UMass Lowell professors give thumbs up to proposed digital media expansion

By George DeLuca
December 10, 2016 (updated December 16)

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Dr. Robert Forrant conducts a historical tour in Lowell, MA

The future of UMass Lowell’s Digital Media Program may be the best kept secret at the university. The “interdisciplinary minor in Digital Media is designed to provide students with an opportunity to explore the theory and practice of media as it is being produced on the ground today.” Last February, Julie Nash, the vice provost of Student Success, said the Digital Media Program could add a major by the Fall of 2017.

Not all professors at the university know about the plans to expand the digital media program. But those who do are excited about the proposed major because it will further enhance their ability to prepare students for “the real world” far beyond the offerings of the minor. “The mind boggles at the potential of the program,” said history professor Dr. Robert Forrant.

Currently, the digital media minor has about sixty students enrolled. Forrant lights up at the thought of an increase in enrollment in the program, especially if it means attracting students who have already achieved a degree of competency in filmmaking and digital media.

“If I’m teaching a course on the history of urban renewal in Lowell, I may want to go to the person running the digital media program and say, ‘I’d like to have your program help me make a twenty-minute documentary. Can you help?’ That would be right up my alley,” Forrant said. A stronger program will significantly increase the odds for achieving Forrant’s vision.

Filmmaking has a language of its own. English professor Thomas Hersey believes that digital media literacy is crucial to student development, but the principles of conveying a well written story into an audio/visual asset must be learned in steps. To help accommodate this need, he is planning a film society for honors students who want to learn about the language of film and film theory.

Hersey also believes that a collaborative spirit will grow among professors as signs of the transition to a major fully manifest and additional resources become available.

“Oftentimes when people can see what can be done by way of extension from one community to another, they’re excited about it. It’s mutually beneficial. But it’s hard to see the benefits before the transition starts in earnest,” Hersey said.

The expansion of the digital media program may also raise the stature of the university in the eyes of the community, while encouraging joint projects.

Forrant envisions an advanced filmmaking curriculum at UMass Lowell that will nourish an initiative he is developing to “try to get the city, the university and Lowell National Historical Park to engage in the creation of a tenement house museum somewhere in downtown Lowell, like the one on the Lower East Side in New York City,” he said.

Forrant believes the project may foster a spirit of creativity and comradeship among students and faculty. “I can imagine some students in the digital media program going out and filming on location in the city to create footage that can be embedded in this digital tenement house that we’re building,” he said.

Forrant and other professors believe the digital media major will reinforce UMass Lowell’s resolve to turn out students who are ready to use various media platforms to formulate, develop, and distribute ideas.

“I understand how digital media can become part of coursework. It’s another skill that students need to have by the time they graduate. They need to be digital media literate in the ways they communicate. Digital media skills are part of a various range of jobs today,” said Dr. Chad Montrie, who has produced documentary films himself. “I think there’s a lot of student interest in film and filmmaking at UMass Lowell,” he said.

Hersey believes the digital media major will strengthen the broad-based foundation for filmmaking and multimedia production at UMass Lowell and enrich all curricula in the process.

“I see possibilities galore where there can be overlap from department to department, and with students from the humanities to the sciences. With all the resources that are out there, the possibilities for collaboration are endless,” Hersey said.

Hersey suggests the formation of a steering committee that crosses disciplines to develop a long-term focus for the digital media program. “Not only are we looking for cohesion among the various players at the university, but we can also create a force multiplier,” he said.

Part 1: Renovations planned for UMass Lowell’s O’Leary Library

Part 2: Partners pave way for digital media major

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