilities, (F) staff, (G) training, and
(H) educating administrators.
Digital technology comes with a price tag. No respondent knows of a way
to get around that. Yet all agree it is a necessary price tag if
production students are to receive at least some exposure to the kinds
of technical skills that employers increasingly require of them. It is
understood that budgets may range from nearly nothing up into six or
even seven figures for the lucky few. Whatever the budget, digital
technology is a part of the equipment purchasing equation.
Digital v. analog. While the cost of digital production hardware and
software continues to drop, it is still an expensive investment for
training. Good quality analog equipment can be expensive, too. This
author's experience suggests a "break even" point between $10,000 and
$15,000. Depending on factors such as purchasing used equipment
(B-stock) or getting deep educational discounts, this price range buys a
good 3/4-inch, cuts-only system, perhaps even Beta (not DigiBeta), but
can also purchase a digital workstation with enough access for students,
in small groups, to produce 1-2 minute projects. More money, of course,
gets more bells and whistles for either analog or digital, or more speed
and storage for digital.
Staying current. A major budgetary concern is how to stay current with
digital technology when it becomes obsolete so quickly. The question is
how to afford enough workstations for the students to have a meaningful
experience, while still emphasizing the conceptual basics of production,
and fit the department's meager budget: a challenging task at best, and
impossible at worst. Donald asserts it is only possible to take a
"snapshot" of the technology when the budget allows, then live with that
until the next round of equipment money, hoping that the "snapshot" has
enough longevity for the students to learn some practical skills that
will help them on their internships and job sites.
These budgetary decisions must be made annually, not just once and then
forgotten. It is not enough to make a major purchase of computers one
year and then expect not to have to face equipment purchases for another
decade. Dan McLaughlin, UCLA, asserts that thousands of dollars are
realistically needed each year to keep up with upgrades, new software,
maintenance, and training. He suggests budgeting 30 percent of the
original purchase price each year for these needs. Evan Culp, Oral
Roberts University, observes that most universities amortize equipment
purchases over three to eight years. With digital production
technology, this is too long. He suggests 12-18 months. Mooberry
concurs, noting that people in the industry understand that digital
technology becomes obsolete at least every 18-24 months, some even
faster, depending on the nature of the technology (e.g., processing
chips that are released about every six months with faster speeds).
A few respondents suggest forming partnerships between academic
departments and industry firms to assist with budgeting. For example,
Wade Roberts, Columbia College, notes that his college has become a
Midwestern training center for the Avid editing system. This gives Avid
a place to host seminars, and it gives his school access to the Avid
that it could not afford otherwise. Additionally, universities that
provide entry level employees for local production companies might seek
to develop financial partnerships with those companies.
One point that many respondents make concerning the competitiveness of
students is that access to equipment is a higher learning priority than
high-quality output, if the budget is limited enough to force a decision
between access and output, as most budgets seem to be.
Process v. product. Process is more important than product, at least
for beginning and intermediate level production courses. This means
those who make purchasing decisions should buy the greatest number of
workstations with the existing money, rather than spending the money on
one high-end station. Granted, the high-end station might have
wonderful bells and whistles; it might be able to turn out a fantastic
image; and it might even be a system used in the professional world.
But if only a few students can access it for only a few hours each day,
optimal learning cannot take place. Roberts writes:
"It's damned difficult to teach 15 students trying to huddle around a
nonlinear editing station, to engage them (I'm on it; they're behind
me), [and] to ensure that they can see and understand what I'm doing."
