Faster and Better: Instructional Media Production’s Year in Review

Two men wearing masks and headsets watch recorded footage at a desk in the instructional media production control room.

Associate Producers Todd Buker and Michael Castro shoot faculty capture in the DELTA Instructional Media Production control room.

DELTA’s Instructional Media Production (IMP) team is composed of Associate Director, IMP John Gordon, Associate Producer Todd Buker, Associate Producer Michael Castro, Associate Producer Derek DeStefano, Senior Producer Arthur Earnest and Mobile Media Producer Jeff Robinson.


In the summer of 2018, Associate Director, Instructional Media Productions (IMP) John Gordon asked his team a question. 

“Three years from now, what does our unit look like?” 

The question sparked a conversation about IMP’s goals and potential that has yet to end. The team works hard to produce and share multimedia that support faculty and enhance instruction at NC State. 

Two years later, they have a lot of changes to look back on. Here’s how IMP got “faster and better” in fiscal year 2019-2020.

New Technologies

Park Shops Studio Remodel

IMP identified a need for more studio space early on. The team embarked on an extensive studio remodel to enhance their workflows and improve the products they delivered to clients. The project is the biggest change in tools and environment that the team has experienced thus far. 

Two red armchairs with a round white table situated in between.
The renovated studio includes a new green room for guests to sit and work during shoots.

Planning began in fall 2019 for a new control room and new editing spaces. A green room for faculty and students is complete. A renovated equipment room with a designated charging area and a digital asset management (DAM) workstation is also underway. Hanging cabinets will keep most equipment behind doors and a pro-slab wall attachment with hooks will allow team members to hang tripods, light stands and other equipment neatly. 

A sound corner will facilitate high-end voiceover projects. Up to four guests can sit down to record podcasts on broadcast-quality microphones and recording equipment. Two temporary walls covered in sound isolation foam will enclose the corner when in use and slide against the wall when the corner is empty to preserve valuable studio space.

Backpacks, tripods, extensions and other production equipment hands neatly on a white wall.
A pro-slab wall attachment allows team members to hang equipment neatly.

The team recently captured high-resolution photographs of some of their favorite shooting locations on NC State’s campus. They plan to print large backdrops of these images to hang in the studio for interviews with subject matter experts. This will give them the full control and flexibility of the studio to capture footage faster and with equal or better quality compared to shoots done on location. Gordon demonstrated the technology on a visit to the University of Minnesota. 

Podcasting

The sound corner is being built in response to a growing interest in podcasts as an educational tool. Gordon noticed this interest taking root at NC State by talking with faculty members. Many instructors assign podcasts as student projects, but others are beginning to use them in their teaching as lecture aids, study tools and lesson primers. Gordon soon became interested in the idea himself.

“If you look around a little bit, there are at least 15 different podcasts going on at this campus right now,” he says. “We’re going to create a podcast about podcasting at NC State, and we’re using it as an opportunity for faculty to learn what we learned about getting started in podcasting.”

The podcast will explore what resources are available, who is exploring the platform at NC State, and what people are learning from using podcasts in their teaching. Gordon plans to conduct each episode in a different way — on the phone, in the sound corner, in an office and in a recording booth — to gain experience with all available methods. 

Refined Tools

IMP consistently explores new tools and upgrades to maintain high-quality services and enhance internal processes. They recently adopted Transcriptive, a fast and affordable transcription plug-in that can be integrated with video editing software. Transcriptive makes for quick captioning and helps producers and faculty easily pull sound bites. 

The team continues to develop its use of 360° production (led by DELTA’s New Media Development team) with a focus on 360° sound. Just as 360° cameras capture a complete visual perspective, multiple ambisonic microphones can record sounds at 360°, providing listeners with a spatially accurate range of noise. This development will elevate DELTA’s ongoing use of extended realities. 

Isolated cameras have been introduced to refine IMP’s video projects. In previous shoots, one live camera was used to record multiple angles of a shot, automatically cutting between speakers. Multiple cameras now capture a full recording from several angles in addition to a live cut. Producers can easily transition between shots during the editing process to deliver a more polished product. 

“Those are the ways that I feel like we’re increasing our quality while simultaneously becoming more efficient and faster at what we do,” says Gordon. 

Enhanced Workflows

Specialized Roles

Three monitors display a video in the process of being made at IMP's control room.
IMP’s new streamlined media production work space.

IMP’s workflows have undergone a “maturing process” in the last year, according to Gordon. The tight-knit team has updated their processes to become more explorative and collaborative. 

Until now, most team members approached new projects individually. With the help of two dedicated camera and sound technicians, one person would produce, direct and edit an entire project, taking ownership from beginning to end. Now their project roles are becoming more specialized. Producers and directors can hand their footage off to a finishing editor who fine-tunes the story and adds in supporting aspects such as B-roll, transitions and graphics. 

