The image of universities used to be that of professors lecturing from musty old books. Then in the Dot-com euphoria, universities went virtual, and promoted their wired campuses. But now, with the explosion of inexpensive digital media, these two models have come together, and video and audio are being used more and more to record and share university classes and events — across the campus and to the world at large.
Beyond serving as a study aid and a way for a world population to share knowledge, media is cutting costs by enabling celebrity professors to be interviewed on campus, rather than in, say, New York or New Zealand. Further, it is preparing students for a world where ideas are expressed not only as words — written or spoken — but increasingly as moving images.
At Princeton University, this expanding need for digital media was reflected in the planning for the new Lewis Library building, the Frank Gehry-designed facility at Washington Road and Ivy Lane. The Lewis structure includes new offices for several groups that are part of the educational technologies center at Princeton, including an expanded new media center for students, in which they learn to use multimedia and work on projects, and a new centralized broadcast center to provide video production services to record and distribute university events.
The number of students using digital media as part of class assignments and projects drove the need for the new media center. “From July, 2007, to July, 2008, we had 2,248 visitors to the (old) lab,” says Paula Hulick, manager of the new media center. “Now we are a half mile closer to campus, in a new building, and two times the size. I would expect more than 6,000 visits next year.”
The need for the new broadcast center was driven by a growing demand for audio visual services. “We’ve been getting requests from all over,” says David Hopkins, director of the broadcast center. “We’ve done 220 events just since July. People want quality video production on campus. We’re already maxed out. One day we had five shoots at the same time over campus. That required all our staff . And we had a sixth and a seventh shoot, so we also called in freelancers. .”
The broadcast center’s facilities include video and audio studios to produce in-house programming and to address the growing demand for Princeton professors to appear on radio networks like NPR and on television news programs. “In June the Woodrow Wilson School was handling about six of these interviews a month,” says Hopkins. “So that doesn’t sound too bad. The only problem was with the economy, voting, and Paul Krugman getting the Nobel Prize, they shot up to six a day. So that was a rude awakening. The requests also range from Good Morning America to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. That’s a big span of time to balance out staff support from morning to evening events.”
A relatively new driver of demand for remote interviews, says Hopkins, is the economy. “The financial thing is a big issue,” he says. The media center’s studio is a thrifty alternative for departments with new budget strictures. “People don’t have to get on a plane to be interviewed,” he says. “This is much cheaper.”
Hopkins recounts a recent instance in which a professor was interviewed by a member of Australia’s media, asking questions from Australia. “It was crisp as can be,” he says. Given the media center’s advanced technology, interviews can look and sound as good as they would in person, at a fraction of the cost. “There are increased requests as people look at their budgets,” he says.
At the same time that some professors are in demand to appear on news programs around the world, and are finding the on-campus broadcast center an attractive option, others are giving their students the option of turning in their theses on film. Students tend to leap at this opportunity, says Hopkins. “They think it will be easier,” he says with a chuckle. It turns out to be the opposite. “It takes about three times as long,” he says. Students raised on YouTube tend to think that putting together a film is a snap. They often underestimate how much of a chore editing can be, even with the most advanced software and hardware.
Completing a major video project, if more demanding than it appears, can be a good preparation for post-college life where using media is now a boon in nearly every profession, and may soon be a requirement. Media is becoming integral, and comes with its own set of strictures. Students often want to put their work out to the public, says Hopkins, and when they do some questions have to be asked: Where did that music come from? Where did you get those pictures? Who owns the copyright? Do you have all the necessary permissions?
The new media center facility has the people to help with answering these questions. It also has all of the equipment necessary to get to the point of asking them. Located on the ground floor of the new Lewis library building, the multimedia lab is double the size of the previous lab, and includes a private video editing room. The lab features some 32 high-end computers. Roughly half of the lab is set up for video production, with video and audio tape decks and other recording equipment. The other half is set up for graphic design work, with document scanners and drawing tablets.
The computers include a full complement of digital media software for video and audio editing. .
All this is supported by two full-time staff members, Paula Hulick, the manager, and Sorat Tungkasiri, the coordinator, and more than 20 student staffers, who serve as the first contact for issues in the Lab.
“These kids are smart,” says Hulick. “They start as the warm friendly bodies that are the first contact, to find out what people need and provide help for getting started. They have varied backgrounds. Some really know Photoshop. Others are A/V experts. We also show them online sites where they can learn on their own, for Final Cut Pro and Adobe products.”
But why have this kind of central facility? “The university does have Mac and Windows clusters across the campus for students to use if they don’t have their own computer or if they need to learn something,” says Hulick. “The computer clusters have standard sets of software, to browse the Web and check E-mail, and we do have site licenses for some software like Photoshop.
“But here in the lab we have with the latest and greatest of everything. You can’t get one-on-one help in a cluster, and you can’t be guaranteed that that system is still going to be running by the time you get to it. You can’t put this kind of equipment out in a cluster in such a public space, and not expect something to get broken or stolen. And here it’s going to work.”
