Category Archives: UMass Lowell Digital Media Program

UMass Lowell professors give thumbs up to proposed digital media expansion

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


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

Partners pave way for digital media major at UMass Lowell

By George DeLuca
November 29, 2016


O’Leary Library at UMass Lowell South Campus

The digital media major at UMass Lowell may no longer be on track for a Fall 2017 unveiling, as some associated with the program hoped it would be. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that partnerships are forming to address additional requirements in a growing effort to make the major a reality.

With intra-university paperwork still routing through the appropriate channels, attention has turned to the studio facility standards that must also be met for the major to gain credibility. O’Leary Library Director George Hart and digital media program director Dr. Wael Kamal have been busy negotiating an agreement to pool their respective resources, while joining forces in pursuit of a path to compliance for the major.

The library is “in the midst of a transition, and part of the transition involves partnering with other units on campus,” Hart said. To date, a final announcement has not been made on the digital media major. But Hart is forging ahead with the planning process, including studying the feasibility of reprogramming the digital services center at the O’Leary Library.

“We’re looking at the idea of consulting space where experts, not just librarians, from our staff around campus will consult with faculty, and they will plan curriculum, technology pilots, and different things. And then we’re talking about a studio where they can execute,” Hart said.

Some of the facility-oriented elements needed for advancing the viability of the digital media major are already in place. “Right now we have the ‘sandbox,’ which is a studio for certain kinds of high-end classroom recording sessions that are broadcast and put on the internet,” Hart said.


O’Leary Room 140

Besides the “sandbox,” three other facility components are on-tap to beef-up the digital media program: O’Leary Room 140 in the Learning Commons area, the planned renovation of the digital services center, and, the availability of additional resources offered by Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) in downtown Lowell.

Room 140 is already set up as a lab and a classroom. It has Mac workstations with the full Adobe suite installed, large wall monitors for screenings, and an elaborate sound system. “We can do workshops there, and our digital media program is beginning to utilize it,” Hart said.

Hart is also planning a complete renovation of the digital services center. “We’re in the process of repurposing the former media center into a more broadly defined digital services studio,” he said. Hart and his staff are visiting other colleges to look at their digital studios. “We’re reviewing the best, most efficient, effective, and appropriate equipment and services that we can place in our new concept,” he said.

According to Hart, the digital media program is welcome to use his vision for a digital services studio for grant writing purposes. “Dr. Wael Kamal, is applying for a grant to try to move the program forward. The grant requires a studio like the one we’re planning on building. He has consultants coming in to help him advance the program,” he said.

Julie Nash, the vice provost of Student Success, has been involved in the initiative since her role as associate dean in the Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Services college. Although she’s no longer on the front lines, she has stayed involved and is supportive of the digital media program’s development. “We are finalizing the proposal and looking to invite external reviewers to campus pending final approval,” she said.


Digital Services Center at the O’Leary Library

Hart said that the consultants will identify the design standards and programmatic requirements for the digital media major. It’s hoped that the planned digital media studio space will “be the place that receives the consulting folks to feed us the criteria for recording, editing, graphics and all the digital services tools that have to be applied,” he said.

Hart hopes to have the space transformed into a studio by next summer. His vision calls for the digital services space to be gutted and renovated. If Hart’s project proposal is approved, the wall adjacent to the mezzanine will also be opened to facilitate access to the mezzanine study space.

Meanwhile, Kamal said he is “working with academic and community partners including the O’Leary Library & Lowell Telecommunication Corporation (LTC) to advance the digital media major proposal through shared resources. As an example, students in the major will have the opportunity to access LTC’s high definition three-camera, professional TV studio for class projects.”

Kamal also said that he’s pleased with the spirit of collaboration that exists on campus. “There is a partnership, a strong collaboration happening within the digital media program (now a minor) and the digital services department located at the O’Leary Library,” he said.

According to Kamal, the digital services center will share resources, equipment, and archives and, in return, the digital media program can contribute student staffing as available when the need exists. The digital media program can also provide student videographers and assistance with video productions when needed. The arrangement is designed to “serve both sides,” said Kamal. And of course, the expanded partnership with LTC will add another element towards meeting the digital media major requirements.

“In November 2016, the studio at LTC will get three new Sony HD (hi-definition) cameras, a full size teleprompter, a new ‘TriCaster’ switcher with digital graphics and virtual set capability, a wireless intercom system, and a full size audio board with a live telephone interface,” Kamal said. “This partnership with LTC will allow for high quality live and recorded productions with opportunities for our students to be directly involved with Lowell’s public access TV station.”

If the digital media major is officially approved, UMass Lowell will be able to add film school to its complement of disciplines across the university. Nash is encouraged by recent progress. “I am happy to say that the collaboration between the digital media academic program and media services in the library will only provide better access to resources and expertise for our students, and we are more excited than ever about future steps for the program,” she said.

