A few years back, I traveled to Concordia University in Montreal for a really terrific symposium, Database, Narrative, Archive. D>N>A was small, interdisciplinary, and participatory. There was a performance of High Rise at a bar and workshops on Korsakow and Scalar. A few of the academics at D>N>A recommended the conference of iDMAa, the International Digital Media and Arts Association, as similarly intimate, interdisciplinary, and stimulating. I just returned to Chicago from iDMAa 2012: here’s the debrief.
As promised, the conference gathered its attendees from a range of disciplines, including folks from departments of Communication, Art, English, Theater, Interactive Media, Computer Science, Digital Communication, and Journalism, as well as those from programs within departments.
About half of the sessions were panel presentations – each speaker had just seven minutes and was instructed to present pechu kucha-style (everyone heeded the call to brevity, not so much the call for 20 slides running for 20 seconds each). My talk, “Teaching nonprofit and public sector organizations to make artful, ethical, and sustainable new media” outlined a pedagogical framework for teaching both students and community partners new technologies in service-learning projects. I was on the “Social Responsibility” panel; my co-presenters spoke about the development of an open-source timeline tool, an outreach project with Native American students using a tool developed at Carnegie Mellon University called Alice, and analysis of the documentaries Kony 2012 and Honor the Treaties. The conference organizers did a nice job of matching presenters into coherent panels.
A range of invited speakers and several new media performances were interspersed with the panels. The industry speakers included, among others, a strategy person from Microsoft, a Creative Director from Electronic Arts, even a researcher from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, speaking about exploration and the need for multimedia storytelling in science. These talks covered a lot of territory, but a few common themes emerged: first, that appification and gamification (delivering content and experience through, respectively, mobile apps and video games) are increasing key industry work; second, that collecting big data and figuring out what to do with it is an obsession of many in the media industry; and third, that today’s proliferation of devices is both an opportunity and a challenge for content creators and technology developers.
The industry perspective was slanted pretty heavily towards the video game industry, which is not where most, if any, of my students will end up. Still, I was interested to hear these speakers describe the sort of graduates they wanted. One theme was the need for people who can work in teams, and increasingly, in big teams. Another was the desire for people who can generate lots of ideas, not just one precious idea. Employers also want people who can make a good presentation, who can communicate their ideas with brevity, and who have a rich ideation and design process using a range of tools (storyboards, paper prototypes, drawings, etc.). Creating participatory, collaborative, and process-oriented courses is something that we in the humanities and liberal arts could definitely put more energy into (I’m still inspired, in that respect, by my time with MIT’s 2.009).
Overall, iDMAa 2012 was a fun conference and enlightening for someone like me, who has spent most of her time in academia and the public sector. There was less critical discourse than at a conference like Computers and Writing, but the mix of academic and industry perspectives make iDMAa a nice compliment to C&W.