The Lab does not open until 1 p.m. in the afternoon, which gives time to reset the computers, upgrade software, maintain the equipment, and to run training sessions. “We work with faculty or staff or even an entire class if they want to schedule a session in the mornings,” says Hulick. “We just had a politics class here for an hour, learning Final Cut Pro for making documentaries.”
The lab then is open until 7 p.m. in the evenings, and 5 p.m. on Saturday. There is a surge in the early evening, which the lab accommodates by staying open until 7 p.m.
“There are a lot of student projects.” says Hulick. “We worked with a senior who was finishing up his thesis. Rather than a full written paper, he did it all in video. He spent months in the lab. You need the processing power, the graphics, and the memory. We’re seeing more students from the school of architecture and visual arts who need to do 3-D modeling and design. The students are asked to express themselves in a variety of ways. Quite a few students come in for group projects. One might be capturing the video using the equipment here, another can do the titling, another the voiceover, or the music.”
“We also support the faculty and their departments,” says Hulick. “We help digitize the slides faculty members need for class, we scan documents to text, we have a high-speed sheet scanner that scans both sides, and one of the few large-format flatbed scanners.”
Hulick originally trained as a video and radio producer at Mercer County Community College, graduating in 1987 with an A.A.S. in television production. She worked with the Intel Digital Video Interactive group in Plainsboro from 1989 to 1993, supervising its digital video compression services business. After Intel closed the office and returned to the West Coast, Hulick completed her B.A. in communications at Rutgers (Class of 1994), where she also worked as a multimedia specialist coordinating and shooting sports activities.
After graduating from Rutgers, Hulick came to the new media center at Princeton. “It was me and the manager,” she says. “At the time we had three computers. We didn’t really have the student staff, so we were only open from 1 to 5 p.m. Occasionally I’d be walking out the door at five o’clock and some sobbing student would be standing out there who really needed help.”
After five years the center was up to around 10 systems, and Hulick moved to doing academic project work with the educational technology center. “I needed a change of pace after five years,” she says. “I really wanted to do the project work.” She coordinated projects including the Princeton University Art Museum special collection websites and the Princeton Dante Project, which explores Dante’s “Comedy” (www.princeton.edu/dante). “It was a longtime collaboration of nine people from a couple of different departments over two and a half years,” she says. “I ended up as the project manager. I apparently have a compulsive attention to detail and an absurd love of spreadsheets.”
Just about a year ago David Hopkins, who was the manager of the new media center, became the director of the new broadcast center, and Hulick was asked to become the manager of the new media center as the Lewis facility was being completed.
Hulick also still works with the broadcast center and educational technology center to plan and produce projects for university department projects, which range from instructional design to Web development to video production.
The new broadcast center facility at Princeton is a 1,600 square foot facility in the basement of the Lewis Library building. It includes the 625-square-foot video studio and a 30-square-foot audio recording booth. The staff includes Hopkins, the director, an administrative assistant, three editor/videographer/producers, one broadcast engineer, five student staff members, and three outside freelancers — a number that goes up when there are many projects going on at the same time.
The center’s services include digital video production, the recording of class lectures and public events, post-production, conversion and delivery. The materials can be delivered in various formats, including tape, streaming media files, and DVD discs.
The broadcast center consolidates work that was spread across several departments into one group and one location.
“We needed a facility to be able to do great video production work,” says Hopkins. “We would need to take a full crew out and do a full set up to shoot on campus, which was painful and time-consuming. We needed a place where we can bring people in and have everything prepped, and have the set ready to go, as opposed to taking everything there. “.
“With the small staff, and all the applications that we have set up, we need to make it all an automated process,” he says. The equipment in the audio and video studios can be fully controlled through software in the audio and video control rooms. We can view all the sources that we’re working with, and get them all armed to record and also control each device that we want to record onto, a camera or HD deck. And then with one button we can record all the items at one time, so we don’t have to run around getting them all set up.”
The system also controls the on-air signs outside the studio and feeds the program signal to the “green room,” so people who are preparing to go on camera can see what’s happening. “Makeup is becoming an important issue,” adds Hopkins, “because we’re doing a lot of programming in high definition.”
The video studio itself is highly automated. “We went with a very limited staff,” says Hopkins. “To conserve on the amount of equipment, all of our cameras are robotic, so we have full control over them.” The cameras not only zoom and rotate to pan, but they also are mounted on tracks to move along the floor.
The studio is set up primarily to serve interview subjects for local and remote news programming. It has a desk, a teleprompter, and green- and blue-screen drapes that serve as backgrounds. But the desk and the tracks for the cameras are all movable, so the facility can be easily reconfigured for other needs.
With today’s digital equipment, the studio cameras are quite inexpensive, around $18,000, down from some $100,000 for its equivalent just five years ago, and actually smaller than a breadbox — about a foot long. However, they do look more conventional when mounted on the automated stands, with lenses and hoods.
