Disrupting Boundaries: The Graduate Program in Digital Media Re-envisions Its Future

Twenty years ago, the idea of a graduate program in digital media within a liberal arts college was quite novel.  At the time, technical skills were taught in computing programs, design was taught in art schools, and neither intersected with liberal arts, much less graduate level liberal arts studies.  And outside the science community, very few imagined the development of a new breed of media with the connectivity and impact of the Internet.

A new horizon was defined eighteen years ago when the Ivan Allen College and its School of Literature, Communication, and Culture established the Graduate Program in Digital Media (then called Information Design and Technology).  It quickly became clear that its boundary-breaking research and curricula would serve as the model for programs around the globe.

“This program broke down the silos that separated technical and design disciplines, as well as platforms such as film, television, and online media,” said Jay Telotte, LCC Interim Chair. “We established Georgia Tech as a leading brand in the field of digital media and have attracted the best faculty and students in the world.”

Telotte’s remarks came during a symposium on April 16th rededicating the program’s James and Mary Wesley Center for New Media Education and Research on the occasion of its tenth anniversary. Established to promote the application and development of new media technologies in the areas of education, design, digital art, and culture, it encourages work in film, television, expression of art and literary forms - all of which are now in a cultural dialogue with new digital media.

“The Wesley Center marked a major shift in this school,” said Telotte. “Today, media is central to all we do and has fundamentally changed pedagogy throughout our curricula.” 

In fact, the primacy of digital media has impelled a renaming of the school that will come about this Fall, but the focus of the day was on the future of the graduate program. Telotte paid homage to the program’s pioneers, faculty member Jay Bolter, former LCC chairs Bob Kolker and Ken Knoespel, former Digital Media program director Janet Murray, and the Wesley family. 

Ian Bogost, who assumed leadership of the program in 2011, introduced a re-framed vision for the Digital Media graduate program that builds upon its strengths and continues to disrupt boundaries.

“In the short span of a decade, we’ve again re-defined the value of education in digital media,” said Bogost. “A measure of our success is that industry is acclimated and eager to hire graduates with the kinds of cross-disciplinary skills that originated and continue to be expanded in this program. I’m looking at re-inventing how we fit in the academic world; creating new ways of doing things in both academia and the media industry.”

Bogost outlined three key areas of focus for the program, which will guide its research, education, and public impact for the next five years: Arts & Entertainment, Civic Media, and Knowledge and Creativity.

In Arts & Entertainment, digital media faculty and students explore how technology in general, and the digital medium in particular, enhance, expand, and reconfigure this influential aspect of cultural expression. The program’s strengths in this area include a longstanding focus on new forms of narrative and storytelling, including interactive narrative and experimental television, new methods of digital performance and exhibition, and the design and application of computer games.

In Civic Media, faculty and students investigate how digital media fits into the fabric of culture and civic life. The program focuses on digital technology’s potential to change and improve the daily lives of ordinary people, rather than as marketing tool to advance the latest Silicon Valley gadget or service. Areas of focus include community activism, technological supports of at-risk populations, and investigations of the problems and needs of local, state, and even worldwide communities.

And in Knowledge Generation and Creativity, faculty and students investigate and alter the role of the digital medium in education, the production of knowledge, and the creative process. The use of digital forms like games, visualizations, and devices for education can be found here, as well as theoretical explorations of the digital design process, and new methods of inspiring and facilitating creativity with digital technologies, both for new audiences and for more diverse communities of creators.

The Digital Media program faculty and students signal their intent to continue disrupting the playbooks for interactions between academia and industry, between theory and practice, and our evolving definitions of media.

“Our media shape the way we live,” said Bogost. “In the digital media program, we ask how we want to live first, rather than assuming that whatever current technology gives us will be best.”

The occasion of a look back on its last decade encapsulates the program’s core mission: to invent the future of digital media based on a firm understanding of its past—a feature that reinforces the program’s strong commitment to the liberal arts.

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