Thane Chastain, Wichita State University, refers to the "multiple
systems" approach to digital learning as the "parallel" mode (many
low-end machines working simultaneously) rather than the "serial" mode
(one high-end system with a line waiting to get on it). This creates
challenges for instructors, such as requiring very short student
projects, say one minute or less, due to limited disk space. But the
trade-off of greater access (more hours per student per machine) seems
worthwhile in bringing to students an increasingly important "digital
German exemplar. Albrecht Schaefer-Schoenthal, College of Furtwangen,
Germany, argues just that. His Department of Digital Media Studies has
the mission of being a high-end training center for German-speaking
Europe, and to that end the department has the luxury of a large budget
about which most educators can only dream: over US $4 million in 1992
for state-of-the-art equipment purchases. Schaefer-Schoenthal notes
that out of that budget roughly US $50,000 was allocated for digital
video editing. He explains:
"Naturally we bought an Avid. That was the industry standard. It made
sense. But it requires so much training that the students can really
only get anything done when our technician is there to help them. He
only works a 40-hour week, so in essence, we have one digital editing
suite available during working hours only. That's not even close to
"If I had it to do again, I would recommend using that same money to buy
five low-end systems, maybe Macintoshes with Premiere. Even though
professional broadcast video is not edited with that, at least more
students would have more time working with digital video and learning
the basics. Sure, it's nice to have Avid skills, but if there is too
little time to learn the Avid, then Premiere or another low-end
application is preferable. Knowing Premiere because you can get access
to it is better than knowing nothing because you can't get access to the
Indiana exemplar. Ron Osgood, Indiana University, agrees. For his
editing course, he combines one high-end system (Avid) with three
low-end systems (Premiere). He rotates the students among them. He has
discovered that the students who learn Premiere first have a relatively
short time learning the Avid, and vice-versa. Training on the low-end
seems to get the students quite a ways "up the digital learning curve"
so that moving to the high-end requires only a little additional
Another issue is where to house the digital equipment once it is
purchased: ideally under one roof. Mike Wirth, University of Denver,
notes the disadvantages of his interdisciplinary Digital Media Program
being spread out over several buildings. Though e-mail makes
communication very quick and accessible, the old-fashioned "water cooler
visits" and "hallway meetings" still allow much camaraderie and
decision-making. This argues for bringing all the production facilities
and instructors into one building, preferably on the same floor, when
that is feasible.
Specifics. Schaefer-Schoenthal offers some specific suggestions for
housing equipment: Each system should be in a separate room, with sound
absorption, ventilation and cooling, comfortable desks and chairs, and
good track lighting. Separate rooms keep the sound between systems from
spilling over and good ventilation and cooling helps protect the
expensive hardware investment from overheating. Comfortable
workstations and lighting provide a pleasant atmosphere conducive to
creativity--always more important than technology, and this atmosphere
looks professional, giving students the feel that this is serious
business, which it is.
Caution. McLaughlin cautions against the desire to develop a
multi-departmental "center" to house technology for the entire campus.
While this might seem sensible at first, his experience suggests
otherwise. He finds technology centers too centralized. The necessary
"one size fits all" planning can lead to problems, including: class
sizes being dictated by the available seats in rooms, not by the ideal
learning environment; scheduling that is less than optimal for lab
classes; and central heating and cooling that leaves classrooms too cold
and heat-generating control rooms too hot. This centralized
administrative control, to which centers lend themselves, can stand in
the way of ideal learning with digital media.
Staff. Staff assistance for digital technology is another important
consideration. Computers crash. It is already a difficult challenge
for instructors to learn the software they use in their production
courses; it is realistically too much to expect that they also be
experts in the computer systems themselves. A technician is necessary
to assist when a computer goes down. Ideally, a staff assistant should
be assigned to each production lab. If the budget does not allow for
that, an assistant should at least be on call to help when the
inevitable systems problems arise. A class can lose a day of lab when a
computer locks up. A good technician can literally save a day by being
available to fix it.
Manufacturer and supplier. Some errors are more than an "in-house"
technician can solve. Sometimes computers come with problems that need
to be fixed by the manufacturer or supplier. This points to the
importance of purchasing a service contract with equipment. Of course,
even with a contract, the equipment is out of commission during the time
of repair. This loss of time and expense -- both the cost of a service
contract and of shipping and handling to return machinery -- must be
factored into course plans and budgets.
Gross argues that getting support is even more important than getting
digital equipment. By this she means that grant money is available for
computers, but getting people to set up those computers, install the
software, prepare the network, train the trainers, and fix the problems
is more difficult. All budget proposals must include discussions of
money for support people to allow the users of the equipment to utilize
it to its maximum potential.
Support staff must be trained with each new and upgraded machine and
application. Faculty, too, must be trained. To be sure, training has
always been necessary to learn analog equipment, but once learned, it
rarely changed. Not so with computers. Upgrades and new programs are
part of digital life, and training cannot stop with the first
Release v. personal time. Training is ongoing for production faculty and
staff. Because of the time necessary for training, faculty and staff
ideally should receive release time to keep up-to-date with the
technology. In reality, this happens rarely, if ever (no respondents
indicated they receive release time for training). More common is that
faculty and staff train on their own time in order to try to stay one
step ahead of the students.
