By: Madison Parker
University of Guelph-Humber Media Studies professor Nick Farnell, is one of the original professors involved in the creation of the fourth-year Media Studies course Emerge. He is a digital communications professor who oversees the design and development of the Emerge website. I sat down with Nick to find out about the digital and technological changes he has seen Emerge go through since it began in 2013.
Why was Emerge started?
NF: When it started, the original two thoughts and guiding principles were something that brings all streams together to one culminating project, and something that is really student-driven and is created and developed by the students. That means some changes and flexibility every year.
What were your initial thoughts on Emerge?
NF: I thought it was awesome. Those two ideas of bringing everyone together and something that is really student-driven was unlike anything I’ve ever taught. It was pretty exciting that way. It’s getting people out of their comfort zones, like this is my responsibility and this area here is what I have to do, but how does that interface with these other pieces to actually make it something that gets out there. I thought that was a really interesting piece because you can simulate that in some courses, but you can’t really get that without a big project like this.
And the second idea of it really being student-generated. It makes it a little more difficult to teach the course because it’s not like, “Here’s assignment one, it’s worth 15 per cent, it is due on this day.” That doesn’t exist in this class. [Students must be] able to still have everything completed by the end of it, but what are those projects going to be and what are those projects going to look like [is up to them].
What is the key to bringing the areas of emphasis together to collaborate for Emerge?
NF: Communication is always a really tricky thing. It originates in one area, and then so many people along the way need to be involved for it to actually be launched. Making sure that communication chain happens effectively, accurately and quickly – because we really only have four months – that is incredibly important and can have a lot of issues if it’s not done well.
From a DC point of view, what has been the most effective way of promoting Emerge?
NF: There’s always opportunities and there’s always challenges. As soon as it gets too easy to share your information on a website, [platforms] change their algorithms to how they show content. It used to be that everyone would see what you posted on your page, but now Facebook throttles your content and if you really want to reach people you have to pay now. So those kinds of things have become more restrictive, but if you’re putting out good content and you have an engaged audience, then it’s really not that much more difficult. It’s just understanding how to push out content in a way that your audience is going to consume it and want to see it.
Something we see every year is there is just so much noise. You’re competing for so much attention in people’s daily newsfeed. If a tweet is more than 15 minutes old, it probably isn’t going to be read. [What works is] making sure to put out good content and engaging content, or having a good product people are going to want to begin with – like having a conference people are going to want to come to, a magazine that people are going to want to read, and articles people are going to want to read. There’s a lot more noise but it still comes back to putting out good content to begin with.
How has Emerge changed over the years?
NF: Technology obviously changes and the way people consume web and social has changed. The web magazine for example; different ideas about how to design it, how to develop it, what it looks like in the back end, what technologies we’re using, and sort of building that idea of who the audience is, that’s changed over the years, absolutely. There’s been some new social channels that have come up and some that don’t have as big of an influence anymore. Like Vine. Where did Vine go?
We still have a centralized place for information, for the conference and for the web magazine. A central place where people go to for this content is still primarily web-focused, at least from the DC side.
What were you impressed with this year?
NF: The new kind of unexpected piece put together by the video team was the conference opener. I think they put a lot of good work into that and it was a bit of a passion project for them. It wasn’t a core requirement of what was needed for the conference, but it was something that really got people excited. It was interesting to watch and it was fun, and it was very well-produced technically and that was something that went above and beyond this year.