Elon University launched its one-year, full-time Interactive Media master's program Aug. 3 and welcomed 37 students into the inaugural class. Coursework began Aug. 4 with a three-week Digital Media Workshop before the start of the fall semester.
The iMedia program is designed to prepare students to take full advantage of the shifting and constantly expanding online media market. Students will learn to think strategically across media platforms, plan and create interactive media content consisting of text, images, sounds, video and graphics, and manage information for interactive news, entertainment and persuasive communications.
“This graduate program is designed to be at the vanguard of ever-changing media,” said School of Communications Dean Paul Parsons. “As citizens and consumers, we increasingly want to interact with our media content, whether it’s news, persuasion or entertainment. The graduate program will prepare Interactive Media students to be both creators and content strategists.”
Students will work in a fully equipped facility on the second floor of Powell, where they will have 24-hour access to a computer lab, an equipment-checkout area, editing suites and all the multimedia and software tools needed to be an effective online storyteller. They will take courses in both theory and strategy, and they will complete a domestic or international fly-in to collect content for a Winter Term project to serve the public good.
The goal, according to program director and Communications professor David Copeland, is to prepare students to work capably and confidently with interactive media tools and to apply their skills to any number of fields.
“What’s so great about the Interactive Media master’s program is the fact that the skills and theoretical concepts being taught can be used across disciplines,” Copeland said. “Interactivity is not only becoming a lynchpin of media, but it is also quickly becoming essential in many other fields. With the iMedia program, students from almost any discipline can learn how to apply interactivity to whatever product that discipline might produce.”
Students in the program come from varied backgrounds. Some majored in communications, others in digital art, history and philosophy. Some students are continuing their education months after gaining their undergraduate degrees, and others are returning to school after working as professionals.
“I think that their diverse backgrounds and experiences are going to produce a vibrant graduate program at Elon,” Copeland said.
Students will be working closely with a faculty that touts decades of professional experience in traditional and interactive media fields. They’ll take courses in audience analysis, interactive writing, interactive media strategies, virtual environments, visual aesthetics and intellectual property law.
“I’m excited that all these things deal with the elements of design, and aesthetics of design, what viewers like, what they want,” said iMedia student and 2009 Elon alumna Shelley Russell. “I want to learn about this from skilled people. I’ve been guessing about what looks good, and I’m excited about learning why and making it happen.”
Dave Hollander, a 35-year-old returning student who has six years of experience in broadcast television, said the open-ended nature of the program appealed to him. He said he didn’t want to be told what to do with the skills that he’ll gain; instead, he wanted to decide for himself how to use them.
“Instead of teaching you this so you can become this, we’ll be taught, ‘These are the current tools, the technologies, the platforms that are out there. This is how they’re used. But here’s a way for you to be a part of the process in determining the direction in which they head,’” Hollander said. “That really appealed to me and my personal goals.”
And like Hollander, students seem most excited by the potential of their future iMedia degree. They can see themselves working for newspapers, online outlets or other professional organizations. They feel the degree doesn’t pigeonhole them into a specific field or area. It just gives them more options.
Student Paul Wagner, 62, has spent most of his working life in product development, but he realized recently that there were new skill sets he had yet to embrace and conquer. He sees Elon’s Interactive Media master’s as an opportunity to fill a niche in the academic world, to help teachers design lesson plans and curricula that are interactive and more interesting to students. And, he says, maybe it gets him a teaching job at a college somewhere, too.
“I think there’s a niche, an opportunity here,” Wagner said. “I can get a fresh master’s in a category that’s very dynamic, and I think there’s an opportunity here to take content and make it more interesting.”
“The interactive media program,” Copeland said, “has been created to give media professionals the cutting-edge tools that they will need to produce the multiplatform media content that everyone wants. Not only will iMedia students be able to create, they will understand how to produce, edit and manage their interactive elements of media.”