Buyer beware in the ICM curriculum

Okay, I’m dense. Really dense. I’ve made a crucial error this semester in planning and arranging my courseload by signing up for ICM590 after having taken ICM512. The two courses are essentially identical in their curriculum, but because I didn’t read the syllabus as fully as I should have, I am now enrolled in what amounts to a re-run of a class I have already taken for credit elsewhere within the ICM program.

Concept to Website, take 1

Last semester with David Maccarella in ICM512: Strategic Communications we learned how to identify the need for a possible website, work from concept up, through client planning and strategy documentation, on through wireframes and information architecture planning, the development of navigational elements and user interface optimization, up to the actual design and layout of the site. I did the work on a website for a friend, got the credit and passed with an A-.

The minus was due to general laziness on my part… I already work in web development environments, and while all of this theory is just dandy, it fails to translate directly into actual practice. The real world requires much greater flexibility, and the arrangement of professional priorities to ensure that more time is spent on actual site development up front than documentation for documentation’s sake. Yes, it is entirely possible for projects to spin out of control, but that’s a big part of what makes a web professional a web professional – the ability to successfully navigate the balancing point between necessary and unnecessary processes and procedures. Since the average client comes to the table far too late and with far too little idea of what actually goes into making a professional-quality website, I’d hazard a guess that the majority of web developers either have to abandon the client’s dollars or abandon a strict process.

Concept to website, take 2.

This semester, in ICM590: Online Collaborative Studio with McNally, we’re doing the same thing as we just did in 512. The difference lies in minor emphasis shifts… McNally’s class covers everything that Macarella’s course did, but adds in a bit on search engine optimization later on in the course and also seems to be covering usability design and testing in greater depth.

However, in *this* semester’s ICM503: Advanced Visual Aesthetics with Maccarrella again, David is focusing on XHTML, CSS, webpage coding, *and* Usability testing and User Interface design. Also, the misnomer of ‘Collaborative Studio’ for ICM590 would seem to indicate that students are going to join together in online collaborative teams in order to produce something in the digital realms -together-, learning how to leverage the need for collaborative organizational efforts and work within the modern digital community. Even there, though, ICM522: Comm., Media, & Society taught by Alex Halavais this semester is stealing thunder from ICM590. Halavais is leading the students in his class toward collaborating online using wiki software in order to produce a book exploring the role of the New Communications Professional in society today.

Not leaving much

So the only thing that ICM590 has to offer which isn’t covered by other classes I am taking or have taken is Search Engine Optimization practices, and that’s covered within a week or two’s lecture after midterms. Honestly, having taken the ICM501 overview of topics in Interactive Communications, I know already that an entire graduate level class could be offered on Search Engines alone, and could include a very in-depth study of optimization practices and the politics of search engines in creating the culture of the information marketplace. But as interesting as that might be, it wouldn’t fit within ‘Collaborative Studio’ connotations.

As a matter of fact, a better alignment of course offerings with course titles would have been putting Halavais’s seminar under ICM590: Collaborative Studio, have someone (again, Halavais seems to have some direct research experience with search engines so we’ll use him for example) teach ICM522: Comm, Media, & Society and focus on the social politics of the information marketplace and search-engine driven cultural evolutions, including standards of optimization practices. And move McNally’s class to ICM512: Strategic Communications, alternating with David.

Proposed ICM Curricular Realignment

In fact, here’s a suggestion on some revisions and “curricular realignment” to help solve the disconnect which appears currently between Quinnipiac’s ICM course names/numbers and the actual subject material within them. I’ll start only with what currently exists, and put it into my Druthers (If I had it my way, I’d ruther it be this way). Then maybe a wish list as a student for the next step of improvement and evolution of the program. Maybe. Too much homework I’m too far behind on (why do these insights come when I’m late with things?).

Core Experience Coursework

These classes are the foundational courses upon which all other electives and tracks will build.

  • ICM501: Intro to Interactive Communications — Review of ICM literature, seminar face-to-face format. Relationship and community builder for Campus students. Online version only for the non-campus version of the program/new abbreviated program under consideration. More instruction on the basic level of basic university level research, citation styles, and scholarly writing for research. Need more handholding up front to inspire confidence and establish foundation for business grad students to work within academia.
  • ICM502: Digital Production & Aesthetics (formerly Visual Aesthetics) — Overview instruction in basic digital design principles. Overview instruction in the technical considerations for digital production. Introduction to the Holy Trinity of digital design: Photoshop, Illustrator, & InDesign. Core curricular focus on differences between vector/raster, web/print, mac/pc consideration, discussion of Holy Trinity and open source alternatives. Simple design aesthetics instruction including scoping the competition, deconstructing basic designs, and analytical approach to the role of design within the online medium.
  • ICM506: Writing (Non-fiction) for Interactive Media — Keep course as it is. Introduces students to online writing convention for narrative style.

Digital Production cluster

Building upon the Digital Production cluster of courses:

  • ICM503: Front End Website Production – HTML, CSS, PHP & MySQL — Formerly ‘advanced visual aesthetics’. Focus on use of Dreamweaver and the design and production of websites with CSS, HTML variants, and integration with PHP/MySQL databases on the front end of web design and production. (This would only add in the PHP & MySQL integration unit, since currently-named ICM503:Adv. Visual Aesthetics includes HTML & CSS.)
  • ICM504: Website Production – ActionScript 3.0 — Basic introductory class on scripting for information animation and website ‘programming’ in Flash’s ActionScript 3.0 language. Only change… make the final project designing a website entirely in ActionScript. Coding project was fun & all, but websites are what the business community is going to want, and this is a business-level communications program as it currently stands.
  • ICM508: Online Video & Sound Production — Class focuses on all aspects of digital video editing and composition, as well as sound editing and production. Beef up the resources allocation for graduate students/greatly restrict the number of students who can register so that each grad student receives a dedicated set of audio and video production equipment for the duration of the *entire* semester. At Quinnipiac course prices PLUS lab fees, we shouldn’t have to compete for resources with undergrads while taking this -required- class.

