Technological advancements have dramatically reshaped the media landscape in recent years, making content creation more accessible to the masses. This includes younger populations, who have grown up shooting and uploading smart phone videos to social media platforms. As more K-12 students have become media savvy, interest in media production from younger generations is growing. Close to the trend, Knoxville Catholic High School Digital Media Director Guy Shelton spoke with us about the school’s media production program and methodology for preparing students for success post-graduation.
How did you get started in digital media?
My first live production experience was in high school. I was instantly drawn to the wires, and the equipment, and loved the challenge of figuring out how to get a signal from point a to point b, then to the viewer. Continuing that path at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), I studied video and film production, and volunteered on the university’s mobile production truck. After college, I freelanced, but quickly realized the demanding schedule wasn’t for me. A teaching opportunity came up at the high school I graduated from, so I applied and began building a program there. A few years later, I got a call from Knoxville, where I am today. They wanted to get a similar program off the ground, and I couldn’t refuse, so here I am.
Tell us more about the school’s digital media program.
We offer three courses, including an introduction to digital media and newscasting, and mobile production honors tracks. The goal of the program is for students to get a basic understanding of how production works. We also want them to know how to complete basic tasks such as white balancing a camera, adjusting the iris, executing tripod controls, and troubleshooting wiring issues. More importantly, we work on honing their interpersonal communication skills, and teaching them to show up and deliver on time. We teach up to 100 students per year,10 percent of whom continue to study broadcast, graphic design, video production or photography post-graduation.
What kinds of technology are your students using?
We try to use the most industry-standard gear we can – from cameras to conversion technology, routing, and switching. Most of it lives in a campus control room, which doubles as an office. The school theatre and gym are connected to the control room via fiber, while our newscast studio is right next door and linked via BNC. Our control room is largely made possible by AJA FiDO converters. They convert 3G-SDI camera feeds from the gym and theatre to fiber and back to 3G-SDI to be fed through an AJA KUMO 6464 router and our switcher before the footage is live streamed or archived.
KUMO 6464 is a great tool to expose our students to, and it’s been a huge time saver to boot. I no longer waste an hour wiring and rewiring the rack as we prep for each production. I just set up salvos using KUMO’s web-based UI and can get the various venue productions up and running with the click of a button, or switch between feeds as needed. The great thing about all our AJA gear is that it’s so intuitive and user friendly that once we teach students to get past the buttons and lights, they really start to dive in and realize how easy it can be.
Why do you like to use AJA gear?
I’ve worked with AJA gear for years in a freelance capacity and have always loved the experience, so my brand loyalty runs deep. FiDO is a great fit for what we do. Its indicator lights cue us into any connection issues, so if a student hasn’t plugged it in right, I know right away, and can tell whether it’s a fiber or BNC connector issue, right on the unit. Plus, I know they can take a beating, which is important when high schoolers are operating the device.
With KUMO, I love the fact that I get 64 inputs and 64 outputs with no loud fan noise, which is unique in this market. Even though we only currently have 46 sources and 44 destinations, we can easily expand that number in the future if we build another studio. We also love the converter rackmount. Rather than take up seven electrical outlets for seven converters, I house them in there, plug the rack in, and only have to use one outlet. Support is also outstanding. The one time I had to contact tech support, they were amazing. It beats having to dig through online support forums to solve a problem like you often have to do with other manufacturers.
How do you make equipment decisions?
I keep up to date with trending technologies because I know that in five years, we’ll need to be using them. Our students have a big say in any investments we make and are an integral part of the decision-making process. The program’s motto is “for students by students,” so they’re actively involved in researching kit, and we openly talk about the benefits and drawbacks of any technology we’re considering adding to the pipeline. For instance, a group of students wanted to implement backboard cameras in the gym, so we explored the options, weighed the costs and benefits, and then figured out how we could run their cabling down the rafters and to the FiDOs.
What is rewarding about your job?
I love it when a kid has that “ah ha” light bulb moment where they finally get it. Seeing them fit the pieces together is what makes my job so great. If a student can articulate what they want, advocate for themselves, and chase it, I see that as success, even if it’s unrelated to the broadcast field. It’s amazing to watch the effort these students put into these media projects every day. You can check out their latest broadcasts via IMN.KnoxvilleCatholic.com.