New HU studio makes media interactive

The 3-D printer on the counter buzzes as Professor Charles Palmer adjusts its software.

About 50 feet away, an 84-inch Microsoft Surface tablet on the wall is illuminated, depicting an image Palmer scrawled on half of the screen. A photo of downtown Harrisburg fills the other 42 inches.

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s Interactive Media Studio is filled with this type of state-of-the-art technology.

Charles Palmer, associate professor and program lead of Interactive Media, is pictured in HU’s new Interactive Media Lab.

But technology isn’t what makes this new learning space special, said Palmer, associate professor and program lead of Interactive Media.

Its ability to foster interaction is the room’s greatest asset, he said.

With its large open work stations, portable power cables hanging above and a big comfortable U-shaped couch flanking the Microsoft Surface screen, the studio encourages collaboration among students, Palmer said.

“Technology is secondary. They already are using technology. What’s important here is the physical space and how technology can complement the student’s work.” said Palmer, who also heads HU’s Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies.

The studio, where Palmer and other Interactive Media professors started holding classes in January, is one of several newly constructed classrooms to open, or will open, on the soon-to-be-built-out 10th floor of HU’s academic tower in downtown Harrisburg.

Prior to the studio opening, Interactive Media students met in a variety of classrooms. The new room gives students permanency, Palmer said.

“One of the things that’s really important with collaboration is permanency. So previously, when students worked in classrooms, at the end of the class, everyone leaves, the whiteboard gets erased, the work stops,” he said.  “But having a space where we can actually keep things up, where the work continues to exist and the space is open and usable and free for the students to collaborate, that’s pretty important. It’s another way we strive to help students be successful.”

Just outside the entrance of the Interactive Media Studio is a comfortable lobby, which actually is an extension of the room.

There is a high-top desk, big comfortable chairs and a kitchenette. It’s a place for students and faculty to bounce ideas off each other and sink into assignments.

Prior to the studio opening, Interactive Media students often attended classes and went home, Palmer said.

Now, most drop their things off in the studio in the morning and return to work there together before, between and after classes.

Students are eager to return, because, as Palmer said, “it’s primarily a studio. And secondarily, it’s a classroom.”

The studio isn’t the only impressive new space for students on the 10th floor.

Across the hall is a lab dubbed “The Maker Space,” which soon will house several 3-D printers, soldering equipment and other tools students in Interactive Media, Integrative Sciences and more will use to blend technology and craftsmanship starting in the Fall.

Palmer encourages students to use their hands as much as possible. And, in addition to the Interactive Media Studio, the Maker Space will give students the ability to do just that.

Often, Interactive Media graduates land at advertising agencies and production companies, where they are forced to blend technology and collaboration with craftsmanship.

Between the studio and The Maker Space, students have the tools and space to brainstorm and develop common solutions or products, mimicking the atmosphere they will find in the workplace.

“I want our students to put down the keyboard and actually make something. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with using digital tools for production. But the design fields require all kinds of skills and one day their future boss will say, ‘give me a mock-up of that first,’” Palmer said.

“Our students are really looking at ‘how do I build experiences for users?’ Whether it’s a product, a brand, or a company, we need to understand how users benefit from using that particular product or service,” he continued. “One of the things that is important for that is collaboration. And this new space is built to showcase the importance of collaborative work.”