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Bridging the gap between academia and industry

Bridging the gap between academia and industry

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Dr Brian Kavanagh from King’s College London shares how they link what students learn in lectures and seminars with industry trends across DAM-related sectors.

King’s College London is one of the oldest and most prestigious academic institutions in the United Kingdom. Ranked 33rd in the world, the college offers a Digital Asset & Media Management Masters program in the Department of Digital Humanities.

In this blog post, Dr Brian Kavanagh, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London shares his insights around “Bridging the gap between academia and industry in the context of Digital Asset Management (DAM).

As the convenor of the Digital Asset and Media Management master’s degree programme (MA DAMM) at King’s College London (Department of Digital Humanities), one of the biggest challenges I face is to find innovative ways to link what students learn in lectures and seminars with industry trends across DAM-related sectors. In this short article, I outline some of the measures I have introduced to address this ongoing challenge.

When I took on the role of convenor for our MA DAMM programme in September 2018, I inherited a programme that was extremely popular; ahead of the academic year that began in September 2018, we had over 1,300 applications, from which we admitted approximately 120 students.

At that time, I had been teaching on the programme for three years as a teaching fellow, which afforded me an opportunity to make a series of observations about how the programme might be improved to make it more industry focused while maintaining a high level of theoretical engagement.

As programme convenor, one of the first initiatives I instigated was to invite DAM industry expert Theresa Regli to become an official industry partner for the programme. Having relocated to London from America in 2017, Theresa had become a regular guest speaker on the programme and she and I had built up a strong working relationship. With the support of Tobias Blanke who was the head of the Department of Digital Humanities at that time, a contract between Theresa and the department was approved and agreed in February 2019.

One of the first initiatives that we introduced under this new arrangement was a project that challenged students to create a taxonomy in the context of a DAM solution for the Museum of London, an organisation that Theresa was working closely with at that time.

Beginning in mid-February 2019, students worked in teams over a 4 -week period, at the end of which they presented their taxonomy solutions in seminars. Then, Theresa presented her taxonomy solution for the Museum of London in a dedicated lecture, which allowed students to conduct a comparative analysis with their taxonomy efforts.

Based on both anecdotal and formal student feedback, it was clear that this activity represented one of the highlights of the academic year for students. Aside from affording students an opportunity to apply knowledge learned in seminars and lectures in a real-world context, the Museum of London project served to refine students’ ability to self-organise and work in teams, important skills that they need to develop for the workplace.

Encouraged by the positive response to the Museum of London taxonomy project, I was keen to introduce DAM software into the programme during the 2019/20 academic year, something that, perhaps surprisingly, had not been previously done. To this end, I sat down with Theresa in January of this year for an initial chat to scope out what we might be able to realistically achieve in a 10-week semester between mid-January and the end of March which is the busiest period for our students.

Because we were working on a tight schedule, we decided to introduce an activity that required students to work in teams throughout the city of London to create a set of assets (photographs and video content) using their mobile phones. Theresa refined this idea by suggesting that students only work within the limits of the 12 inner city boroughs of London, recording geo-location data to identify which borough a particular asset was created in.

As the project idea began to take shape in late January, I was anxious that we find a DAM software partner that could provide DAM software and technical support for a range of project tasks within an extremely tight timeframe.

Thanks to Theresa’s extensive network across the global DAM community, she was able to quickly shortlist several DAM vendors who she considered potential technology partners. After careful consideration, she decided to approach Todd Eckler who is the general manager, marketing technology at IntelligenceBank, a DAM vendor with offices in Australia, the United States, and Canada. Theresa had worked with Todd in the past, once again highlighting the advantage of working closely with an industry expert to establish useful partnerships between academia and industry.

From our first conference call with Todd, who is based in the U.S., on February 13th, it was clear that Theresa had identified a technology partner that could provide the kind of customised DAM system and support we needed to realise our proposed student project. Most reassuring was the fact that Todd expressed complete confidence that IntelligenceBank could meet our needs and expectations within the tight timeline.

Having worked in IT for several years myself prior to becoming an academic, I was cognisant of the fact that many technology vendors oversell their products and services but from the moment I first spoke with Todd at IntelligenceBank I was confident that we had a partner we could trust to deliver what we needed and, critically, what he said he would deliver.

Indeed, shortly after our first conference call, Todd was chasing me for King’s College materials so he could push ahead and customise the interface of our new DAM system. Following a few days of testing, all of our current 177 MA DAMM students received system login information and for the first time on the programme our MA DAMM students were interacting with a DAM system.

Students began working on what we titled the My London project at the end of February. Working in teams over a three-week period, they were tasked with creating a repository of digital assets aimed at an audience of tourists planning to visit London.

Team leaders ensured that all team members contributed to the final repository, assigning particular London boroughs to each student to ensure a rich and diverse set of assets. Each team was assigned a unique folder in the DAM system in which each team member was able to create an individual folder to store their final selection of digital assets. This allowed us to determine both the best team effort and the best individual student effort.

Although the IntelligenceBank DAM system does a fantastic job of recording embedded metadata, such as GPS coordinates, date assets were created, file format, dimensions etc., students were tasked with adding descriptive metadata to their assets. This activity allowed students to put into practice the knowledge and skills they had learned about metadata both in lectures and seminars and through the previously mentioned Museum of London taxonomy project.

It also served to highlight the importance of metadata in making digital assets discoverable by users through search and retrieval, in this case through the IntelligenceBank search mechanism.

Overall, student participation was extremely high with only two of our 177 MA DAMM students failing to participate in this project. Students were enthusiastic and expressed the importance of working with a DAM system as part of their overall academic learning experience while also highlighting how the IntelligenceBank DAM software offered a positive user experience:

‘Having the opportunity to use a fully functioning DAM system is invaluable to students embarking on a career in media management. Putting into practice all that we had learned in theory was hugely satisfying and definitely gives us a leg-up on the career ladder. The My London DAM project was made easier by the IntelligenceBank software, which was intuitive and simple to use while offering more advanced features that enabled us to expand upon our knowledge of the discipline,’ Darren Lewis (MA DAMM student).

‘The My London project gave us a great opportunity to reinforce the knowledge we gained in our lectures and seminars in practice and to see how a DAM system works in the real world. I had a great experience using The IntelligenceBank DAM system, which allowed students to easily manage their digital assets. We were able to upload digital assets, add metadata and also edit our content and test its searchability,’ Indira Bektenova (MA DAMM student).

‘The My London project broadened my perspective on digital asset management by allowing me to interact with a real-world DAM system that was easy to use,’ Wenzhuo Lian (MA DAMM student).

Now that we have introduced DAM software in our MA DAMM programme, it is my intention to continue working closely with Theresa and Todd to further develop innovative, practice-based activities for our students.

To this end, Stuart Dunn, the current head of the Department of Digital Humanities, recently agreed to renew Theresa’s contract and so we are currently developing a range of exciting activities for students joining us in September for our 2020/21 academic year.

It is a very exciting time for the MA DAMM programme, and we are energised by the possibilities that working with IntelligenceBank presents to us.

I am extremely grateful to IntelligenceBank and in particular Todd Eckler for his willingness to get involved in the work Theresa and I are doing at King’s College and I hope that this unique partnership will continue to evolve over the coming months and years.

Brian Kavanagh, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London


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