The Big Idea: CDM Faculty Rethink Their Industries

If you could put your biggest and best idea into action, what would it look like? Four faculty members from the College of Computing and Digital Media recently pondered this big question, daring to imagine what might be possible in design, computing and cinema. Below, they share how they would shake things up in their respective industries if they had unlimited time, resources and talent.

Big Idea: Inject Creative Tinkering Into the Design Process
Being a maker and having been around others at makerspaces for the last eight years, I’ve noticed that many of the people I surround myself with in these spaces are highly creative, but their creative approach has been rejected in higher education. Makers create their knowledge through tinkering and working with their hands; they are, in essence, thinking through doing. This has traditionally been looked at as a frivolous activity in academia, mostly because we’ve typically promoted the idea of thought before action.

But consider how a child learns through engaging with the world and creating knowledge on the fly by touching things, experiencing them and tasting them. That curiosity never goes away, but I think some of us would like to think it does. One of the drawbacks of traditional design thinking, as the author Bruce Nussbaum has noted, is that it doesn’t foster a culture of “problem finding,” that is, finding new problems that are worth solving. If we can move from traditional design thinking to action with applied process, we might realize that working with our hands is a great way to discover and solve new problems.
Jay Margalus, instructor, School of Design

Big Idea: Teach Mathematics and Computing Simultaneously
Innumeracy and computational illiteracy are real problems in our adult workforce. To address this, I’d love to see huge changes in the way we teach mathematics from elementary school onward. Currently, students learn mathematics and computing as separate domains with little overlap. Yet, if you look at the foundations of math, you’ll see that there are deep connections between these fields of study. These connections are rooted in concepts commonly referred to as discrete mathematics.

Most of the current mathematics curriculum emphasizes the continuum from the number line to calculus. Discrete math emphasizes logic. Participants in a recent study on discrete math in secondary schools found that discrete math improves problem-solving and thinking skills. Students in the study appreciated the fact that discrete math has many real-world applications, and that it gave a different view of mathematics.

Recent advances in computing have made it so that proving theorems is very similar to writing a program. Using this method, the study of math can inherit many of the great advantages of programming, including immediate feedback, the ability to repeat and the satisfaction of knowing that you “got it right.” From third or fourth grade onward, I believe students would be more greatly involved in the math curriculum if it included machine-based, automated proving tools. Believe it or not, proofs can be fun!
James Riely, professor, School of Computing

Big Idea: Encourage Photographic Literacy
Our current political discourse has stirred a great deal of interest in information literacy, especially how varying information streams have shaped the perspectives of separate demographics. Much of this interest has focused on social media, especially the differences between liberal and conservative Facebook experiences. Shared photographs and videos are key components of this communication.

There is an old maxim: Photographs can’t lie, but liars can take photographs. This is woefully out of date. Filmmakers—and visual effects artists in particular—create photographs and videos that lie on a daily basis. All of these lies are created by design, whether to further the telling of a story or to shape the meaning of an image. Contrary to popular notion, visual effects are not just reality simulations, cinematic spectacles or surreal aberrations for entertainment. Rather, they are visual mechanisms that expose political and ontological undercurrents of contemporary culture.

Over the past decade, the phones in our pockets have made everyone a photographer. The next step is the development of photographic literacy to understand what these images and their creators are actually saying to us.
Brian Andrews, assistant professor, School of Cinematic Arts

Big Idea: Enhance Collaboration in the Film Industry
My one big idea for the film industry is greater collaboration. First and foremost, I’d like to see greater collaboration between sound and image, from concept and script development through preproduction to postproduction. Sound is still treated as an afterthought, but film is an audiovisual medium and should be recognized as such.

I would also love to see greater collaboration across disciplines, among filmmakers, animators, game developers and designers. We’re living in a time when anything is possible, so why limit ourselves? A story can be told and experienced in many different ways, and the combination of sound and image is probably the most powerful storytelling medium we have. I would also like to see (and hear) greater collaboration across countries, from within and across the independent production sector. I think that effort would create an environment that fosters greater knowledge-sharing and diversity, and, in turn, greater collaboration.
Kahra Scott-James, assistant professor, School of Cinematic Arts

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