Part-timers. At times, universities hire part-time instructors who are
already trained in the software used in a particular class. Todd
O'Neill, Emedia, is familiar with several programs that he uses in
producing CD-ROMs, videos, Web sites, and other electronic media. He
was hired as a part-time instructor for an interactive multimedia design
class. He admits that if he had not already known the authoring
software (Director), he would not have had adequate time to learn it
before the semester began.
Several respondents discuss how training, as well as staff support,
sufficient access for students, and ongoing costs all require some
education of those administrators who make budgetary decisions.
Ideally, production faculty and staff are compensated with release time
and seminar costs for training. Realistically, faculty and staff
appreciate whatever acknowledgment administrators can grant them for the
extra demands of ongoing training. Ideally, sufficient workstations are
available for around-the-clock access for students. Realistically,
students appreciate all the access time the university can afford.
Ideally, each annual budget allows for some upgrades, new purchases, and
technical support. Realistically, faculty, staff, and students
appreciate whatever the administration is able to budget. The more
administrators understand these real technological needs, the better
served are production students, faculty, and staff.
Potential. The potential for university departments to purchase digital
equipment with which students can adequately learn the basics of
production is greater than ever and will become even more feasible as
equipment prices continue to drop. Universities will likely continue to
include digital technology -- and hopefully personnel for installation,
training, and maintenance -- in their purchases. To some extent
already, and more so in the years ahead, budgeting will afford students
the opportunity to learn production concepts on digital equipment.
Actual. Investing in digital technology, though, costs real money each
year, not only for the equipment and software, but for facilities,
personnel, support, and training. With this in mind, most departmental
budgets do not allow a rapid transition from analog to digital. For the
next few years at least, student learning will rely on "technology in
transition" as budget decisions gradually bring more digital equipment
to the learning environment.
There are many issues to consider in examining the impact of digital
technology on video production education. In general, four major topics
emerge from the data in this study. These topics concern the impact of
digital technology on (1) the production process, (2) curriculum, (3)
class interaction, and (4) budgeting. Computer applications affect all
phases of production, with the greatest impact in postproduction.
Digital video editing offers nonlinear shot access, speed, and the
opportunity to experiment with more creative options than does analog
editing. These changes must be integrated into the curriculum for
students to be prepared for an increasingly digital production market.
However, care must be taken to keep the focus of the curriculum on
aesthetic concepts, not on technology. With more digital equipment in
the class setting, educators will be called upon to facilitate more
group interaction as students work in teams to create projects. The
hardware and software comes with real costs attached, and budget makers
must understand and consider these costs annually when planning what
digital technology to purchase to meet the learning needs of students.
