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Media Specialists Provide Insider Perspective on the MOOC Making Process

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

What does it take to make a MOOC? Making a MOOC is a team effort that leverages the skills, talent and resources of the DEI team and brings together many components to construct a successful final project. Media Specialists play a key role at DEI’s Digital Education & Innovation Lab (DEIL) by creating, collecting and piecing together these components in order to form and deliver content that brings to life the faculty partner’s vision and provides an innovative online learning experience. Their expertise and creative talent helps enable DEI to leverage technology and targeted experimentation with digital programs to provide engaged, personalized and lifelong learning to the Michigan community and learners around the world.

Media specialists interviewed behind cameras

We sat down with DEI media specialists, Cy Abdelnour, André Barbour, Alex Hancook, Sean Patrick and Michael Skib to get their insider perspective on developing media content for over 60 initiatives, to date.


What role does teamwork and knowledge sharing play in project collaboration?

Sean: Back here in the production area, exceptional teamwork has been the crucial element of our workflow. Each of us on the team excels in different areas and that always floats to the surface when we collaborate. They each teach me something new and assist me in honing my own skill set. I feel privileged to have the co-workers I do.

André: We all have different specializations and we use that to our advantage when we need to add an extra polish to certain projects or desire to improve in an area. When I was working on Dr. Colleen van Lent’s Academic Innovators video, everyone provided input based on their specialty. Michael spoke with me quite a bit about the sound cut and audio. Cy and Sean really worked with me in selecting the best clips for b-roll. Alex helped me work some effects that we added. It was a total team effort.


How else do you incorporate different types of media into DEI initiatives?

Michael: We use Google Hangouts to live stream online office hours with faculty partners. We have used dramatizations acted out by the U-M Medical School faculty, staff and students to facilitate self-reflection on individual clinical practices. We are using motion graphics and branching techniques to create an interactive application called Praktio, which teaches contract law. We will also be using musical performances and interviews with artists in the upcoming American Roots Music MOOC.

Alex: One example is that we incorporate animations and other types of visualizations to add to the learning experience for courses. For instance, the Using Hybrid Modular Courses to Scale Up Engaged Learning in Kinesiology initiative includes a module focused on gait analysis. For this module, we filmed someone walking on a treadmill in order to show a realistic gait for learner analysis. I keyed the background and put the subject on a 3D grid in order to showcase the gait analysis.

Media specialists discuss behind camera in a research laboratory

What has been one of the biggest ways you have improved your skills while working on media for initiatives at DEI?

Sean: My skill set has both grown and strengthened in my time here at DEI. Specifically, I would say the primary area I have grown is in understanding best practices for lighting a room and a subject. I haven’t ever worked in a place with so many options and diversity in equipment. To a certain degree, it is much like being back in school due to the amount of resources and expertise made available to us.

Michael: One of the greatest areas of growth for me has been learning to effectively collaborate with faculty during recording sessions. I see myself as being a faculty partner’s first audience and the first person to take the course. I want faculty to feel comfortable in the studio, to feel that they’ve put their best foot forward, and that all of the ideas they present in their lectures are clear and succinct.


What steps do you take to ensure media is accessible for a diverse audience?

Cy: We have to go over slides for courses and re-format them for legibility reasons, as well as accessibility reasons. We try our hardest to make sure everything is straightforward for our learners. Secondly, we work to ensure video content is accessible to a diverse and global audience through inclusive video and b-roll.

André: Our role in creating accessible media is really about nailing the basics of video production such as double checking audio and formatting content correctly. It’s about being attentive to these little things to ensure the content comes across clearly and concisely. This high level of focus to produce media assists in ensuring the final product is highly accessible for a diverse range of learners.

Media specialists discuss behind camera

What have been some of the unique initiatives you have worked on? Which ones are you most excited to work on?

Sean: I really enjoy the diversity of subjects we have as a catalogue and how it is ever expanding. One I am really looking forward to is the American Roots Music course, which will revolve around the history and current state of Folk and Bluegrass music. I am quite excited to lend a hand and see how it comes together.

Cy: I really enjoyed working on the Youth Civil Rights Academy with Barry Checkoway.  We met a lot of young and intelligent people, and developed a stronger understanding about the diversity of today’s youth. I’m most excited about the Mass Incarceration in the US: Towards Decarceration MOOC with Professor Richard Meisler, which will provide an in-depth study regarding America’s penal system for a global audience.


What has been one of the most memorable moments for you working with faculty on digital education resources and emerging practices at DEI?

Cy: The most memorable moment for me, was live streaming the U-M EdX Workshop: Exploring MOOCs and Academic Innovation. It was the first time we had live streamed an event so it was very exciting to work together as a team on an event in real time and gratifying to succeed with our first live streamed event.

Alex: One of my favorite shoots was recording activities for the Using Hybrid Modular Courses to Scale Up Engaged Learning in Kinesiology initiative. During this shoot, students wore wearable technology that tracked specific bodily functions like hydration. I recorded them running along the sidewalk, doing tests on a basketball court and, from this, created time lapse videos in addition to some really great footage to be leveraged for learning. It was really fun to work outdoors and to get different shots that highlighted all that the human body is capable of.

Sean: I love working with faculty. It is one of the original reasons I wanted to work at a university. I learn so much about everyone and their specific disciplines. Everyone I have come into contact with is always so gracious and always expanding my mind. I can’t really thank them enough for that!

André : I cannot remember a particular moment or interaction that stands out above the others, but during shoots, professors tend to show their personality a lot. Drs. Gautam Kaul and Colleen van Lent tell jokes during their recordings. Dr. Chuck Severance tries to show off his tattoo whenever he gets the chance to talk about expressions in Python. So, I would have to say that these behind the scenes moments that students don’t often get to see are always memorable.

Michael: One of the most memorable experiences was when I was working on Dr. Dragomir Radev’s Natural Language Processing MOOC. During this process, it dawned on me that by working on his MOOC I was learning things I never expected I’d want to know about: IBM’s Watson, the question­-answering supercomputer that beat the Jeopardy human champions, semantic parsing and the ambiguities of language…many of which were a part of my daily life without my awareness. These are subjects I would have loved to have learned about growing up. Realizing this reignited within me a curiosity about the world that I hadn’t felt since my college days.


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