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New Media at Princeton University (2/2009)
New Media Center and Broadcast Center
by Douglas Dixon
The image of universities used to be that of professors lecturing from stuffy old books. Then in the Dot-com euphoria, universities went virtual, and promoted their wired campuses. But now with the explosion of inexpensive digital media, these two models have combined to use video and audio to record and share university classes and events -- across the campus and to the world at large.
At Princeton University, this expanding need for digital media was reflected in the planning for the new Lewis Library building, the Frank Gehry-designed facility at Washington Road and Ivy Lane (http://scilib.princeton.edu). (For more on the Gehry design, see U.S. 1 Newspaper, October 15, 2008, http://www.princetoninfo.com/index.php?option=com_us1more&Itemid=6&key=10-15-2008%20Gehry.)
Beyond the library, the Lewis structure includes new offices for several groups that are part of the Educational Technologies Center at Princeton, including an expanded New Media Center where students can learn to use multimedia and work on projects, and a new centralized Broadcast Center to provide video production services to record and distribute university events.
What drove the need for these new facilitates? For the New Media Center, it was the number of students using digital media as part of class assignments and projects. "From July 2007 to July 2008 we had 2248 visitors to the [old] lab," says Paula Hulick, manager of the New Media Center. "Now we are a half mile closer to campus, in a new building, and two times the size. I would expect more than 6000 visits next year."
And for the Broadcast Center, the need was driven by the growing demand for A/V services. "We've been getting requests from all over," says David Hopkins, Director of the Broadcast Center. "We've done 220 events just since July. People want quality video production on campus. We're already maxed out -- One day we had five events at the same time over campus; that required all our staff going out to shoots. And we had a sixth and a seventh shoot, so we also called in freelancers; we have five students that we're training to do the set up for them."
The Broadcast Center's facilities include video and audio studios to produce in-house programming and to address the growing demands for Princeton professors to appear on radio networks like NPR and on television news programs. "In June, the Woodrow Wilson School was handling about six of these interviews a month," says Hopkins. "So that doesn't sound too bad. The only problem was with the economy, voting, and Paul Krugman getting the Nobel Prize in Economics, they shot up to six a day. So that was a rude awakening. The requests also range from Good Morning America to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, that's a big span of time to balance out staff support from morning to evening events."
The New Media Center facility at Princeton (http://nmc.princeton.edu) features a 1024 square foot Multimedia Lab on the ground floor of the Lewis Library building, double the size of the previous lab, plus a private video editing room. The lab features some 32 high-end computers, mainly Apple Macintosh but also some Dell PCs, all with large-screen monitors (up to 30 inches). Roughly half of the lab is set up for video production, with video and audio tape decks and other recording equipment. The other half is set up for graphic design work, with document scanners and drawing tablets.
The computers include a full compliment of digital media software, for video and audio editing (i.e., Apple Final Cut Studio and Adobe Creative Suite), graphic design and page layout (i.e., Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign, plus Autodesk AutoCAD), and Web development (i.e., Adobe Flash and Dreamweaver, Microsoft Expression Web).
All this is supported by two full-time staff members, Paula Hulick, the manager, and Sorat Tungkasiri as coordinator, plus more than 20 student staffers who serve as the first contact for issues in the Lab.
"These kids are smart," says Hulick. "They start as the warm friendly bodies that are the first contact, to find out what people need and provide help for getting started. They have varied backgrounds. Some really know Adobe Photoshop; others are A/V experts. We also show them online sites where they can learn on their own, for Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe products."
But why have this kind of central facility? "The university does have Mac and Windows clusters across the campus for students to use if they don't have their own computer or if they need to learn something," says Hulick. "The computer clusters have standard sets of software, to browse the Web and check e-mail, and we do have site licenses for some software like Photoshop."
"But here in the lab we have with the latest and greatest of everything. You can't get one-on-one help in a cluster, and you can't be guaranteed that that system is still going to be running by the time you get to it. You can't put this kind of equipment out in a cluster in such a public space and not expect something to get broken or stolen. And here it's going to work."
The Lab does not open until 1 p.m. in the afternoon, which gives time to reset the computers, upgrade software, maintain the equipment, and to run training sessions. "We work with faculty or staff or even an entire class if they want to schedule a session in the mornings," says Hulick. "We just had a politics class here for an hour, learning Final Cut Pro for making documentaries."
