Boston University introduced the WR152 course this semester. This Writing, Research, and Inquiry course brought a multimedia focus to the existing WR150 curriculum, but some BU students and faculty have had issues with access to video and audio equipment needed for the classes.
College of Arts and Sciences writing professor Jason Prentice, who is also the curriculum coordinator for WR152, teaches multimodal composition and said the new multimedia focus is important for BU.
“Digital literacy, digital composition, digital learning — all that’s extremely important,” Prentice said. “That’s where most of the important conversations are happening, whether they’re civic conversations or personal conversations or cultural conversation. They’re happening in the digital spheres.”
Prentice said it’s for this reason that the BU Hub — that was introduced this academic year — has a “digital/multimedia expression” requirement. WR152 was created to fulfil this Hub credit, but Prentice said so far, no actions have been taken by the university to increase access to multimedia equipment beyond purchasing Adobe Creative Suite for all students.
“That’s a huge curricular change at BU, people have been working on that for years,” Prentice said. “Probably none of it’s going to be perfect … but we also found that virtually every other institution we looked at had something in the way of a digital media lab.”
The College of Communication provides specialty rooms for students to reserve, including editing suites, news studios and a podcast recording suite. There is also equipment available to rent — including microphones, cameras, lighting and tripods. However, only registered COM students are allowed to reserve and rent these resources.
The College of Fine Arts allows renting of cameras, microphones, computers, drawing pads and other equipment, but only for students in the School of Visual Arts within CFA.
Prentice said he believes BU needs a digital media lab all students can access for classes like WR152.
“We needed a digital media lab years ago,” Prentice said, “and by a digital media lab, I mean a space where we have an audio recording facility, like say, a podcasting booth, and a video recording room with green screen. Light kit installed and a camera. We needed equipment loan, tripods, portable camcorders, portable light kits, mikes, accessories, tablets with styluses.”
Prentice said that he thinks “perfect has become the enemy of the good,” and that BU should start small so students have some resources to work with.
“We’re just talking about tens of thousands of dollars we could begin to address the needs of students here at BU,” Prentice said. “It is relatively low hanging fruit for BU to supply the general population with a few podcasting booths, which can be as simple as a quiet closet.”
The one BU department that has equipment accessible to all students is the Geddes Language Center — which has equipment and audio recording rooms — but these resources can only be rented out by professors for their students, not by students themselves.
While COM and the CFA allows equipment rentals to their students, other colleges do not have any equipment readily available to students.
Sophomore Angela Lian, a visual arts major at in CFA, said she when she wants to check equipment out, all she has to do is sign her name.
“As a CFA student you can just go to the library on the fifth floor and there’s a guy at a desk and you say ‘I need to check out equipment’ and you just sign your name and then give it back to them a certain day or a certain time,” Lian said.
For senior Alex van Tol, checking out equipment for her documentary production class, a film and television crossover course, was much more difficult.
“Our journalism professor wasn’t able to clear us for the journalism package which is like a package that has basically all the equipment you would need,” Van Tol said.
Van Tol said she is frustrated over not being able to use BU’s audio and visual equipment. She said, “All of the resources are right there and I just can’t access them.”
However, Carroll Beauvais, a writing professor whose class involves a multimedia project, wrote in an email that access to the equipment is unnecessary for her course.
“My WR 150 class does culminate in a movie assignment,” Beauvais wrote, “but the students can do the filming they need on their phones.”
Prentice said he realizes getting the funding for a BU digital media lab is harder than it seems, but he is optimistic that it will happen.
“The administration is not monolithic … there’s a lot of us who are advocating for it pretty strenuously,” Prentice said, “and I do think we’re at a point at a tipping point in a good way now or that we will be in the near future.”