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APPENDIX A: RESPONDENTS
1 Aichele, Martin, Dept Digital Media, Furtwangen, Germany
2 Anderson, Grant, Assistant Producer, "ER"
3 Aylsworth, Wendy, VP, Technology & Facilities, WB Animation
4 Ayrouth, George, Owner, MVT Productions
5 Barres, Dean, Producer, "American Gothic"
6 Beam, Sheri, NASA
7 Chastain, Thane, Elliott School, Wichita State Univ
8 Culp, Evan, Center Instructional Services, Oral Roberts Univ
9 Donald, Ralph, Dept Communications, Univ of Tennessee
10 Edwards, Tom, National Digital Television Center, TCI, Denver
11 Hedberg, Alexandra, Reporter, Swedish Television
12 Gershon, Peter, Dept Communication Arts, Hofstra Univ
13 Greenberg, Richard, VP, Creative Affairs, Electric Ideas
14 Gross, Lynne, Dept Communications, Cal State Univ, Fullerton
15 Hopkins, Robert, Sony Pictures High Definition Center
16 Jenkins, Shelley, Independent Producer
17 Kearns, Karen, Dept Radio-TV-Film, Cal State Univ, Northridge
18 Korpi, Michael, Dept Communications, Baylor Univ
19 Lowe, George, Feature Story Development, DreamWorks SKG
20 Master, Dave, Mgr, Artist Development & Training, WB Animation
21 McDonald, Alfajiri, Production Coordinator, News, NBC-4 LA
22 McLaughlin, Dan, School of Art, UCLA
23 Medoff, Norman, School of Communication, Northern Arizona Univ
24 Mooberry, Brad, President, Ad Dimension II, Inc.
25 Moore, Tom, Editor, "American Gothic"
26 Musburger, Robert, School of Communication, Univ of Houston
27 Myerson, Russell, VP, Operations, The Gameshow Network
28 O'Neill, Todd, Owner, Emedia
29 Osgood, Ron, Instructor, Dept Telecommunications, Indiana Univ
30 Pauling, Brian, Head, New Zealand Broadcasting School
31 Penner, Jim, Exec Producer, "Hour of Power," Crystal Cathedral
32 Rigney, Eric, Editor, Sony Digital Post Production
33 Riddle, Art, Editor, Royce Multimedia
34 Roberts, Wade, Television Dept, Columbia College, Chicago
35 Russ, Reg, GM, New Television Applications, TV New Zealand
36 Rust, Mike, Producer, Royce Multimedia
37 Rutenbeck, Jeff, Dir, Digital Media Program, Univ of Denver
38 Schaefer-Schoenthal, Albrecht, Dept Digital Media, Furtwangen
39 Seel, Pete, Dept Journalism & Tech Comm, Colorado State Univ
40 Shifrin, Steve, VP, Program Production, CBS Studios, LA
41 Shimizu, Takao, VP, Chief Tech Office, Tokyo Broadcast System
42 Snyder, Barry, VP, Post Production Services, WB
43 Tyler-Smith, Keith, New Zealand Broadcasting School
44 Voltarel, Vicki, Assistant Editor, "ER"
45 Ward, Larry, Dept Communications, Cal State Univ, Fullerton
46 Whittaker, Ron, Communication Division, Pepperdine Univ
47 Willis, Saundra, Director Community Relations, NBC-4 LA
48 Wirth, Mike, Dept Mass Comm & Journalism, Univ of Denver
APPENDIX B: SURVEY QUESTIONS
1. How is digital video technology impacting production? What changes
occur in the three phases of preproduction, production, and
postproduction as a result of new technologies?
2. How is digital video technology impacting the teaching and learning
of production? To what extent are the "real world" changes, discussed
in the previous question, brought into the classroom, and to what extent
SHOULD they be brought into the classroom?
3. To what extent is learning helped or harmed by new technology? What
benefits (strengths) do students and instructors gain from digital
video, and what problems (weaknesses) do they face?
4. How does an instructor approach teaching differently with digital
media? How is curriculum revised to account for digital technology?
5. How do students approach learning differently with digital video?
What do students note as "being different" about what they learn, and
how they learn, with new media?
6. How much "hands-on" experience do students need on digital
equipment? Balanced against conceptual learning, what are the most
important considerations to become effective video communicators?
7. What is unique about your institution, region, and country that
impacts the incorporation of digital video technology? What attributes
exist there, that do not exist elsewhere, that affect the use of digital
video technology for production, teaching, and learning?
8. What other points are important to make about the impact of digital
video that are not addressed in these questions? Upon reflection, what
else is significant to note concerning how digital technology affects
video production and instruction?
(1) One survey question in particular asked respondents what, if
anything, is unique about their situations in approaching digital
technology. This question was asked to assess their respective contexts
rather than to derive any common responses.
(2) A potential downside to the speed of digital editing, at least for
editors, is that producers might hire fewer editors because each editor
can work faster. Vicki Voltarel, Assistant Editor for "ER," notes that
most hour-long, episodic television programs have three full-time
program editors plus one trailer (promo) editor. On "ER," because of
the speed of the Avid, they have only two full-time program editors and
a trailer editor.
(3) Simon Frith refers to this process of making aesthetic decisions
based on technological possibility rather than on an artistic conception
as an "engineering aesthetic." He argues that today's technology causes
this engineering aesthetic to replace the traditional "artistic
aesthetic." The author has heard several references to Frith's thesis,
but after numerous electronic and paper searches has not been able to
find a documented reference. If any reader knows the reference, the
author would greatly appreciate that information.
(4) While the shift from the lecture paradigm to the interactive
paradigm might seem accurate in some courses at some institutions, it is
important to note that lecturing skills are far from being a thing of
the past. The reality is that lecture classes are larger than ever at
many institutions. Wherever funding is based on the number of students
in classes ("bums in the seat" as Brian Pauling, New Zealand
Broadcasting School, calls this scheme), which is the case at many
universities, departments have incentives to offer large, general
education lecture classes to "subsidize" the smaller seminars and labs.
Like e-mail leading to more paper and digital video leading to more
analog tape, the more money and rhetoric spent on interactive learning,
the larger the traditional lecture classes to fund all those computers
and small faculty-to-student ratio courses needed for truly meaningful
"interactive" learning. The point concerning instructional training in
the digital age is that educators require both traditional lecturing
skills and interactive skills to facilitate student learning.