Preparing students to tackle the digital frontier

Computer LabMany people use digital communication in their lives on a daily, if not hourly basis. But how many users can say they understand the technology beyond the clicks and posts to the social and economic dynamics that have created today’s social media?

Richard Sookraj, a 19-year old, second-year MIT student, wants to be able to harness the full potential of digital communications, from both the practical and theoretical sides. To help accomplish this, he has enrolled himself in a new option being offered in FIMS – the Certificate in Digital Communication program.  

“I feel that this would give me the ability to not just understand the impact of digital media on our world but actually create an impact of my own,” explains Sookraj.

“I am hoping to take away the ability to do something with media and not just criticize and analyze it. I also want the specialized knowledge that can be gained from the program. I want the ability to say that I understand digital communication far more than the average user.”

With electives in topics like social networking, digital image and web design, virtual worlds and data mining, students are able to tailor the program to their specific interests. This is a design characteristic that was intentional, says Keith Tomasek, lecturer for the class “Digital Communication – Social Media.”

“The program is quite flexible, so students can pick a path best suited to them,” he says. “Options include a skill set that would make them a strong candidate for an ‘online community manager’ job, but they could equally apply the digital communication and research skills they learn to a variety of fields including education, politics or business.”

While the program features the Certificate option for current undergraduate students, there is also a Diploma option intended for students with completed degrees. The opportunity is open to students across campus and in the professional world, not just those enrolled at FIMS.

Tomasek, whose own interest in the digital world was sparked by a grade-10 teacher who showed him how to program in Basic with punch cards, says the diversity in students is one of the program’s strengths.

“This program is open to students from all faculties and anyone with a BA. With students from such a variety of backgrounds, Health Sciences, Social Science, not to mention people from the workforce who are enrolled to sharpen their digital skills, the class discussions are very robust,” he explains.

Even though the Certificate invites a wide audience, the program’s Associate Dean feels that there couldn’t be a better Faculty for it to call home. Dr. Nick Dyer-Witheford explains that FIMS is a natural fit for this type of initiative.

“The Faculty of Information and Media Studies is exceptionally well-positioned to offer a Certificate and Diploma program in the area of Digital Communication,” he says. “Studies of the Internet and other digital media are central to the faculty’s remit. Numerous full-time faculty research, publish and teach on the topics of social media and virtual worlds. FIMS has scholars of national and international reputation in these fields.”

Tomasek says that one of the early challenges has been that applications to the program have far surpassed expectations for its first year. Because of this, they have had to make some adjustments to the administrative plans, and will continue to make adjustments to the program based on feedback they receive from the students. Dyer-Witheford notes that they would like to see the reach and appeal of the program continue to grow.

“Whether you aim to work as a historian or a molecular biologist, in engineering or health sciences, knowledge of, and competence in, social media and digital communication is important to you,” he says.

For Sookraj, already a FIMS student, the certificate is closer to home. But he looks forward to coming away with from his studies with not only a BA, but also a specialized skill set in a dynamic and relevant field.

“I believe that this program will give me skills not just for today but for the future,” he says.

Related links:
Keith Tomasek writes in the Huffington Post: "Theatre Reviews Need More Than a 'Like'".