These editors help to ensure that the final product resonates with its audience. When producers and directors edit their own material, they carry background knowledge from working with faculty members. Sometimes, knowing the full story can lead them to overlook important information in the editing process. Finishing editors act as virgin viewers, encountering the footage for the first time. 

“There’s an added advantage –– they don’t know the story as well as the producer or director. They are a better set of eyes and ears for a student who also doesn’t know the material until they see it laid out,” Gordon says. 

Visiting Editors

IMP wants to enhance their speed and quality skill simultaneously. To achieve this, the team consulted outside perspectives. Gordon invited industry experts to come to NC State’s campus and observe IMP’s workflows and processes. 

“We are doing very similar things to what these industry members are doing, but because they are doing it day in and day out, over and over again, theoretically they have to be faster,” Gordon says. 

An editor from CNN recently visited the studio to demonstrate his video editing process. He brought some of his finished projects and started over from scratch, talking through the process and allowing IMP team members to ask questions. Then, the team gave him one of their projects to see how he would approach it. When he was done, they compared their results. 

Witnessing different approaches and techniques allows IMP to reflect on its own practices and detect areas for improvement. Gordon hopes to return to this exercise in the future. 

Student Interns

IMP works like a family. Like any family, it falls into habits. To make sure the department is staying fresh and connecting with its student audience, Gordon turns to student interns.

The department welcomed high school interns to the studio to bring in new skills and perspectives. It is a professional development opportunity for students and a chance for IMP to adapt as technologies and trends advance. 

“I see it rumbling our culture a little bit. I would like to make sure that we are looking out over the horizon to see what’s coming next as opposed to staying safe inside our enclosure,” Gordon says. 

The program has had a positive impact on IMP, giving team members an opportunity to mentor and learn from new talent. 

Projects 

MEA 140: Catastrophic Earth

MEA 140: Catastrophic Earth introduces students to the earth’s most volatile natural phenomena and highlights their connections to climate change. IMP helped the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (MEA) create informative videos to support learning materials in the course.

Associate Producer Todd Buker worked with MEA faculty members to create a series of seven videos, each introducing a different module or lesson in MEA 140. “The Human Effect” is a highlight of all seven videos featuring real footage of natural disasters and commentary from a climate activist and NC State researchers. 

The “The Human Effect” and accompanying videos will inspire students to explore the careers of weather scientists and engage students in the impact on humanity of these huge weather events, which are increasing in frequency and severity.

Virtual Lactation Counseling

IMP collaborated with the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences to develop virtual lactation counseling sessions for new mothers experiencing trouble breastfeeding. 

Six cameras, including one placed on the lactation instructor’s head, capture the counseling session from all possible angles. Gordon calls the footage unprecedented, capturing never-before-seen angles and perspectives. 

IEP Meetings in Virtual Reality

IMP is helping the College of Education (CED) train students for individualized education program (IEP) meetings. These meetings occur when disabled students require more personalized education plans to succeed in school. Parents, teachers, administrators and counselors sit down to discuss the student’s challenges and develop a plan to move forward. While most teachers will attend an IEP meeting, they often receive no prior training. IMP created a virtual reality experience to help CED students experience IEP meetings. 

“The [instructor] would like to have the students experience an IEP meeting as closely as possible before they are actually in there and the stakes are much higher,” Gordon explains. 

To reproduce an IEP meeting, the project team wrote a script with the help of Instructional Technologist Christopher Beeson, University Library Technician Mike Wallace and CED faculty. Instructional Media Producer Arthur Earnest rehearsed with hired actors and directed the scene, which was shot in 360°. Students don virtual reality goggles to experience the meeting as a teacher would. 

The IEP VR meeting provides a learning opportunity for students that mirrors what they will experience on the job. It allows instructors and students to simultaneously discuss topics and experience them on a personal level. 

COVID-19 Transition

COVID-19 interrupted the spring 2020 semester and prompted sweeping changes to university operations and activities for months to come. To help incoming first-year students understand and anticipate the impacts of a global pandemic, DELTA worked with multiple partners from across the university to develop Wicked Problems, Wolfpack Solutions — a special kind of multidisciplinary course available for free to all fall 2020 first-year students and their families. Students earn two hours of general education credit upon participation and completion of the course.

IMP heavily supported the creation of Wicked Problems, Wolfpack Solutions. Primary video, podcasts and live streams for the course have been created in the DELTA Park Shops studio. IMP also produced a promotional video for the course, which was released to 5,000 incoming first-year students in June.

In addition to the course, IMP supported the transition to online instruction with in-depth workshops for College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center and College of Engineering faculty members to record remote lab sessions.

Looking forward

Next year, Gordon will replay his recording of IMP’s 2018 team meeting to assess how far they have come in three years. The department’s advancements in the fiscal year 2019-2020 have put them well on track to achieving their goal of improving quality while increasing output.

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