Looking to the Future

Seminar provides feedback for growing digital media master’s program


In the dynamic field of digital media, there may be only one constant: things are constantly changing.

In an effort to keep Valparaiso University’s MS in Digital Media program current, the Department of Communication hosted its first Digital Media Seminar in the Christ College refectory March 18. The seminar was intended to gather information about trends in the industry and determine what skills digital media graduates need to succeed in the workplace.

“This was sort of a pilot model or template of ones we want to have in the future,” said Professor Douglas Kocher, former chair of the Department of Communication. “We were trying to brainstorm where things are heading.”

The highlight of the seminar was a discussion with three VU alumni currently working in the digital media field: web designer David Moulton; Ryan Burrow, national news producer of Tribune Interactive in Chicago; and Jeff O’Connor who works in digital marketing. The seminar also included input from digital media instructors and grad students, as well as select undergraduates in the Department of Communication.

“I think it’s great they are trying to stay up to date,” said Shannon Putchaven, a digital media grad student who attended the seminar.

Putchaven, who also works in VU’s Integrated Marketing and Communications Department, said she was impressed with the seminar’s format, which allowed her to hear first-hand from people in the industry

“It was positive seeing successful alumni and seeing what they’ve accomplished,” she said.

Launched in the summer of 2009, the MS in Digital Media program has been largely successful, with about 40 students having graduated to date. But the program is constantly evolving, and the faculty wants to be certain it’s evolving in the right direction.

“[The program] is very successful. It’s drawing many students and gaining traction. The thought is, we have something here, so let’s shape it in the right way,” said Professor Jennifer Ziegler, who took over as department chair this summer.

One of the challenges the program faces is the need to keep up with rapid changes in technology and determine how much time and resources should be spent teaching skills that may eventually become outdated.

The seminar gave attendees insight into current and future trends in the industry. One trend the alumni pointed out is a convergence of elements into mobile devices. Smart phones and tablets have reached a critical mass, so things have to be increasingly deliverable in a mobile form, Kocher said.

One way the program has sought to address the challenge of constantly changing technology is to encourage students and instructors to explore education opportunities outside the classroom through Microsoft certification courses, Lynda.com tutorials and other tools.

“Learning how to learn was one of the biggest recommendations the alumni had,” Ziegler said. “If you are going into the digital media [field], you’ve made a commitment of continual learning.”

Feedback from the alumni also reinforced the fact that students will need to have a diverse set of skills when entering the workforce. This is reflected in the program’s focus on multiple digital areas: audio editing, video editing, desktop publishing and web design.

“The program is training students to have multiple skills, and I think it’s great,” said Putchaven, who already uses many of those elements in her current job.

In addition to technical skills, the need for “soft skills” was also emphasized by the alumni, Ziegler said. These include perseverance, flexibility and communication skills. Business sense was another asset recommended by the alumni.

In the future, faculty members will be looking to expand the program in a way to allow students more opportunities on campus and beyond, keep the program flexible to accommodate the diverse backgrounds of its students, and make the program less location-specific.

“We are trying to find ways of freeing students from being boundary-maintained,” Kocher said.

He said he would like to see more work spaces on campus have digital media capabilities, with one possibility being for students to access digital media programs remotely from the school server.

One change, though, appears certain: there will be additional digital media seminars in the program’s future.

“I can see expanding this to a larger symposium and inviting our students,” Kocher said. “It was really a test … and we got some good ideas."


Written by Derek Smith