Students Author "Real" Multimedia at University of Michigan

While many multimedia authoring tools now exist, it remains a challenge for educators to successfully integrate these tools into their curriculum. If they do, students learn how to author content that is appropriate for "real world" applications, while becoming familiar with software widely used in the industry. If not, students may wind up more confused about authoring multimedia, especially if they learn programs not widely accepted as authoring platforms. That's not a problem at U of M. As a Macromedia New Media Center, the University of Michigan offers two multimedia courses that center on Macromedia Director: the first focuses on the basic mechanics of animation; the second focuses on authoring narrative content in an interactive environment. Skip Farley, who helps team teach these courses, has been involved in multimedia from the beginning, first as a graduate student at the University of Michigan's Art School. "I've been involved in the industry since very early on, using Video Works, the predecessor to Macromedia Director," says Farley. "At the time [1989], there was nothing else like Director -- it's the grandfather of these kinds of products." Many programs now try to emulate Director, (from San Francisco, Calif.-based Macromedia) but don't quite make it he says, adding that Director is the most open-ended environment for creating multimedia. "The more you get into Director, the more you realize how deep it really g'es," he says. "I've been using it for years and I'm still learning." Traditional Art Skills, w/ a Twist Basically, Farley feels if you can dream it, you can do it with Director. This view comes through in the courses he team teaches with Heather Ault. Beginning with narrative content and telling stories, the courses cover how to apply these traditional storytelling techniques and animation skills to Director. Classes contain students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds: philosophy, writing, art, economics, engineering and more. Students enroll for many reasons -- some are simply desperate for a class that piques their interest and seems of use in the "real world." "Director is the most open-ended environment for creating multimedia." "Real world" content created by students range from an interactive cookbook to a tour of the Children's Museum of Ann Arbor. Examples of not-so-real content include a Fetish Web site and a 3D Rubik's Cube. A lot of the students, according to Farley, create content that reflects what they are learning in their major. For example, one student created a program for an Art History course in which users stroll through a "virtual" museum and inspect all of the works of art the class was studying. Big Decisions By the time students get done with the classes and know how to use Director, many alter their career paths. "When they understand the power of multimedia, and that they can apply it to what they have learned in school, it changes a lot," says Farley. Probably Farley's most inspiring story is on Todd Levy, a Philosophy student whose father was pressuring him with questions on how to make his major a career. Levy enrolled in the classes, created an interactive juggling tutorial, converted it to Shockwave! and posted it on his personal Web page. Levy's site was seen by Macromedia who awarded him their Shocked! Site of the Day. An art director for an ad agency in Boston, stumbled onto it while surfing one day, liked what he saw and arranged an interview. Levy was flown out to Boston, went to one interview and was hired immediately. Success Stories Success stories like this are possible not only because of the hard work of students, but because of instructors' dedication to presenting the most up-to-date and technologically sound tools in a truly integrated atmosphere. Farley says his curriculum is taking on a whole new flavor due to the Internet and Shockwave!. In future classes, he plans to teach methods of posting interactive content on the Internet -- not to just "port it over," but how to make it elegant, exciting and fun.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.