The Lab then is open until 7 p.m. in the evenings, and 5 pm. on Saturday. "Classes run until 4 or 4:30 p.m.," says Hulick, "and then nothing should be scheduled between 4:30 and 7 p.m. for athletics and extracurricular activities, That's why we're open until 7, and that's the period when we get a bunch of students in."
"There are a lot of student projects." says Hulick. "We worked with a senior who was finishing up his thesis. Rather than a full written paper he did it all in video. He spent months in the Lab. You need the processing power, the graphics, and the memory. We're seeing more students from the school of Architecture and Visual Arts needing to do 3-D modeling and design. The students are asked to express themselves in a variety of ways. Quite a few students come in for group projects. One might be capturing the video using the equipment here, another can do the titling, another the voiceover or the music."
"We also support the faculty and their departments." she says. "We help digitize slides for faculty needs for class, we scan documents to text, we have a high-speed sheet scanner that scans both sides, and one of the few large format flatbed scanners so you can do documents that are 17 inches long." The Lab also assists departments that videotape graduate students as they work as assistant instructors. "They can copy videotape, and bump it off to DVDs so they can watch it at home," she says.
Hulick originally trained as a video and radio producer at Mercer County College, graduating in 1987 with an A.A.S. in television production. She worked with the Intel Digital Video Interactive group in Plainsboro from 1989 to 1993, supervising its digital video compression services business. After Intel closed the office and returned to the west coast, Hulick completed her B.A. in communications at Rutgers in 1994, where she also worked as a multimedia specialist coordinating and shooting sports activities.
In October 1994, Hulick came to the New Media Center at Princeton. "It was me and the manager," she says. "At the time we had three computers. We didn't really have the student staff, so we were only open from 1 to 5 p.m. Occasionally I'd be walking out the door at five o'clock and some sobbing student would be standing out there who really needed help, or had lost their files."
After five years the Center was up to around 10 systems, and Hulick moved to doing academic project work with the Educational Technology Center. "I needed a change of pace after five years," she says. "I really wanted to do the project work." She coordinated projects including the Princeton University Art Museum special collection websites and the Princeton Dante Project, which explores Dante's "Comedy" (www.princeton.edu/dante). "It was a longtime collaboration of nine people from a couple of different departments over two and a half years," she says. "I ended up as the project manager; I apparently have a compulsive attention to detail and an absurd love of spreadsheets."
Then in early 2008, David Hopkins, who was the manager of the New Media Center, became the director of the new Broadcast Center, and Hulick was asked to become the manager of the New Media Center as the Lewis facility was being completed. "I was brought in very late," she says. "The size of the lab was going to double, and we wanted to fill it with high-end systems. But it was five years ago when we were trying to plan all this, and the technology changes so much faster than building codes."
Hulick also still works with the Broadcast Center and Educational Technology Center to plan and produce projects for the University departments, ranging from instructional design to Web development to video production.
The new Broadcast Center facility at Princeton (http://bc.princeton.edu) has a 1600 square foot facility in the basement of the Lewis Library building, including the 625 square foot video studio and a 30 square foot audio recording booth.
The staff includes the director, David Hopkins, an administrative assistant, three editor/videographer/producers, one broadcast engineer, five student staff members, and three outside freelancers (plus others pulled in when needed).
The Center's services include digital video production, to record class lectures and public events; post-production, to edit and create complete productions; and conversion and delivery, in various formats including tape, streaming media files, and DVD disc.
The Broadcast Center consolidates work that was spread across several departments into one group and one location. "We needed a facility to be able to do great video production work," says Hopkins. "We would need to take a full crew out and do a full set up to shoot on campus, which was painful and time-consuming. We needed a place where we can bring people in and have everything prepped, and have the set ready to go, as opposed to taking everything there. So it was like a perfect storm coming together, with the new building, the new facility, and the requests we were getting for work."
"With the small staff, and all the applications that we have set up, we need to make it all an automated process," he says. The equipment in the audio and video studios can be fully controlled through software in the audio and video control rooms. "We can view all the sources that we're working with, and get them all armed to record, and also control each device that we want to record onto, a camera or HD deck. And then with one button we can record all the items at one time, so we don't have to run around getting them all set up."
The system also controls the on-air signs outside the studio and feeds the program signal to the "green room," so people who are preparing to go on camera can see what's happening. "Makeup is becoming an important issue," adds Hopkins, "because we're doing a lot of programming in high definition."
