Michael Collins

e-Learning Institute Launches Digital Multimedia Design Online Degree

The College of Arts and Architecture’s eLearning Institute is launching the first Penn State World Campus online interdisciplinary, multi-college bachelor’s degree program, Digital Multimedia Design (DMD), in collaboration with the College of Communications and College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST). The program will be delivered entirely online through Penn State World Campus and will prepare a new generation of twenty-first century learners in visual communication, art and design media, and digital literacy.

The curriculum will be grounded in the three D’s – Design, Develop, and Deliver. Students will take courses in the three colleges and will learn to apply design principles and methods to creative digital media and technology projects focused on real-world issues. The final (capstone) course guides students in the creation of a portfolio that demonstrates an array of creative thinking and technical capabilities as well as a product to show potential employers.

"While technical skills are essential to a successful career in multimedia design, we sought from the beginning of this program to emphasize ways of thinking about design in addition to tool skills,” explained Gary Chinn, director of the e-Learning Institute. “The idea is that tools evolve and change, but a deep understanding of design as a way to approach problems can continue regardless of those changes."

According to Amy Stever, director of education, strategy and planning for IST, students will have the best of both worlds. “They will be taking courses from multiple colleges while working toward a degree that will propel them into the workforce,” added Stever, who will assist with program implementation and ensure that classes will meet the needs and expectations of students.

Kate Miffitt, assistant director of strategic initiatives for the eLearning Institute, agreed, noting this degree, rooted in the traditions of arts and design, prepares students for career pathways in applied fields. “We try to foster meaningful online community and use a project-based approach to leverage the life experiences of our students and prepare them for job-seeking after graduation.”  

Michael Collins, the program's lead faculty coordinator and assistant professor of art in the School of Visual Arts, will work with lead faculty from the partnering colleges, including Will Yurman (COMM) and Gary Heberling (IST), to unite their respective colleges' curricula while retaining their unique identities, what he calls “integration with integrity.”

“This partnership is essential because it invites students to explore a much wider array of topics and perspectives than what is possible in a more traditional degree program,” explained Collins. “I was initially excited to work on this program because I've come to understand that the world faces problems too complex for those trained in any one discipline alone to solve.”

Collins cited the Design Value Index (DVI) as strong indication that designers are having an increasing impact on the global economy by driving the direction of the biggest companies in the world. Tangible results are important, particularly for World Campus’ adult learners, who are looking for practical applications for their degrees while juggling full-time jobs, family responsibilities, and schedules.

Students will balance structured learning with open-ended creative investigation by tailoring their course load to match their individual interests, ranging from programming, motion design, 3D modeling, and social media to photography.

Will Yurman, senior lecturer in journalism and lead faculty member for the College of Communications, will teach an introduction to photography class, the first time he has taught the course online. “The overarching theme for most of the Communications classes is storytelling – whether it’s with a camera, a pen, or a computer. Writing is key. I can’t think of a job where writing well isn’t helpful,” said Yurman.

He continued, “I think this class will make me a better teacher. We can’t copy the classroom experience, but we can create an equally meaningful and different one online. We are always looking to reach new students – for those who can’t come to us, we can virtually go to them through World Campus.”

Collins said the DMD program’s development has been heavily influenced by his experience working on open source software teams. “Some of my core values are apparent in the design of the DMD courses – transparency, cross-domain perspectives, fast iteration, and emphasis on collaboration. Those aren't empty slogans; we are doing things that I don't believe any other program at Penn State has done.”

Collins has been developing DMD course materials and learning tools on Github, an open source project hosting site. This process has the added benefit of empowering students to see and contribute directly to their courses’ content, encouraging students to become partners in their own education. He is also advising a development team to produce an online community space where DMD students can congregate.

“Design has become very collaborative. We are looking for ways to keep the same energy and excitement you find in the studio,” explained Collins. “Most of that energy comes from students being able to work together, and we don’t want to lose that sense of connectedness as we move online.”

The program’s first incoming class will begin in the spring semester of 2017, and applications to the program will open in September 2016.

To learn more about the program and for information on how to apply, visit the Penn State World Campus website: http://bit.ly/2ecG0r7