Class Act: We're Educational Media Professionals

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Occasionally I peruse job listings to see what other schools are looking for in an educational media professional. This sometimes provokes depression and annoyance, not because of what they’re looking for but because too often they’re just not looking.

Search on the term "video" at a major education job site and it’s unlikely you’ll find many openings for an educational video producer. What you will see are a lot of positions for media production faculty (a good thing), instructional designers, and general IT staff. A few positions have media at their core. But more frequently, skills like shooting, editing, encoding, and serving are buried behind very different tasks like desktop support, web programming, and graphic design.

It makes me wonder whether most schools really see audio and video as part of the general IT skills set. Do I have to be an experienced PHP programmer or server admin if I hope to ply my video skills?

I get most annoyed when I see production skills tacked onto the job descriptions for instructional designers. With the strong growth of online education for distance and face-to-face learning, the need for skilled instructional designers is rising.

I have enormous respect for the skill it takes to create an engaging and effective online learning experience. It’s also shown me how difficult it must be to keep current with all the latest online learning technology without also having to be on top of the newest camcorders, NLEs, and codecs.

I also know several computer instruction specialists who wish their jobs allowed them more opportunities to keep up with and make online media. But when you’re expected to support hundreds or thousands of faculty working with a major learning management system, it can be tough to fit in time to produce a short podcast. Some poor professor whose online quiz melted down right before it’s due is rightly going to come first.In reality, the supposed need for educational media is often more of a wish than anything else. When an employer tacks production skills onto a job that already has lots of different and demanding requirements, the implicit message is, "We’d like to make some online media, but we can’t prioritize it right now."

Working in the trenches of a large state university, I understand that viewpoint, even if I don’t like it or agree with it.

Although this column so far must make me sound pretty cranky, I feel pretty lucky. I actually have a job that’s focused entirely on producing and delivering quality educational media online. However, it is also a job with a description I wrote myself, and I pitched to the former director of my department 7 years ago. It was good fortune that the director and the college’s CIO had a similar vision and agreed to make it a reality.

As I meet media specialists at universities and schools around the country, I keep finding that my experience isn’t unique. Nevertheless, I would really like to see the world where schools, colleges, and universities hire educational media professionals to work alongside instructional designers. The purpose of hiring a media professional isn’t just to ensure that video gets produced, but to see that productions are precisely suited to a course’s instructional goals and the overall needs of the institution.

It isn’t just a good idea; it’s a necessity. Budget-challenged colleges and universities are doing more blended learning to teach large numbers of students more effectively. They’re starting up distance learning programs, often as a way to bring in bigger tuition dollars. Students are making the quality of the online experience a factor in choosing their schools.

The onus is not just on deans, chancellors, principals, and presidents. We in the online media profession share responsibility to demonstrate and publicize the value of our profession. Educational innovation is often a grass-roots movement, and we are down in the mulch right now, with the potential to feed the growth of our specialty and passion.That means folks like me have to get our stuff out there and get our faculty partners to sing our praises inside and outside our schools. We need to show our bosses and administrators other colleges that are winning big with online media. And we need to keep making the case.

The institutional leaders who pay attention, listen, and then act will be the winners when their rankings climb and the quality of their students soars. The students win because they’re provided an enhanced learning experience. We media professionals then should see our own stock go up in value, and I won’t sound so cranky.

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