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

Part 3: UMass Lowell professors give thumbs up to proposed digital media expansion

Revitalization planned for UMass Lowell’s O’Leary Library

1920_OLeary_Library_3According to Associate Provost Charlotte Mandell (above left) and Library Director George Hart (above right), the O’Leary Library’s convergence with the Library Media Center is expected, and the Digital Media major is on track. (click on photo for larger version)

February 15, 2016
Story and photography by George DeLuca

With Director Mitch Shuldman and key associate John Callahan about to retire, students, faculty, and staff are wondering about the future of the Media Center at the O’Leary Library on south campus. The center’s future will be driven by two variables, the ongoing library revitalization project, and, the finalization of a stand alone Digital Media program.

The O’Leary Library is in the midst of a two pronged transition that will return over 170,000 books to the south campus, while it expands and consolidates its digital media capability.

Over the last 38 years, UMass Lowell Associate Provost Dr. Charlotte Mandell has been an eyewitness to the growing availability of technology on campus. “Obviously, the world has changed. We have projectors in every classroom now, and most of the media required for courses can be put online and streamed via computers and handheld technology.”

George Hart, Director of Libraries for UMass Lowell, is currently working with UMass Lowell officials, library partners, and an architectural firm to upgrade the functionality of O’Leary. A focus on the Media Center is central to this effort.

“While two valued employees are retiring, the library will continue to offer a full range of digital media services. We will not be reducing the type of services offered or when they are available to students and other members of the campus community. Services will continue to be offered in the same location,” Hart explained.

To help deal with a constantly changing technological landscape, the library depends on its relationship with the UMass Lowell IT Department, which oversees the university’s technical infrastructure. IT personnel were crucial to implementing both the new Mac computer lab in Rm. 140, and, the collaboration computer space in the library administration office. Similar improvements in nearby spaces are planned.

“140” offers a top shelf A/V capability, and, provides 32 additional workstations, each equipped with the full Adobe digital media suite. The teaching lab is utilized by the Digital Media program and other academic departments. It’s also open late night to students of all disciplines.


O’Leary Library

Step one of Hart’s revitalization plan is to “democratize” the facility. To start with, Hart is about to turn back the tide on an ill advised plan which moved thousands of books from O’Leary to the Leydon Library on the north campus. This has been a sore spot between Library staff and Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences faculty.

The resolution brings the misplaced books back to O’Leary beginning this summer.

Step two will provide more open space on the first two levels of the library to connect departments more efficiently and incorporate some new spatial elements. Hart said he wants to provide “bigger, better, faster, and stronger” space, service, and support. Mandell agreed, saying, “Ultimately, there will be a wide range of services over a wide range of space.”


Changes are coming in looks and in books

Step three is to make the Media Center a more visible hub by opening it up to the adjacent spaces. Library Coordinator Mehmed Ali’s charge is to fast track the Media Center transition plan. Ali’s goal is to maintain the operation’s current quality of service, while facilitating its transition into the grand plan for the facility.

Mandell elaborated on Hart’s plan to “democratize” the Media Center, “This means there will be more places where people can work, and more people who have skill sets to help the people working.” The program will be geared towards accommodating students and faculty by meeting them at their level of expertise, while expanding the base of digital media services. For example, enticements may be created to encourage the more serious media students to assist those with less experience.

Step four involves the incorporation of the fledgling Digital Media program, which is soon to become a major. “The Digital Media program has preliminary approval from the faculty senate, the university Board of Trustees, and the President’s office. Once it’s approved, we think it’ll attract a lot of students,” Mandell said.

Julie Nash, PhD , Associate Dean in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, said, “Our next step is to flesh out the details and submit the proposal through the same channels again. The university has been enthusiastic about moving in this direction and students are clamoring for it. We already have 60 and growing enrolled in the minor. We have every expectation that we’ll be able to offer this major soon, and with luck, to our incoming fall 2017 students.”

As the Digital Media program continues to grow, so will its association with the Media Center. Dr. Mandell expects two approaches to Media Center operations, one which supports an expanding Digital Media program, and, one that serves faculty and students in other disciplines and programs university wide. To meet growing needs, the Media Center will expand by merging and consolidating with programming in adjacent and remote spaces.

The overall library improvements project will involve some wall removal, adding short mobile stacks throughout the facility, and repurposing various spaces to create a more connected and efficient environment with a comfortable and inviting atmosphere.

For more information about the O’Leary Library revitalization project, please stay tuned to the UML libraries website. Hart has provided an online SUGGESTION BOX for anyone who has suggestions or questions about the program.

Part 2: Partners pave way for digital media major at UMass Lowell

Part 3: UMass Lowell professors give thumbs up to proposed digital media expansion