reporter contents :: albright college
on the cutting edge
by Jennifer Post Stoudt

The lights were dim. Students milled about. Music with a hiphop beat played in the background, and images of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King, Jimi Hendrix and John F. Kennedy danced on a computer screen in a video set to American Pie by Don McLean. A web site featuring Mel Blanc, the voice of cartoon characters such as Tweety Bird and Porky Pig was projected on the wall for students to critique. And in a corner, students discussed their recent “Digital Video I” projects…episodes of Seinfeld in which they produced, shot, directed, cut and edited the film for digital media distribution.

A unique energy not found in other computer labs on campus is alive in Master’s Hall, home of the Johnson Center for Digital Media. According to Anthony Crisafulli, associate professor and director of the Center, “There’s a lot going on here.” It’s a place where athletes, scholars, Greeks and others come together and work as one. “Students have no differences in the lab,” he says.

Welcome to the world of digital media.

Digital technologies such as CD-ROM’s, PDA’s, the Internet and film special effects influence how people communicate, are entertained, conduct business and learn. The future of our fast-paced and technology-driven world demands individuals who are fluent in the language and skilled with the tools of digital media. Albright’s Digital Media Department offers students the opportunity to study web design, digital video production, streaming media, virtual communities, digital art, CD-ROM/DVD-ROM development and more.

“We make popular culture in popular culture formats such as the web, music videos, sitcoms and digital music,” Crisafulli says. “We’re teaching students how to be directors, producers, designers, videographers and creative forces. And we’re teaching them how to bring digital media into other disciplines.”

Anthony Crisafulli, Associate Professor and Director of Albright's Digital Media Program

“Popular culture” was once a dirty word in academia. However, he says, digital media turns it into a substantial field of study, especially when it is paired with a liberal arts education.

Digital media is like any other kind of media. Without philosophy, history, English, art, theatre, literature, politics, etc., it doesn’t matter, Crisafulli says. “It only matters when we cross disciplines. By ourselves, what could we do? We’d have no content.”

Crisafulli refers to digital media as “ephemeral architecture,” a new kind of art form. But to really understand digital media, he says, one must have an understanding of how it evolved.

In the past, new media added new dimensions to previous forms without replacing them. For example, cinema may have copied the methodology of the theatre, but it did not do away with it. It simply added a new dimension. The same happened with painting and photography, he says. The main goal of photography is to capture an image better than a painter can paint it. In fact, he says, “Picasso once said that he had been liberated by photography because he now had the license to be abstract in his work.”

The same is true for the field of digital technology, Crisafulli says. When the web first started out it added a new dimension to books. Then, in 1992-93, “many things changed,” he says. With the “web hierarchy,” which has a table of contents, links, graphics and photos, the web took on a magazine aspect. However, in 1998-99, plug-ins made it possible to run video and databases. They made it possible to buy things, take a class or view a video online. “We’re not talking about a magazine at this point,” he says. “This is its own art form.”

“We’ve rewritten the curriculum to meet the current standards in the industry...”

— Matthew Garrison,
Assistant Professor of Digital Media

“The moment I can buy a book online or take a course online there’s nothing more to add to,” Crisafulli says. “It takes on its own form and becomes as important as bricks and mortar. Websites are as important to institutions as the buildings are.”

As an artist himself, Crisafulli says, “Digital media liberates my aesthetic because it enables me to use multiple devices such as sound, video, and interactivity rather than a singular format such as painting.”

“Ephemeral architecture,” he says, “transcends concepts of space and time.” For instance, a person can sit in a chair and watch a movie. That’s one person watching a movie. However, if you put that movie on the web 40,000 people can watch the same movie from their own chair.

“With the expansion of the wireless web, it becomes even more pervasive. You can watch movies in the palm of your hand,” he says.

With the help of a $277,000 Pennsylvania Link-to-Learn grant, a program in wireless handheld technology was started in the fall 2001 semester. The program certifies students to develop applications and design rich media for handheld mobile computing and personal digital assistants (PDAs) such as Palm Pilots. Students are designing real-world solutions for handheld mobile computing, Crisafulli says. For example, they will design applications to assist police foot patrols in handling traffic and event parking. And, Crisafulli says, not only is Albright the only college to certify its students as official Palm technicians, it’s also the only liberal arts college with the ability to stream video onto wireless devices.

Matthew Garrison, assistant professor of digital media, says the future for wireless technology is wide open. “With work on streaming video over Palm Pilots, you could be sitting in the park watching CNN.”

digital media class

The job market, he adds, is also wide open. “There’s a huge demand. This is the first generation that is really fluent in this kind of technology. This is an area where the knowledge is being passed up,” rather than down.

Three new classes will be added to Albright’s curriculum in spring 2002, says Garrison. “Pop Studio” will teach students how to make their own music. “Digital Video II” will teach students more advanced applications, and “Research Methods” will explore paranormal activity using technology.

In “Research Methods,” Garrison explains, students will explore UFOs, ESP, ghosts and supernatural experiences. Through interviews and technology they will ultimately create a TV quality documentary, he says.

“It’s a wacky idea but it’s so much fun. Really, the subject is just a means into the medium. In the end, the students learn about video, creating film, and so on,” Garrison says. Matthew Jay ’02 agrees that the class will be both exciting and beneficial. “The entertainment industry loves to do shows like this,” he says.

Four years ago, Crisafulli says, Albright’s digital media program enrolled 22 students. Today, approximately 200 students are enrolled in digital media with an expected 50 to 100 new freshmen next year.

"We make popular culture in popular culture formats..."

Anthony Crisafulli,
Associate Professor and Director,
Johnson Center for Digital Media

Two new faculty positions were created this year. Joining Garrison was Karen Butler, assistant professor. Both Garrison and Butler previously worked in art-related industries in New York City. Garrison received his M.F.A. from Hunter College, City University of New York, while Butler received hers from the Rhode Island School of Design.

“We’ve rewritten the curriculum to meet the current standards in the industry,” Garrison says. “We’ve created meaningful, creative projects. And, we’re (the professors) here from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. There is always a professor in the lab. The students really appreciate that.”

Jay says he sure does. “It’s a different atmosphere in the digital media lab than anyplace else. You walk through and there’s always a teacher helping someone.”

It’s also a time consuming field, says Crisafulli. The average time a student spends on a project per day is about five to six hours in one sitting. Plus, with applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, GIF Builder, After Effects and Macromedia Director, to name only a few, both the professors and the students must stay abreast of the latest software.

“It’s a cutting-edge field. Every three months the applications change,” Crisafulli says. “Learning the programs are actually half the battle,” Jay says.
The Digital Media Department also has plans to stream shows to the web from Albright’s Wachovia Theatre and Campus Center, as well as athletic events. Crisafulli says the project is expected to run by the end of the 2002 spring semester.

With an influx of students, new classes and cutting-edge programs, the Digital Media Department is growing as fast as the field itself. “My goal,” Crisafulli says, “is to build a nationally recognized department.”

reporter contents :: albright college