Educators everywhere were expected to make Herculean efforts to shift their classes online this March at the drop of a hat. Suddenly, churches scrambled for ways to stream their services online. The entertainment world had to get creative with virtual concerts and movie releases. The current global pandemic has reinforced, if not catapulted, the trend of society depending more and more on technology. The workforce as we know it has changed. Belmont University is launching its new Emerging Media major to equip today’s students to enter a world of constantly emerging technologies in the digital age.
Belmont Professor of Media Studies Rick Bengtson said, “So many people were caught off guard, unprepared to use technology when the pandemic hit. We are in a new world, and I think this major is really coming at a perfect and opportune time. We are giving our students skills to be digital storytellers, to produce online content, to host meetings, to collaborate. It has the potential to be an exciting and fast growing major.”
In the age of big data, Belmont’s program will prepare students to better understand the interaction between humans and machines. Students will be taught how artificial intelligence may be used in the future and how to adapt to it. From augmented to virtual reality and beyond, the major focuses on ethics, law and practical skills including data analyzation, data visualization and podcasting. Students will learn how to leverage information and technology for careers in emerging digital media.
An article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education on today’s “Digital Student” by John Villasenor, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, supported the Cinema, Television and Media Department’s decision to launch the major. Villasenor argued that colleges need to be full participants in preparing students to contribute to the growth of a beneficial artificial intelligence ecosystem. He states, “It is no easier to predict exactly how artificial intelligence will evolve over the next half century than it would have been to predict the post-2000 rise of social media back in the 1960s. What is certain, however, is that A.I. will be one of the defining technologies of the 21st century. To help promote the productive growth of AI and to mitigate its risks, colleges should provide students with opportunities to engage with its technological, legal, ethical, economic, social and political implications.”
Belmont Professor of Media Studies Dr. Sybril Brown has used Gerd Leonhard’s book “Technology vs. Humanity” in her classes for several years. The book focuses on asking critical ethical questions and also undergirded the department’s look into the notion of Emerging Media. There are ethical and legal issues involved on top of graphics and production value. This new major will help students think critically about how new technology can best serve the public interest, always pausing to explore the critical question of, “just because we can, should we?”
“It’s the timeliness. You’re dealing with issues of humanism; you’re dealing with issues of designer babies, with genome editing and CRISPR. We’re in the age of privacy, surveillance and tracking,” Brown explained. “So, the timeliness of the Emerging Media major could not have been better, and our students desperately need this information now. It’s mandatory, especially as we face a global pandemic that is ongoing.”
The Emerging Media major is housed in the Cinema, Television, and Media Department within Belmont’s College of Entertainment and Music Business, but faculty are in partnership with other departments on campus, working closely with computer science and data science to offer courses that look at and analyze big data. The department’s goal is to cross train students to be more marketable with a wide range of skills, so they are able to story tell and communicate using whatever tool, process or software is available. It is impossible to predict the kinds of platforms that will need to be utilized in the future so the major will focus on teaching students to be adaptable and flexible.
A new nine-hour, required common core launched this fall to tie together Media Studies and Publishing majors with four class options: Writing for Media, Survey of Digital Technology, Entrepreneurial Media and Media Ethics. Emerging Media majors will select three of these four common core classes in addition to 12 elective hours and 15 required hours in Digital Content Creation, Podcasting, Digital Storytelling, Data Visualization and Media Law.
These courses will look at automation, digitization, mobilization and screenification, as well as digital trends and ethics. “We want to equip students with the intellectual capability and the curiosity. Again, focusing on critical thinking and problem solving because a lot in this Emerging Media space is about problem solving,” Brown explained. “How do we make educational delivery systems better? How do we incorporate this notion of automation into human design? In a lot of cases, society is moving forward with technology and not stopping to ask these ethical questions.”
Bengtson said Nashville is a great media city with a myriad of opportunities for students to expand their education beyond the Belmont campus, along with having the chance to learn from the unique faculty in the College of Entertainment and Music Business. He said, “Every single faculty member in our college comes from the profession. They’re not straight academicians. They do this for a living; they’ve worked in the business; they’re on the cutting edge, and they know how to properly train our students.”
While graduates of the Emerging Media program could be good fits for jobs in digital content creation, digital marketing, entertainment or education, Brown said we do not know how to envision what kinds of jobs are going to be there in the future. “It’s dangerous for people to keep saying what they know today. What we hope to do is prepare our students for what they will face and to be able to reason, utilize technology and leverage emotional intelligence in ways that contribute to the greater good,” she explained. “We want them to be able to embrace just-in-time learning, as well as lifelong learning as it pertains to technology in this digital age. This isn’t going away. This is their reality, so we want them to be prepared for their reality.”