Examples from the Digital Commons

Now that there are several new Digital Commons studios in place across the Commonwealth of PA we are starting to see some amazing things come out of them. The thing I am continually excited to see is that faculty and students come up with amazing ways to use the things we envision and install. We knew from our data that students were engaged in the creation of digital media, but we weren’t really sure what they were making. We’ve also been told over and over by faculty that they are more likely to accept a digital asset as evidence of learning — think of asking students to do a short film instead of giving a PowerPoint presentation on a topic. All of it was on the upswing, but as we set about installing studios we were anxiously awaiting the outcomes that would flow from the creative spaces.

Towards the end of the spring semester we started to see some amazing things emerge. From the Google Earth centered enhanced podcasts Dr. Laura Guertin’s students produced to the digital video that is shown below produced by Lindley Jones, the Digital Commons is providing a platform for faculty and student innovation — on the teaching and learning side. That is what is most impressive. Who would have dreamed we’d see something as powerful as what Lindley produced?

Digital Media Value Chain

During the last few weeks I have started to see some really amazing digital media artifacts coming out of our classrooms here at PSU. Two weeks ago I came across one of the most amazing uses of a student blog I have ever seen. I hate to say it, but I am reluctant to link to it without her permission, but suffice to say she gets how a blog can work better than most of the people I talk to. This post was based around a video project she and her team did in class — a simple interview of a faculty member edited to be of interest. Here is what made it amazing, she spent time not only posting the finished product, but wrote a reflective narrative about the process she and her team used to create it. Pictures showing the team working together, a map of their storyboards, and even a discussion of the script. Just an amazing illustration of how powerful digital media can be.

If you look at the pieces that add up to that example you can see a value chain emerging. We start by doing a hot team … this usually helps us decide if a technology would be appropriate for use in the classroom. Funny that we never come up with ideas that match up to the things that actually happen in our classrooms. The hot team can lead to a call for proposals from faculty under the Engagement Project. When we select a proposal, we meet with the faculty to discuss their needs and find ways to support their activities. From there the faculty teach their course and engage the students in all sorts of cool activities that require them to create digital artifacts. On campuses where we have them installed, students typically visit the Digital Commons to work with killer technology, get hands on help, or connect virtually with a DC Consultant. Once they use the physical spaces to create something they publish it online — with the Blogs at Penn State, the Podcasts at Penn State, or ANGEL. Every step of the process is supported (or has the potential to be supported if need be). I know it is a very simple view of the value chain, but here is how I see it:


I also think of it as a stack …


Which leads me to the example that inspired me to write this evening … a faculty member who submitted an Engagement Award proposal for the Fall semester sent us a couple of examples of her students work today. The first is a virtual tour of the 2007 solar decathlon. The second is just as cool, a walking tour of the tree biodiversity at Ridley Creek State Park. All I can say is that it is amazing. She is integrating blogging, podcasting, Digital Commons, Google Maps, digital photography, and so much more into her classes. The amazing thing is that her students are doing work that will blow you away! Looking at the outputs I can’t help but feel excited that the opportunities that are being created can support it all. Just some killer stuff!

Digital Commons in the News

I was pleasantly surprised to see an article about the Digital Commons today at the Penn State Live site. Nice to see it getting a little attention … we are getting set to do the next five campuses and we are getting really solid feedback from those who already have DC facilities. Our own facility here at University Park is seeing massive usage — much more now that we’ve integrated our faculty and student support spaces into the one Digital Commons. Very exciting!

Being Digital

I really couldn’t think of a title for this post … I wanted to share a quick story about the Digital Commons project we are currently working on. The Digital Commons is an initiative to provide a common set of tools at all locations of Penn State that enable students to create digital artifacts in a supported way. Too often we (we being administrators and instructors) have these expectations that all our students can easily envision and create digital media. I mean if you look at some of the reports that people like Pew Internet and American Life Project provide you may get the picture that every single person under the age of 25 is capable of creating content that will be shared at youtube. While it is true that there are a whole bunch of these kinds of kids running around our campuses it is just as true there are a whole heck of a lot more who can’t. Just reality.

The Digital Commons is an attempt to help promote and support the notion of being digital. We work hard to encourage faculty to allow evidence of learning in the form of videos, blog posts, podcasts, and more but when they assign it we just sort of assume the kids will just figure it out. Most of the time these kids do, but they do it on their own machines with substandard software tools and without access to things like digital cameras, green screens, lighting, etc — and forget about any education as it relates to things like using lighting, production, planning, or even copyright. That’s where the Digital Commons comes in — it provide more than the equipment, it provides a framework. It is a killer project that has potential for real transformation written all over it.

We are working really hard to install five of these studios across the Commonwealth of PA this Summer. That is tough — there are more factors at play here than are imaginable. Communicating the potential and requirements to each campus is very difficult given the time and geographic challenges. Today we made the first attempt at doing that … instead of getting in the car and visiting each campus we ate some of our own dogfood and used Adobe Connect Pro (you know, Breeze). We have a killer ACP setup here at University Park so we paired it with a call in line and delivered the hour long briefing to multiple campuses from the comfort of one of our conference rooms. I couldn’t be there — I was scheduled to be off site having a meeting at a local restaurant … the place had wifi, so I got there early and pulled out the MacBook Pro. I simply plugged in my earphones, fired up the browser, connected to the ACP meeting, and dialed the conference call with Skype. It was nothing short of amazing — the technology worked and the briefing went exceptionally well. I took a screen cap of the whole thing:


The Digital Commons project is one to watch … I will be sharing more as it all becomes clear, but this is one that we feel very good about. By providing a common platform at all locations there is so much we can bundle under the overall umbrella. Things are off to a very good, but very demanding start. Stay tuned …