Strategic Business Cluster

Building upon the Strategic Business cluster of courses:

  • ICM512: Interactive Development for Strategic Communications — Make this class and this class -alone- about the process of making a website, from concept to usability testing and continual site review. Overview of the website design and project management process.
  • ICM525: Media Management — I haven’t taken this course yet, but I’m hoping that it will focus completely on how to manage the digital media process using business-school management techiques and adapting them specifically for the business environment. If this just ends up as another ICM512/590 ‘concept to website‘ class, I’ll be pretty pissed.
  • ICM590: Collaborative Studio — Focus on the phenomenon of peering and collaborative environments. Students establish a collaborative studio and are given the task of actually creating a website and all of its content from concept to completion. This site will be hosted on Quinnipiac’s server and therefore the team must not only navigate the cooperative workplace but also balancing the needs and interfacing with the business standards and practices of the ‘client’, in this case the PR department of Quinnipiac which approves or denies all material posted on the QU web. Students must maintain an analytical blog record of the collaborative process and journal any thoughts or insights. At the end of the project the website goes live. Designed as a ‘finishing’ course for the business cluster but relies heavily and adds value to Digital Production coursework lessons as well.

Social Impact Cluster

These courses emphasize the Social/Societal role of new media cluster of courses:

  • ICM522: Communications, Media & Society — In-depth literature review on the social influences or roles of the New Media. Broad span of topics, but aimed more at where the technology of the internet and digital media are in the process of redefining or reshaping social roles, cultural norms, or social philosophies. Areas like activism, copyright laws, democratization of access, politics of information. Meant to provide a more robust literature survey in seminar format. Final project aims at production of a scholarly paper or project for submission to peer reviewed journals.
  • ICM552: Media Law — Still haven’t taken this, but I’m assuming that it’s a review of the current legal trends and casework which has been done or is pending and which affects the new media and social philosophy as expressed by law, and perhaps also a look at how the new media has changed or shaped the practice of law as well.
  • ICM520: Game Theory and Digital Media — Currently the course is named “Game design & development” and I’ve been told that it has never been offered at QU because there’s no one around with the requisite background to teach it. Instead of focusing on game design in the entertainment sense, the establishment of topical course clusters gives a chance to delve a bit beyond the ‘buzz topic’ in digital development of game design. Course would focus on an in-depth literature review on Game Theory as it applies to the realm of digital media. Chance to focus on connections between game theory and usability, inherent politics which result from management of limited choices, the definition of a ‘game’, basics of game theory, etc. Also allows a look ‘under the hood’ at the theory of limited choices and game mechanics within User Interfaces, navigational elements, and actual ‘games’ development.

Capstone Experience

  • ICM601: Master’s Project — Student wraps up the entire program by electing to produce an online interactve piece which demonstrates mastery of production and praxis. (Take 601 OR 602)
  • ICM602: Thesis — Student wraps up the entire program by electing to produce a Master’s Thesis, which demonstrates academic mastery of topical research and scholarly communication within ICM. (Take 601 OR 602)

Electives

Offered as needed to round out the curriculum or introduce new topics. Ideal if they can be mapped to one of the existing topical clusters, but not a requirement.

Well… there you have my Druthers for the ICM program speaking from halfway in. I’d drop the current 590 class except that it would drop me down to part time and affect my fiancial aid. Looks like I’m due on a trip back through the ‘Concept to Website’ trip again. Ah well. Practice makes for improvement. I’m just going to have to look at this as a ‘Ryan Millner-esque’ chance to have fun with the subject matter.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, my car is finally mine to use again, so its time to go catch up in Halavais’ class. (Alas, online though it is, I need access to the library for the access to the journal articles full-text. That means the library. And that means an hour commute. Off I go.)

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4 responses to “Buyer beware in the ICM curriculum

  1. You know, you can access the QU library remotely. You never have to drive to campus. I don’t. And with all my fine research using the QU library’s remote databases, I’ve gotten A’s on every single one of my ICM papers.

  2. Yeah, thanks. I had to actually visit the research librarians before the “how to access the library databases remotely” link became visually noticeable on the library web pages. I had a V-8 /facepalm moment, chuckled over the irony that an ICM major would miss a link just because it was lost in the busy-ness of the library webpages, and started using remote access shortly after this post was originally written.

    Congratulations on the A’s. Color me even more impressed if they came from Halavais’s classes. I’ve personally found him to be the most challenging grader of the professors I’ve had.

  3. You say “this is a business-level communications program as it currently stands.” Should it change? And if so, in what direction?

  4. @Phillip: Interestingly enough, the items being repeated between 512 and the second class are precisely those items I’m now doing professionally.

    I have to say that the Masters has given me a definite edge in my career field. The broad business base has actually opened up many, many doors for me… and I only graduated in December.

    So… where would I take the department now? Maintain the business focus but shore up the academic side. Research Methods development. The move to the games side is an interesting set of possibilities… but it would have served me less, personally.

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