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Four Communications faculty members author book about visual theory, practice

When associate professor of communications Brooke Barnett was trying to find a textbook for the School of Communications Digital Media Convergence class she could not find one that she thought was a perfect fit. The class covers photography, videography, editing, web design and basic visual storytelling practices. And all that information wasn't readily available in one place.

“I was the one who started this project,” Barnett said. “I was looking for texts for the digital media convergence class and I could not find one that fit the class perfectly.”

So Barnett started writing a textbook titled “An Introduction to Visual Theory and Practice in the Digital Age” that would bring all of the elements of the class together. The process has taken several years, but the project really gained speed when professor of communications David Copeland, associate professor of communications Harlen Makemson and assistant professor of communications Phillip Motley joined the project.

“They are my near-and-dear colleagues, but the collaboration happened almost out of circumstance,” Barnett said. “David Copeland and I have worked on projects together before and we worked in the same office pod with Harlen Makemson and then later we worked on the same floor with Philip Motley.”

The textbook discusses not just how to present information visually but also how to bring multimedia into the news gathering process. It could be used in classes outside of the School of Communications, including library science classes and courses that are about museum collection works, according to Barnett.

“This book will bring together all of those different ideas that are covered in Digital Media Convergence,” Barnett said. “It can also be used in visual communication courses and journalism reporting classes where people want to consider multimedia journalism, which frankly should be everyone since we are not in an environment where people just write. We live in a visual world, so there are a lot of different places where this book could be utilized.”

Each of the professors involved were able to bring in a different perspective for the story.

“I got involved a little later,” Makemson said. “It was an opportunity to work with some things that I work with professionally. I got to contribute some insight about graphic design. Brooke Barnett’s background is mainly in film and documentary, David Copeland and I have similar historical interests for the text, but I was able to bring in the graphic element of visual theory to the project.”

The professors divided up the textbook, and each of them wrote two to three chapters. They also worked together to edit each other’s work.

“It’s total chaos to collaborate with so many people,” Barnett said. “We divided up the work. Copeland copy edited the work, Makemson did design work for the text, Motley designed the front cover, I worked on the sidebar material and David’s son even took the photo for the cover.”

“An Introduction to Visual Theory and Practice in the Digital Age” is designed to prepare students to produce sophisticated digital media. It combines many different elements that students learn, including visual theory and design and how to create interactive media content.

There is also a historical context to the book that provides a framework for working in the digital world. Legal, ethical and historical aspects of visual theory and design are presented so students can combine the concepts with the skill sets covered in the book.

“The book is a broad overview or survey of digital media and how to apply it to a communications program,” Motley said. “It is a broad overview of the creation process, but it also contains history and how we got to where we are today.”

-- by Rebecca Smith, '12

Colin Donohue,
4/6/2011 10:10 AM