Posted by: Roger King
Multimedia in computer science departments.
I teach in a computer science department, and in the previous posting of this blog, I argued that universities and colleges have been very slow to introduce basic animation skills into their curricula. In this posting, I argue that the same is true for basic media management skills, and that this is also a critical area of study for computer science students.
It’s part of a broader expansion of the discipline.
Well, for starters, the bounds of computer science have shifted and expanded greatly. It’s not about the development of techniques for building operating systems and compilers, and formal specifications of algorithms and their running costs, and the like. Not any more, it’s not. Much of the old problems now have fairly settled and widely used solutions. We are increasingly focused on the development of web-resident information systems, the automation of web searches, the development of web services, network and database security, medical information systems, the modeling of complex 3D models in engineering and entertainment, and the like – things that have been discussed in previous postings of this blog.
Another key area is the management of video, images, audio, animation, documents, and other advanced forms of media. These topics have also been discussed in this blog in the past.
Academics and the ignorance of real world tools.
It’s not that we academics don’t know that this is a critical area. The problem is that computer science faculty typically know little or nothing about large, commercial applications for creating, manipulating, and storing media, or about the emerging standards for formatting and tagging media.
But more significantly, there is a stuffy, longstanding belief on the part of computer science academics that teaching such practical things would turn our departments into trade schools, and that we teach “principles” and “formalisms”, and that we prepare students for the next fifty years, not the next five years.
Universities just have a lot of trouble evolving. We are big machines with tremendous inertia.
The necessary skills.
So what do students need to know? I admit that there is a broader question here. What is the right compromise between abstract, longstanding concepts and hands-on experience with real world tools? But surely, nobody thinks we should essentially ignore the enormous software technology base that is out there?
We cannot continue to turn out students who are only mildly aware of the vast sea of desktop and web applications for managing media, database management tools for storing and searching media, processing full text and natural language, compressing and cleaning audio and video, editing sound and video, standards for formatting images and sound and video and 2D/3D models.
You have to have some idea of what technology is out there if you are going to build the next version of that technology!
But maybe we’re doing too little too late.
Besides claiming that this knowledge is not “academic”, computer science departments claim that students pick this kind of stuff up on their own. This used to be a ridiculous claim. But in truth, energetic computing students do indeed pick this stuff up now, at least to some degree. But this is really an inditment of academic computing: the Web has become a vast, formal and informal learning grounds, and it is eclipsing computer science departments to a large degree.
Where to go from here.
So, what’s the real point?
We need to train a new generation of faculty members, radically evolve our curriculums, build computing labs that are equipped with advanced media applications and storage managers that professors actually understand, and above all else, reevaluate our position in the learning world. Students are turning away from us and toward a vast array of video, textual, and audio learning tools that have exploded onto the Web.