The equipment is undeniably high tech, but it sometimes gets a boost from an old stand-by. When a larger weight is needed, everyone reaches for duct tape, sometimes using an entire roll on each camera stand as a counter-weight. “That tape does everything,” says Hopkins.
The broadcast center reaps big power savings on its lighting systems. Conventional spotlights require special power and dimmer systems, and also generates a lot of heat, which makes them tricky to adjust. And all this requires additional cooling, which also adds noise. Instead, the studio uses LED lights, which can be left on without affecting the temperature in the room. “We’re really happy with them, and we’ve gone green,” says Hopkins. “These lights will last for years. You can adjust them and not burn yourself.”
By going all-digital, with digital cameras and digital audio, the facility can work much more efficiently with “tapeless editing.” The cameras feed the A/V signal directly to hard drives on a central server and also record to videotape as a backup. The video then is immediately available for editing, over a high-speed fiber connection, to seven staff editing stations in the building.
The broadcast center staff also shoots lectures and events all over the campus. Some rooms, like McCosh 50, have been retrofitted with video equipment. “It’s a three-camera remote control system,” says Hopkins, “so we can go to the booth on the site and run it. With other sites, like Nassau Hall and faculty rooms, we’ve got to bring the equipment. Nothing’s mounted permanently for productions.”
The broadcast center delivers live and recorded events over TigerTV channel 7 for the Princeton campus, on Patriot Media channel 27 to the entire university community, and through Web streaming media both within the Princeton domain and to the outside world.
“Everybody wants streaming files,” says Hopkins. “We manage the programming for the TigerTV channel 7 stream, which is the Princeton student channel. At the top of the hour we run information on events that are happening on campus, and we do both programmed events and live events.
“We also are getting a lot of requests for recording lectures and classes,” says Hopkins. The recordings are posted immediately for access by professors. “We have hybrid courses with multi-concentrations that can sometimes involve nine professors,” he says. “So the professors need to review what the other professors said the previous weeks in order to plan their lectures.”
To encourage students to venture out and attend classes, the recordings are delayed for 10 days. Not a replacement for class attendance, the recordings are rather a study aid, and one the students appreciate, says Hopkins. “The students love it,” he says. “They can review things that they missed and things they thought they understood.” He says that the broadcast center, which is able to keep track of the number of times any particular lecture is viewed, sees a big increase in demand just before mid-terms roll around.
Many colleges make courses available to the public over the Internet. One of the best places to find them is Open Culture, or simply Oculture, at www.oculture. The website aggregates link to courses and from Yale, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Notre Dame, MIT, the City University of New York, Texas A & M, and a number of other schools.
There are courses and lectures on the Roman empire, Old English, the Aeneid, death (by Yale’s Shelly Kagan), environmental law and policy, financial markets (by Yale’s Robert Shiller), fluid mechanics, statistics, human emotion, and political theory.
Some universities make full courses free to the public via the Internet. Yale, Stanford, and UC Berkeley are prominent among them. Princeton, however, does not. Its courses stay on campus, says Hopkins. There is ongoing conversation about allowing public access, but so far the nays have it, and what is taught at Princeton, stays at Princeton.
This is true of the university’s courses, but one-time lectures and public events are being videotaped for the Internet. More than 550 of them are available as podcasts or vodcasts, and they are exploding in popularity. “From July 2 to December 31, they were downloaded 41,466,977 times,” says Hopkins. That is double the downloads from the year ago period. Among the most popular titles are “What is Prayer?”, a symposium by Sister Mary Margaret Funk of Our Lady of Grace Monastery, and Hopkins’ own lecture, “Digital Transition.” They are all available at the university’s website and also from iTunes, a free service.
The group also provides video production services for academic and department productions. “We work with them from the initial concept to the full production,” says Hopkins. For example, his department produced an 11-minute video for the New Media Consortium conference as a takeoff on the show “24.” And there is growing demand for using video on department websites. “Once the university homepage starting to make video a high priority,” he says, “all the departments wanted video on their websites.”
The broadcast center is also seeing demand for its facilities from outside the university, and from students for non-academic work. “This is our pilot year,” says Hopkins, “learning how to balance the requests, work with students, and work with the public. Our standard rate for students is $100 an hour for the video studio, $50 an hour for the audio studio, and $50 an hour for staff assistance.”
For Hopkins, the broadcast center position integrates his two decades of experience with both video production and new media. He attended North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, graduating in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. “But in the summertime,” he says, “I worked here. My last year I did an internship with the media services department, and after some shifting of staff they had a position for me.”
As a student in Minnesota, Hopkins helped build his college’s radio station and the TV station. Now he is seeing the digital world and the audio/video world converge. “All of this comes together,” says Hopkins. “It’s all networked. We can integrate all the equipment, and I have the experience with both ends of it.”
“We’re not even fully open in this place yet, and the video requests have been coming in,” says Hopkins. “Our challenge will be to continue to fulfill those requests, and the requests for this facility. We’re never bored. The way video is taking off we’re just along for the ride.”