Digital Strategy

Around 2003 or 2004 I was invited to be part of a group of five Universities working with Apple called the Apple Digital Campus project. It was PSU, Duke, Missouri (their Journalism School), Stanford, and Michigan if I recall correctly. The goal of the program was to better understand what was happening in Higher Education and attempt to plug into emerging trends and ideas. I really remember working closely with the folks from Missouri and Duke on their podcasting projects — Duke with the iPod for all students and MOJO with their laptop and news production initiatives. We even had Carl Berger working with us to help each of us assess our projects. It was a great time and an opportunity that I am very thankful for.

The project I proposed was to look at digital expression as a form of academic evidence and to work to integrate the notions of digital media into a non media intensive curriculum (Information Sciences and Technology). I spent lots of hours writing and working on the white papers that kicked that off, first in the College of IST and later as a primary driver of my strategy here at ETS. The idea was that the notion of students being producers of digital media was on the rise and Universities needed to understand it and find ways to support digital expression in a systematic fashion.

Around this same I really got into the rise of social media, blogging, RSS, podcasting, and all the associated technologies. At the time I and a few friends and colleagues even hosted a weekly “From the Basement” podcast that allowed us to fully understand how it all worked and ultimately fit together. One of the lingering discoveries was how easy it was to move most of my creation and publishing online — and how that was ultimately a better way for my students to consume things. Still a driving thought for me today.

I loved the ideas we were throwing around back then and wanted to test them with a (much) larger audience. When I left the College of IST here at PSU one of my first initiatives in ETS was to bring a podcasting service to the University. Podcasts at Penn State was born along with the adoption of iTunes U. In hindsight, the Blogs at PSU should have been first out of the gate, but podcasting seemed like low hanging fruit. It still amazes me when I see numbers like the ones reported below by our Digital Commons team for the last two semesters from our public and private iTunes U space:

  • 11,197 Total podcast tracks (non-course/departmental and courses)
  • 629 unique iTunes U courses
  • 7,411 podcast course tracks
  • 108 new courses were created since April 2009 (when our new self provisioning toolset became active and we started tracking)
  • 3,786 Non-course podcast tracks (ex. departmental podcasts and podcast shows)

What has happened over the last four years has been quite an interesting story related to the continuation of that Apple Digital Campus work — we have quite literally worked to systematically support digital expression as a form of scholarship and have seen it move into a much more mainstream acceptance across the institution. Not only do we have University wide blogging and podcasting services, but our soon to be rebranded Media Commons (Digital Commons over the last two plus years) initiative has had big impact on the ecosystem.

The Media Commons is a standardized media lab environment that we have worked to install and support at 20 campus locations across the Commonwealth of PA, at three locations here at University Park, and with a couple College/discipline specific facilities scheduled to come online in the next six months or so. What goes on in these facilities is staggering … as I look at the final report for the Fall I am stunned by the increase in overall utilization across the board — faculty usage is up, student usage is up, and even staff usage is up. And at some locations it is really up. What is most interesting is how faculty are now coming to us for assistance in integrating digital media assignments — they are no longer just sending their students in to use the equipment, they are working with us to design activities that make sense within the context of their course. Then the students come and are supported at a much higher level because our staff is already familiar with the goals of the projects. I think this represents “systematic support for digital expression.”

As I sat down to write this post I was really only going to highlight the fact that podcasting at PSU continues to go strong … what emerged was an end of year reflection on a strategy that was laid out six or more years ago. I am very proud of all the people who have gotten behind these crazy ideas, have worked a ridiculous amount of time to make it real, and to colleagues across higher education and industry for helping me think through it all. It is amazing to me that a strategy conceived in conference rooms so many years ago has taken so long to come to fruition and at the same time has happened so quickly.