Last week this time I was on a plane bound for Wisconsin. Back in October I had been at a college football game and the husband of one of my wife's friends had talked to me at the game about the school he was teaching at in Wisconsin. Anthony knew I worked in the high tech industry and I knew that he was a professor in a technology department at that school.
I have to admit that I couldn't entirely figure out how an English PHD would be able to, much less be allowed to teach in a technology department but that wasn't my issue. At the time he asked me what we were doing with Flash and I described how I thought that it was one of the important technologies we would be working with over time and how it was something we use a lot in sales presentations.
We talked a little bit about how I visit colleges several times a year to talk about technology and how media is being transformed. He asked me if I would ever consider coming out and talking to his students. I told him that I try to stick to LA, NYC, Boston, SF and other cities where I am doing business but I would consider it if asked.
Fast forward several months and there I am headed to Wisconsin to visit the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Earlier this year Anthony had reached out and asked me if in fact I could come out but not necessarily to speak. The University was undergoing a review process on his department and they wanted to have representatives from industry as well as other universities to gain a broad perspective. I have to admit that I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but I agreed to go.
The degree program I was asked to review is the Bachelor's degree in Web and Digital Media Development. The link to the department can be found here. My fellow reviewers and I spent the better part of two days looking at the curriculum, met with faculty, students, community business representatives and university administration.
I have to say that it was a fascinating experience. The degree program they have developed is a fascinating blend of technology and design. When I think about how much time I spend in front of a computer, it makes perfect sense to me why an English professor who can program in Flash would be in a technology department. I personally walked away with a lot of admiration for this school to create a program that today is hard to find but is certainly one that will be widespread in the coming years. It will be interesting to see how they will expand on what they have started and whether or not they will be able to assume a leadership position in a new category.
Two big takeaways for me. One is that it is interesting to see how universities have to grapple with the emergence of new disciplines, especially in areas with rapidly changing technologies. It is not unlike the emergence of computer science degrees out of math departments many years ago. Two, it will be interesting to see how students who are trained in interdisciplinary studies (technology, design, psychology, English, human computer interaction) will impact and contribute to technology in the coming years.
One of the feedback points that I gave to the students when I spoke with them was that although they are doing some pretty amazing stuff with Flash on computers, the opportunities that I see that are significant to me are how will design conform to devices that aren't computers. There are more mobile handsets in the world than computers and as I head to CTIA this weekend one of the devices in my bag has some pretty amazing Flash prototypes that we are working on. Other devices like the Chumby are built around Flash as a core piece of their value proposition and the desire to leverage the large installed base of Flash developers.
I hope that the University of Wisconsin continues down they path they have started on and I can say that I am personally going to try to see how I can help this fledgling department interface with some of the people I know who are working at the intersection of design and technology. Thanks for having me out and best of luck.