The video studio itself is highly automated. "We went with a very limited staff," says Hopkins. "To conserve on the amount of equipment, all of our cameras are robotic, so we have full control over them." The cameras not only zoom and rotate to pan, but they also are mounted on tracks to move along the floor."
The studio is set up primarily to serve interview subjects for local and remote news programming, with a desk, teleprompter, and green- and blue-screen drapes (for chroma-keyed backgrounds). But the desk and the tracks for the cameras are all movable, so the facility can be easily reconfigured for other needs.
With today's digital equipment, the studio cameras are relatively inexpensive (around $18,000), and actually smaller than a breadbox -- around a foot long. However, they do look more conventional when mounted on the automated stands, with lenses and hoods.
Even with the high-tech equipment, it sometimes needs old-fashioned assistance. When a larger weight was needed one day after servicing and rebalancing the cameras, the solution was to use duct tape -- that is, mounting an entire roll of duct tape on each camera stand as a counter-weight. "That tape does everything," says Hopkins.
Another big savings was in the lighting. Conventional spotlights require special power and dimmer systems, and also generate a lot of heat, which makes them tricky to adjust. And all this requires additional cooling (which also adds noise). Instead, the studio uses LED lights, which can be left on without affecting the temperature in the room. "We're really happy with them, and we've gone green," says Hopkins. "These lights will last for years; you can adjust them and not burn yourself."
By going all-digital, with digital cameras and digital audio, the facility can work much more efficiently with "tapeless editing." -- The cameras feed the A/V signal directly to hard drives on a central server, and also record to videotape as a backup. The video then is immediately available for editing, over a high-speed fiber connection to seven staff editing stations in the building.
The Broadcast Center staff also shoots lectures and events all over the campus. Some rooms, like McCosh 50, have been retrofitted with video equipment. "It's a three camera remote control system," says Hopkins, "so we can go to the booth on the site and run it. With other sites like Nassau Hall and faculty rooms we've got to bring equipment up there. Nothing's mounted permanently for productions."
The Broadcast Center delivers live and recorded events over TigerTV channel 7 for the Princeton campus, on Patriot Media channel 27 to the entire university community, and through Web streaming media both within the Princeton domain and to the outside world.
"Everybody wants streaming files," says Hopkins. "We manage the programming for the TigerTV channel 7 stream, which is the Princeton student channel. At the top of the hour we run information on events that are happening on campus, and we do both programmed events and live events."
"We also are getting a lot of requests for recording lectures and classes," says Hopkins. "We're up to eight rooms on campus with an encoding unit that captures video from the camera, the microphone, and from the speaker's laptop." The recordings are posted immediately for access by professors. "We have hybrid courses with multi-concentrations that can sometimes involve nine professors teaching the course. So the professors need to review what the other professors said the previous weeks in order to plan their lectures." For students, however, the recordings are delayed for ten days, he says, "so that students come to class. The students love it; they can review things that they missed and things they thought they understood."
The group also provides video production services for academic and department productions. "We work with them from the initial concept to the full production," says Hopkins. For example, his department produced an 11-minute video for the New Media Consortium conference as a takeoff on the show "24." And there is growing demand for using video on department websites. "Once the university homepage starting to make video a high priority," he says, "all the departments wanted video on their websites."
The Broadcast Center is also seeing demand for its facilities from outside the university, and from students for non-academic work. "This is our pilot year," says Hopkins, "learning how to balance the requests, work with students, and work with the public. Our standard rate for students are $100 an hour for the video studio, $50 an hour for the audio studio, and $50 an hour for staff assistance." (A very good deal.)
For Hopkins, the Broadcast Center position integrates his two decades of experience with both video production and new media. He attended North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, graduating in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in mass communications. "But in the summertime," he says, "I worked here. My last year I did an internship with the Media Services department, and after some shifting of staff they had a position for me. Even then, when I was in college I had my Commodore 64 and my Commodore VIC-20 [personal computers]."
As a student in Minnesota, Hopkins helped build the college's radio and TV stations. And now he is seeing the digital world and the audio/video world converging with digital media. "All of this comes together," says Hopkins. "It's all networked; we can integrate all the equipment together, and I have the experience with both ends of it."
"We're not even fully open in this place yet, and the video requests have been coming in," says Hopkins. "Our challenge will be to continue to fulfill those requests, and the requests for this facility. We're never bored; the way video is taking off we're just along for the ride."
Originally published in the U.S.1 Newspaper, February 4, 2009