Educating Professionals in the Liberal Arts Tradition

Interactive CD-ROM for prospective Ithaca College students
40 main screens, with text, audio, stills and video clips

Back in the Dark Ages before interactive multimedia presentations were widely available for college admission pitches (1993), I was working as a staff writer in the publications department at Ithaca College. When the director of admission demanded publications produce one of these things in less than 10 weeks, my boss threw up his hands, and tossed it my way, pretty certain I wouldn't be able to pull it off. 

But I did, working with College View, Inc., and our on-campus video production unit to produce a 40-screen interactive CD-ROM designed to introduce Ithaca College to prospective students. The final product included about 20 video clips and 39 audio buttons. Although there are many things I'd change now about the details, the basic approach I chose was pretty sound and it has continued to serve as a template for the multimedia piece.

As project manager/producer, I learned a lot about organizing the material for large interactive projects as well as details about things like splicing audio tape (with razor blades--remember, this was the Dark Ages) and searching through old stock to find just the right bits for 30-second clip to make a point (we didn't have the luxury of shooting new footage). Although in many instance I was forced to repurpose existing material (time and cost issues), I wrote my own copy and was able to do audio interviews with students and faculty--and that made a big difference not only in "telling the story" but ultimately, in how successful the project was. 

Note: The presentation runs on proprietary software designed for MAC systems, it is used most frequently on terminals in high school guidance offices and libraries.

One of the best choices I made was to use the voices of real students talking about what it's like to live in Ithaca, what dorm life's like and how the food really is. The audio buttons allowed me to have different voices tell the story; in Make the Most of It, students talked about living on campus: "The dorm is the first place you really make friendships...it's the first connection you make..."
On one screen dealing with diversity we ran a really simple video with a bunch of (diverse) kids saying "Hi, my name is......" rather than delivering some institutional rap about the issue.
Music at Ithaca featured the dean of music introducing a brief excerpt of a work premiered by students at Lincoln Center; in Designs on the Theater, a male senior spoke about his experience: "They started me right in, working on carpentry, lighting, paint...and as a junior I designed the scenery for our production of Three Sisters. My advisor told me he hadn't been assigned to Chekhov until his second year of grad school, but I had the chance as a junior undergrad. That had a profound influence on my whole approach to theatrical design."
I Wish I Had a Four-Day Weekend! ..."If you could stand in front of a bulletin board on campus, you'd see ...there are least three things going on a night. There's the movies, comedians in the pub...the music school--they do over a hundred concerts a year...It's so exciting to see your friends do things and get involved. I wish I had...I wish I had a four-day weekend so I could do it all! (Laughter)"

It's a Really Beautiful Place:
[female student]: "I love the environment here. I've gotten into a lot of different outdoor activities...I like that the college is small and so is the town...and the very laid-back attitude here...[Male student]: "I like the sense of community that exists in Ithaca. I think it's really beautiful...it's a very nice atmosphere to live in."

The Los Angeles Experience featured voices of participating students and the LA program director: "We provide students the opportunity to continue the coursework they're doing at Ithaca College but at the same time work in the entertainment industry. We have students who work, for example, at NBC; they also work on studio films, read scripts, work in various departments such as publicity and film development..."
While the navigation was fairly intuitive, a site map outline allowed quick returns to specific areas of the presentation.
Each of the five schools got its own page; again, using creative interviewing techniques and selective editing, I was able to personalize the message: here, in Performance Opportunities, a student relates: "When I first came to Ithaca, I was asked to join an a cappella group called Five Men Out...sophomore year, I got the male baritone lead in The Tender Land ...and then, senior year, I had the lead in Merry Wives of Windsor, so really, I couldn't have asked for a better year."
In addition to using unscripted student and professor voices, I scripted voice-overs for existing video that we recut for the purpose at hand; some of the audio buttons also used narrator-style VOs to reinforce salient points. Here, alternating male and female voices emphasize research opportunities: "In the social sciences, Ithaca combines in-depth classroom study with challenging off-campus experience. Anthropology students may travel abroad for archaeological digs or investigate poverty in the United States. Psychology students join research teams and conduct research on current family issues....Chemistry, biology, and physics students work side-by-side with faculty on projects that often result in articles for professional journals..."
Throughout the presentation, we were careful about how we provided information: some needed to be conveyed in written form, some through audio and video--and we emphasized important points by using at least two of the three. Still images were selected equally carefully. Here we wanted to emphasize individual intramurals and women's sports but of course, we couldn't ignore the rest of the program: "At Ithaca, you'll find one of the most diverse and successful intercollegiate athletic programs in the nation. Our 24 varsity teams-12 for men and 12 for women--compete in NCAA Division III. The football, wrestling, baseball and women's soccer teams have won multiple national championships. The field hockey team has also taken a national titles, as have individual athletes in swimming, gymnastics, and wrestling."
Balance was key; emphasizing academic facilities, bullet points highlighted key points; audio and video reinforced specifics as well as the personal element: "From the day I walked into the my first class--Intro to Broadcast Production--I was hands-on; in six weeks we were down in the TV studio putting together actual productions... Now I produce my own TV show, Campus Currents." "...I've used magnetic resonance imaging, spectrophotometers--I have everything available to me, at my fingertips. It's not like the large universities where you don't get on the equipment until you're a junior or senior." Video VO over high-tech equipment footage: "Classrooms, labs, studios, and clinics incorporate state-of-the-art technology, from music synthesizers and a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer to the human physiology testing equipment and the latest computer software for business..."

I went for the personal approach throughout, letting people tell their own stories in order to amplify the text and graphic message. The college's established recruiting themes rang throughout, with a certain amount of repetition intentional to my scheme since I knew prospective kids wouldn't look at ALL the pages. 

I especially enjoyed the challenge of creating the piece's architectural form (within a somewhat constrained framework) and deciding the best way to communicate a message using words and sounds and images all together.

It was dealing with this CD-ROM project successfully that made me realize this was the kind of work I wanted to do. (And that it was time to leave Ithaca College.)


©TLC Productions 1999. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized use or reposting of photos or graphics prohibited.