Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Let me give you a little help with that.

I attended a joint meeting of several groups from UW System involving technology in one way or another.  One of the sessions in the Learning Technology Development Council focused on production of media and what resources were available to faculty to have materials produced for instructional use. A common theme that emerged is that many institutions have units that teach faculty how to produce materials, but don't do any production for them, usually citing insufficient staffing levels, but also often including the disclaimer that the trainer is an instructional designer and isn't a production specialist.  What bothers me it it's implied that teaching faculty to produce their own materials is a superior plan, using the "teach a person to fish" analogy.  I've heard similar statements since the beginning of the digital age. I remember making several statements similar to what follows at a workshop on Instructional Technology that took place on our campus in 1995.

Although, my job now is more administrator and coordinator, I still think of myself as a media producer, most of that time as a graphic artist and photographer, but I've had to do television, audio, web and multimedia production at some point in my career, and I still think of my unit as a production unit. My staff and I also work quite a bit as trainers of faculty in media production and I'm not against it–it is appropriate in a lot of cases, but it's not the best answer all the time mainly because:

It's my job, I'm good at it and I love doing this stuff. 

You're probably a pretty bad graphic artist or photographer or videographer or whatever.  It's been poster presentation season lately and walking past our large format printer outputting faculty designed posters is a disconcerting experience.  Putting a box around everything really just clutters up a layout. Type will not leak out if it's not contained in a box. Readers can separate a table from a paragraph without a line or two physically separating them. Combining center alignment and left alignment is not good design. A poster does not stand out better if it's a three by four foot green block with lots of white spaces scattered inside it. Bullets without hanging indents, or worse yet, hanging indents without bullets don't clarify lists.  I apologize for the snarkiness of that rant, and I don't want to make anyone feel bad, but it is frustrating to have faculty going off to conferences with ugly posters, when I could clean it up and make it professional looking.  I can hear the response: "So what? You can read what its about can't you?"  Well, if I are talking bad you done still understood. You would certainly assume I was an idiot if I used grammar like that. I don't think bad design is necessarily as negative as bad grammar, but I think good design will promote a positive approach on the part of the viewer.  It's not just a matter of "dressing it up." It improves the effectiveness of the communication. At the very least, it removes visual noise and concentrates the viewer on the message. Professional research deserves professional presentation.

You're an expert in your field, do you need to learn to be an expert at media production to0? Faculty have tremendous demands on their time.  Providing them with experts to produce presentation and instructional materials makes it unnecessary to spend large blocks of time learning how to use complex software, and to not spend time learning (often through trial and error) what makes a good video shot and how editing can compress time and make sure the viewer is looking at what's important without a lot of clutter. I realize production tools have become almost mainstream and products like iMovie can put tools in the hands of anyone with a camcorder and a computer that previously were only in the province of professionals, but if you're trying to show your students how to use the NMR spectroscope, a professional video producer can make sure that your audience can see what they need when necessary.

If you're a faculty member at UW Oshkosh who wants to do it yourself, I'll be glad to help you learn the tools, and give you advice the best I can, but I'm not sure I can pull off getting across details of typography and design in one easy lesson. (but I'll try in another blog post.) But if you want a professional looking and effectively communicating materials. come see me and my staff.

OK, end of rant.

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