Educational Technology Research in Higher Education: New Considerations and Evolving Goals

Exemplar: Preparing Students for Industry Work with Advanced Technologies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Disclosure: University of Nebraska–Lincoln is an HP customer and has received loaned and/or donated equipment from HP.

At the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), Megan Elliott is the founding director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts (CEMA), which "teaches students to tell stories and create worlds across disciplines old, new and those still being discovered. Through filmmaking, interactive media, virtual reality, experience design, sonic arts, wearable technologies, AI, and more, our students grow into creative leaders for an evolving world, graduating with the skills they need to tell the stories that matter to them." Elliott, along with Dan Novy and Robert Twomey, assistant professors of emerging media arts, recently shared some of the ways the center helps UNL students get prepared to head out into the workforce with useful skills in emerging technologies.

One project involved hosting a one-day AI film-making hackathon led by Professor Ash Eliza Smith and Twomey. No experience was necessary to participate in this event. Students were able to attend some workshops leading up to the event to learn and test the various text-to-image, audio-generative, and script-writing generative AI tools they would use to create their one- to three-minute films. The event was a success and helped students explore the power and limitations of the various AI tools they used for the event. Other students at UNL have used generative AI to help with script writing, even for real-time interaction during a radio show.

Twomey leads a project called A Machine for Living In, which has been documenting how people inhabit spaces and how our behaviors in those spaces can be captured, analyzed, and turned into data that can train generative models to predict behaviors in other spaces. The researchers in Twomey's Machine Cohabitation Laboratory use real-time, multimodal sensor data along with near-real-time machine perception systems that match text-to-speech with object detection and other systems to accomplish this nearly futuristic task.

Overall, these projects and technologies are integrated with learning the other skills and capabilities that come with any arts program, but the combination helps prepare them for the ever-evolving digital landscape of the industry. In order to be up to speed with artistic capabilities, CEMA leaders want students to possess a strong understanding of story structure and how it can be enhanced by technology. The faculty at CEMA are aware that technology is constantly evolving, and being open-minded and willing to experiment with and embrace new tools and techniques is essential for success.

Novy and Twomey highlighted the importance of destigmatizing the technology they are exposing their students to. When they talk to students about software such as AI, Novy and Twomey very often they hear students worry "I'm not a programmer." The instructors are trying to turn it around to motivate students so that they see themselves as users who should be exploring these tools, especially as they become more user-friendly. Novy and Twomey try to keep dialogue going with students as they work with these new technologies, figuring out together what works and what doesn't. They also report that students are ambitious and fueled by doing something that feels new and cutting-edge, all while getting to see the ugly side of their instructors trying to figure things out right next to students. All this means that the students will be ready to jump in very quickly when they graduate and make the move to working in industry.