Tucked into a corner of the Sojourner Truth Library main floor, just beyond the circulation desk, the new Digital Arts, Sciences, and Humanities (DASH) Lab hums with activity. Amy Mackin, a senior digital media production major, leads the assembled faculty, staff and students through a tutorial of Adobe Premiere, a video editing program.
Projecting her Premiere workspace on a large screen near the front podium, Mackin creates a short video on the childhood classic Little Red Riding Hood. She leads the audience, following along on Mac desktops, through the process of organizing clips, creating transitions and adding voiceover, then concludes with a clever visual effect. She zooms in on a photograph of the protagonist’s signature crimson cape à la documentarian Ken Burns and scans the room to gauge the audience’s reaction.
As Mackin fields questions, her fellow intern, visual arts major Andrea Guilbo, and mentor Melissa Y. Rock move from station to station, providing one-on-one support.
The DASH Lab is powered by the dedication and technological prowess of six student interns and Rock, the lab’s multi-hyphenate co-founder, student mentor and champion of campus interdisciplinary collaboration.
Rock, an assistant professor of geography, who integrates digital video essays, podcasts, blogs and other digital technologies into her courses, wrote a proposal for the DASH Lab with Annie Swafford, a former assistant professor of digital humanities, during their first year at New Paltz. Both sought to address the challenge of conducting digital scholarship on campus with no centralized location to host classes and trainings on the latest digital technologies.
In winter of 2014, Rock and Swafford secured $82,700 in one-time funds from the Office of Academic Affairs to purchase 21 instructional Mac desktops, 13 laptops and a sound booth for recording podcasts and video narration.
After operating out of temporary space in the former Teaching and Learning Center, the DASH Lab officially opened for business this fall. The lab owes its prime location to the work of Sojourner Truth Library Dean Mark Colvson, the library staff and a steering committee tasked with outfitting the space as part of the library’s recent renovation.
Since Swafford’s departure last year, Rock has shepherded the lab’s evolution, organizing an impressive array of offerings for faculty, staff and students.
In addition to the Premiere training, the DASH Lab has hosted trainings on Adobe Photoshop (photo editing), Audacity (audio editing), Sound Booth (recording), Hawksites (academic websites and blogs), SketchUp (3D modeling design), Omeka (online digital collections), Google Earth and Google Maps, and basic coding for web development.
Rock developed the training schedule based on her interns’ areas of expertise, which they cultivated through their studies of digital media, geography, visual arts and English.
“They’re really the experts in all these different technologies, which is really fantastic,” noted Rock. “This space wouldn’t exist without their expertise and willingness to be here and share with their peers and other professors.”
An Open, Free Space
During a recent weekly meeting in the DASH Lab, Rock and her six interns discussed the opportunities and challenges of operating the lab. Despite their different academic backgrounds, they are a closely-knit group of friends and collaborators, at ease in each other’s company. Meagan Stone, a geography major, calls the lab a “very open, free space to share ideas and get things done.”
The interns thrive on hard work. To prepare for their presentations, the interns rehearse multiple times, and refine their presentation skills after getting feedback from Rock and their peers.
“I’m a production student, and I’ve used the other interns to establish what people do know and don’t know,” said Mackin. “For me, it’s kind of second nature, but I have to figure out how to explain it in a way that isn’t confusing to people who haven’t been editing for years.”
Students collaborate on handouts designed to give participants a handy reference guide for tools and other program features. Stone and fellow geography major Amanda Simmonds recently collaborated on a training and handout for the 3D modeling program SketchUp. In their training, the duo taught participants how to construct a 3D house, fitted with windows, doors and other realistic features.
The presentations provide the interns an opportunity to be campus leaders and interact with diverse audiences with varying degrees of technical know-how. In addition to hosting campus-wide trainings, the interns have provided personalized instruction to both undergraduate and graduate classes working on digital scholarship projects such as podcasts and videos. Faculty members can request class training sessions in the lab by submitting requests via the DASH Lab website, which is linked to the library homepage.
Interns also staff the DASH Lab during open office hours six days a week and provide one-on-one assistance to anyone needing help with digital pedagogy and scholarship projects.
When they’re not working with faculty and students, the interns are busily engaged with other projects that make use of their individual talents. Guilbo has used her graphic design training to design eye-catching DASH Lab posters and Erin Johnson, a digital media management major, oversees the creation of short video tutorials on the various technologies, which will be housed on the DASH Lab website.
Johnson receives internship credit for her role in the DASH Lab, and said the experiential learning experience has been invaluable preparation for her future career. “You take classes and you learn the behind-the-scenes stuff and different terms, but to actually be hands on and doing it is a really interesting, beneficial experience that you don’t get in the classroom,” she said.
The interns are also engaged in more personal projects, including the “I Am/We Are” podcast, which the interns launched in March to coincide with the campus introduction of their new student organization, the DASH Lab Club, led by Mackin.
The project invites members of the campus community to share personal stories that give insight into their experiences, backgrounds, aspirations, inspirations, challenges, hopes and fears. Those submitting stories will receive feedback on their scripts from DASH Lab advisory board members, and the lab’s interns and club members will provide assistance with recording and sound editing. The “I Am/We Are” podcast will be shared with the campus community during a May 9 listening party held in the library.
English graduate student Hannah Phillips has played a key role in the project during her first year of a two-year HASTAC fellowship. The HASTAC Scholars fellowship program is a community of graduate and undergraduate students who work at the intersection of technology and the arts, humanities and sciences. In addition to coordinating all of the DASH Labs activities, Rock serves as Phillips’ fellowship mentor.
In their work in the DASH Lab, the interns have gained highly marketable skills that will likely give them a competitive advantage when entering the job market or pursuing advanced degrees. In working together and with the broader campus community, they have gained a newfound appreciation for the interdisciplinary quality of their work and embraced the collaborative spirit at the heart of the lab’s founding.
“Even though technology can be very interdisciplinary, the way the majors are structured, you don’t really get to know all of it,” said Mackin. “It’s helpful to have something that brings everyone in and kind of levels the playing field.”
To learn more about the DASH Lab, visit the website.