Immersive experiences within new spaces at the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences are empowering students with the acumen they’ll need to excel in competitive, tech-driven media careers.
The college’s new Spartan Newsroom and Immersive Media Studio invite students to collaborate, gain real-life experiences and build professional skills. The newsroom welcomed its first students in fall 2016 and went “live” during the General Election, while the immersive studio opened for classes in January 2017. The innovative, cross-functional spaces equip students for 21st century jobs by engaging them in the development and delivery of news, animation, game design and immersive interactive media content involving motion capture, augmented and virtual realities.
“Having the experience to work within a professional pipeline facility will make a student’s transition into a real-world situation smoother and more successful,” says Stacey Fox, professor of animation, mixed realities and immersive journalism in the MSU School of Journalism. “It also teaches students the importance of respecting a production space.”
The expansive learning spaces sit in the middle of the first floor of the ComArtSci building. Students and faculty are free to move seamlessly from one area to the next when producing or creating content, or when working on collaborative media projects. Many high-activity areas and broadcasting studios are viewable through glass walls, giving passers-by a Today Show experience.
Fox says students often remark on how lucky they feel to have such a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility in which to produce new works. She adds that the new space and studio places ComArtSci on the forefront alongside major universities like Arizona State University, California Institute of the Arts and New York University in offering curriculum and training in global media production.
“Our space is unique in that it has the latest in motion capture and learning technologies for classroom collaboration, production and immersion,” says Fox. “Spartans and the general public are able to see the whole process in real time when they walk by and look through the floor to ceiling glass windows.”
Learning by doing, learning with others
Julie Dunmire was in the initial group of students to experience the power of the new spaces. The broadcast journalism student worked in the newsroom on Election Day 2016, and was the first person to read a live report from the news anchor desk. Dunmire currently takes a class in the newsroom and sometimes interacts with students from other ComArtSci disciplines who are learning and working within the immersive spaces.
“News is not in ‘silos’ anymore,” says Dunmire. “We have to stop thinking about ourselves as ‘photojournalists’ or ‘writers’ or ‘anchors’ because we will all have similar tasks and roles in a digital age.”
Like Dunmire, other students believe that what you learn in a traditional classroom is far different than what you can learn in an immersive or real-world environment.
Media and Information undergraduate Michael Grassi focuses on 3D animation studies and is applying his craft through the immersive studio. His big take-away, he says, is learning to operate advanced motion capture systems and apply motion capture files to 3D animation.
“The new systems we have access to are professional grade equipment, and the products professionals use to make a living,” says Grassi. “Knowing how to operate them and having access to their benefits as a college student preparing for the professional workplace gives us invaluable experience. It shortens the learning curve potential employers would face if they were to hire us.”
Creative Advertising undergraduate Michael Cagney echoes the sentiment. Cagney is continuing to learn the ins and outs of the studio’s motion capture system, and has begun to integrate motion capture skills into his other animation abilities. Those experiences, he says, have strengthened his confidence, and are shaping the direction he will take when he graduates in May.
“I’ve learned how to operate the motion capture system for myself and for others in a professional setting,” he says. “I would like to pursue a job in animation and possibly mocap.”
In addition to applying their skills in news, animation and motion capture arenas, students and faculty can design and produce virtual reality broadcasts and 360 animation renderings for immersive storytelling. The center opens up possibilities for cross-campus collaborations in almost any area, including those underway in athletics, health and medicine and theatre.
“Along with offering our courses in the space, we will also be utilizing the immersive media studio to host events such as game design jams, animation festivals and this February the Cultural Digi Summit in partnership with the Smithsonian Latino Center. We will have industry leaders in technology and culture in residence for two days utilizing the new spaces,” says Fox. “It’s a very exciting time to be at the MSU School of Journalism and ComArtSci.”
By Ann Kammerer
School of Journalism faculty member Stacey Fox developed and taught a new online course this summer, “Music of the Earth’s Biomes,” introducing students to skills concerning environmental sounds. It was the first such class of its kind at MSU.
Fox also is a professional percussionist and composer whose creative works have been funded by the American Composers Forum, National Endowment for the Arts, U.S. Department of State and the Smithsonian Institution.
During her seven-week Music of the Earth’s Biomes class, students learned about field recordings – what they are and how to produce them. The audio-capture devices used ranged from iOS and Android mobile devices to laptops and old-fashioned microphone and recorder technologies, depending on what students had.
Students also learned what sound really is, as well as the effects of sound pollution on physical characteristics of animal and plant species and people. They looked at different effects of positive and negative sound frequencies on water, plants and animal life.
“The environmental music course was my first journalism course and nothing like any course I’ve taken before,” said Valencia Smith, who is majoring in History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science. “I enjoyed it because it was different and allowed me to see the earth in a different light. I was so used to taking classes that involved how species in the Earth work and interact and not how the Earth or the species sound. So it was very interesting.”
Students were given a field-recording sheet to download and fill out each week. For the first five weeks, they captured field recordings based on that week’s sound focus (weather, water, animals, humans, trees) and filled out a field-recording sheet for each recording. Recordings had to be at least 1 minute or longer. Students also had to make visual observations, which are just as important when capturing audio recordings in the field.
“This course asked students to practice the art of listening not just with their ears but with all their senses,” Fox said. “That is why their field observation notes included observation as well as listening details.”
Students were exposed to professional composers and musicians creating and performing musical scores based on or using environmental sounds such as tree rings and water drums, as well as human throat singing and performing on instruments crafted from natural materials.
Using Garageband and Audacity software, the students then were asked to use their field recordings to create their own environmental sound compositions, including singing, chanting and playing found earth instruments, such as items like dried gourds used for rattles, logs excavated by termites used for drums or didgeridoos, ice sheets played like chimes, bones made into flutes, and pockets of water that were splashed.
For the final week, students composed a sound score to best represent Earth to a species in the Andromeda Galaxy that had never been to Earth.
The results varied. Some students submitted everyday sounds from around their yards, while others sent in field recordings from China, including Beijing city streets and sound pollution from Beijing International Airport. Several experimented with the field recording techniques by varying the audio capture devices they used or by changing the placement distances of microphones.
“The students did a great job recording as well as composing new original works incorporating their field recordings as well as their own vocals,” Fox said. “By listening to the soundscapes of our environment we can gain a deeper connection and understanding of what is going on around us. Only then can we as a species truly be the responsible caretakers the Earth requires us to be.”
Fox hopes the recordings submitted by the students, along with their field recording sheet data, will be the beginnings of an online Environmental Sound Archive set up through the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. More recordings will be added from future offerings of the course, and a website will be developed for people around the world to submit environmental field recordings.