Students, faculty mastering tech at Franklin Hall

Taylor Haggerty • Dec. 6, 2016
Commons with screen
The commons area, with its 24-by-12-foot screen suspended above, is the most visual aspect of Franklin Hall. (Courtesy photo)

After a semester of practice, students and faculty are learning to navigate the new technology in Franklin Hall.

From the big screen in the commons, which has become a magnet, drawing people from campus and the community, to collaborative features in classrooms to the state-of-the-at studios, Media School students and faculty are making the most of their new tools.

“Students have access to all of this incredible gear at any point in their time here,” said Jay Kincaid, the director of facilities and technology at The Media School.

A longtime producer for major networks, Kincaid knows how to define “incredible.” He oversees technology throughout Franklin Hall, which was renovated for The Media School at a cost of $21 million and over nearly two years. The school moved into the new space in August.

What most noticed at first was one of the largest screens on a college campus, measuring 24 feet wide and 12 feet tall. The screen can connect with gaming consoles, stream up to nine video feeds at once and broadcast live from other areas within the building.

Above it is a photogray skylight, which can monitor the amount of light coming in from outside and maintain visibility through digital corrections.

From left: Audrey and Ken Beckley
From left, Audrey and Ken Beckley stopped by the studio that bears their name during the building rededication in November. (Chaz Mottinger | IU Communications)

While the screen in the commons area is a focal point, the nearby Ken and Audrey Beckley Studio is a centerpiece of the building. It features six different broadcast sets, including a green screen, roundtable, interviewing area and small performance area. The walls are covered in reclaimed wood from barns in northern Indiana, recycled paper products and printed brick patterns assembled in-studio.

The studio was designed by an alumnus of the IU theater program, and it was built by Radio Television Services and students at The Media School.

“We wanted the work to stay as much in the university as possible,” Jay Kincaid said.

Robotic cameras, controlled from one of the many stations located in the adjoining control room, allow students to move from one set to the next in real time and present information from a variety of sets.

Kincaid said about 70 percent of professional studios use robotic cameras, so students who work in the Beckley Studio are learning how to use professional-level equipment just as they’ll see working in broadcast after graduation.

The studio features a wall of windows along the right side. The windows are made using RoscoVIEW panels, which moderate the amount of light coming in. The cameras also use special lenses designed to moderate light intake. Kincaid said because of these panels and lenses, the light coming through the windows won’t result in backlighting or overexposure onscreen.

“The equipment we have here is better than most studios in the country,” Kincaid said.

The Beckley Studio is used for broadcast news classes at The Media School, as well as student organizations such as IUSTV, the student-run television station.

Yifan Zheng read a voice over under the direction of visiting professor Anne Ryder.
Yifan Zheng read a voice over under the direction of visiting professor Anne Ryder. The Beckley Studio is used by classes, and IUSTV and for special events. (Taylor Haggerty | The Media School)

Media School visiting lecturer Anne Ryder teaches three broadcast news courses and makes use of the Beckley Studio. Her television news class produces a weekly news broadcast, IU NewsNet. Ryder, a former broadcast reporter who has won Emmys for her work, agreed that the studio offers a professional experience.

“Students can walk between sets during a broadcast and see the way a real newscast is choreographed,” Ryder said. “They can hit the ground running. It prepares them for the real newsrooms they’ll be going into after college.”

Students who work as producers for the newscast stay in the state-of-the-art control room to control the robotic cameras, teleprompters and graphic elements.

Journalism senior Neil Hedlund, one of the eight students in Ryder’s television news class and the tech producer and station manager for IUSTV, appreciates the opportunity to use the new equipment during his last year as a student.

“It’s been hard getting started with some of the new technology, because it’s new for everyone,” he said. “But I think the challenge of figuring it all out could help with getting a job in the future.”

Hedlund said working in Ernie Pyle Hall, the former home of the journalism program, taught him the basics of what he needed to know, but the new studio provides him and his classmates with the ability to be creative and to try new things they were never capable of before.

“The old studio was really simple, and we got used to it. We were limited in what we could do,” he said. “Here, everything is very versatile. It’s given us more tools and opportunities to try new things.”

And just down the hall from the Ken and Audrey Beckley Studio, students are learning to collaborate and work together in the interactive newsroom of Franklin Hall 114. It is outfitted with a large touchscreen monitor on the front wall and several smaller screens throughout the room. Each of the screens is equipped with Solstice technology, allowing students and professors to show their laptops, or even mobile phones and tablets, through the use of a special application. The desks are all made of whiteboards, which students can draw or write on for brainstorming, storyboarding and discussion with classmates.

The room was designed as part of the Mosaic Active Learning Initiative to promote collaboration, movement and small-group class formats. Students can rearrange desks, chairs and the materials displayed on screen.

No two Mosaic classrooms at IU are the same, according to the Mosaic website, and Franklin Hall 114 was designed with journalism in mind. The room is specially equipped with cameras and microphones to allow for Skype calls with newsrooms and people around the globe.

“This is the first classroom of its kind on the Bloomington campus,” Kincaid said.

Professor of practice Elaine Monaghan uses Franklin Hall 114 for a graduate journalism class, Intensive Reporting and Writing, as well as for the undergraduate course on media ethics, Media as Social Institutions. She said the technology has changed the dynamic of both classes, allowing the students to have a more hands-on experience with the work they’re doing.

“The content for either course isn’t really that different,” Monaghan said. “What changes is the way you review it.”

Monaghan said students sometimes are reluctant to share their ideas or contribute to class discussion. More outgoing students will overpower their classmates and dominate the discussions. But the Solstice technology allows everyone to contribute.

“When anyone is able to just throw something up on the screen and let everyone see it, that removes the professor as the focal point,” Monaghan said. “Students have more freedom, and it allows them all to contribute.”

The screens provide an avenue for real-time evaluation of work from each student. She doesn’t have to wait for them to submit to Canvas or send an email. Each student can bring work up on a screen and make changes as she is standing next to them.

“I used to rely heavily on online discussion boards for students to display their work, but now we can do it in the classroom,” Monaghan said.

The whiteboard desks are also integral to the collaborative experience, she said. They allow students to huddle together and brainstorm projects out in the open.

“Before, there was no way for students to see what others were doing without looking over someone’s shoulder at a laptop,” Monaghan said. “Now, everyone can collaborate at any given moment. You can vary your methods between the whiteboard and the screens based on how visual or word-based you want something to be.”

James Benedict, a Media School senior studying journalism and informatics, is a student in Monaghan’s media ethics course. He said the technology in Franklin 114 has created a more effective learning environment.

“It’s nice being able to share something with classmates so quickly,” he said. “The technology makes everything we do in class into a more fluid process. You can present your information in a cleaner and more direct way.”

Benedict said he appreciates the ability to receive immediate feedback on all of his work, both from Monaghan and his fellow classmates. He says it helps that the room can be rearranged for small-group collaboration; he can face the people that he’s talking to without losing access to the technology that makes the class function.

“The class has a lot of small-group collaboration, but there’s enough technology that everyone can use it when they need to,” he said. “We can instantly throw news up as it happens and share it with each other, and we can get immediate feedback on our work.”

Throughout the fall semester, students and faculty alike are learning how to include the new technology of Franklin Hall in their classes and projects. For most, the technology is unfamiliar and there is plenty left to learn. But classes are already changing to take advantage of all the new opportunities The Media School has to offer, and people are seeing the positive effects.

“It’s simultaneously easier and harder,” Monaghan said. “It’s harder because there are more bells and whistles to manage, but it allows us to do more in less time.”