Thursday, March 17, 2005

Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Flash, Says U.S. Multimedia Instructor

Rich Beckman is head of the visual journalism sequence at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His program is regarded as the best in this small and emerging field. His current undergraduate students, said Prof. Beckman, are the first college students to live their entire life with computers in the home and the first to have used the internet since childhood.

These students are the media consumers of tomorrow, he said, and they will demand engaging and highly visual content. Already one of the most valuable degrees today is in video game design. Where are those graduates going for jobs? To media companies, he said.

Prof. Beckman presented two projects produced by his summer multimedia workshop: a documentary on South Africa's apartheid regime, and last November's feature on southern Chile, which won the Online News Association's best student work of 2004 award.

Perhaps most dramatic demonstration came from Prof. Beckman's other project, the Institute for Science Learning. The audience was introduced to what the Institute calls a "Mediabook"-- a flash-based electronic textbook containing college-level instruction on genomic research. It contains animations, audio narration and interactive tests requiring students to correctly identify cellular structures. Containing nearly 100 units, it tracks every user interaction down to the mouse click and offers reactive instruction according to the student's progress.

The ambitious goal of the science institute is to completely replace paper based instruction materials, he said. Moreover, reference materials will be available electronically that students can access from the laboratory on their pda's or cell phones.

Infographics, said Prof. Beckman, have the potential to lead a multimedia revolution and draw young customers back to news media. (He took the occasion to mention that UNC has added a new instructor for information graphics and design: El Mundo and Malofiej's Alberto Cairo).

"Too many informational graphics artists are afraid of Flash and its steep learning curve," he said. "They appreciate what is made with it but have left the work to others. I think that needs to change."


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