Ball State develops Sports Immersion Program for students; moves to HD this summer

By Carolyn Braff

Ball State University’s new Sports Immersion Program relies on a hands-on approach to give students a well-rounded sports broadcasting education. With an on-campus production truck available to program participants, this program puts the students’ hands directly on the equipment the professionals use.

The Muncie, Ind., school owns the license to a local PBS station, so the University Teleplex has access to four digital broadcast streams and the SD production truck that serves the station. The 12 students enrolled in this fall’s inaugural semester of the Sports Immersion Program will not only have access to the truck, but be responsible for mastering its operation in order to provide sports-related content to the station.

“Through the PBS station and the University Teleplex, they’ll get all the technical support they need to go out and do live productions,” explains Bill Bryant, producer/director for the University Telexplex. The Teleplex is responsible for providing media-related services to Ball State faculty and staff, as well as television programming for the East Central Indiana PBS station. “That’s one of the reasons why we want to start some of these student programs, to help fill content for all of our digital needs for the PBS station.”

In addition to providing the PBS station and Ball State athletic department with programming for both television and the web, the students are responsible for creating remote live productions, taking advantage of the mobile capabilities of the 40-foot standard definition production truck.

The truck is currently equipped with a Thomson Grass Valley Zodiac switcher, Chyron duet, six-channel EVS, Soundcraft audioboard and six Ikegami cameras. This summer, however, the entire outfit will be retrofitted for HD, so those components could change by the time the 2008 school year rolls around.

“These kids will be operating on an actual remote truck,” says Rich Swingley, digital audio instructor at Ball State. “Where else can they get that at a university?”

Whether the productions are live to tape or live streams to the station, working on multiple platforms is a recurring theme of the immersion experience.

“We have a big push for cross-platform practicum,” explains Susan Smith, assistant professor of telecommunications. “It’s not just about TV or print; it’s about learning how to best tell a story on all different formats. We’re working on a cross-platform education with these students.”

The curriculum – which is still being finalized – will allow each instructor to teach to their strengths, and is flexible enough for new media courses to be added as needed, in addition to inviting industry guest speakers to make appearances between production shows.

“We are looking at teaching classes on how to create content for mobile,” explains Timothy Pollard, associate professor of telecommunications. “We really want to teach these students how to take one thing and repurpose it for multiple platforms.”

To maintain a focus on cross-platform promotion, students are expected to repackage the feature stories they create for local use at Ball State and send them to local news stations and web outlets in the home town of the featured player – on any platform the station may require.

The immersion program also includes a heavy focus on community involvement, as Pollard has brokered a unique partnership with the Indianapolis Public School system. Once the Ball State students are familiar with the production truck, they will team up with students from several magnet schools to teach the high school students to produce their own events.

“We see this as a way to tie in community involvement,” Pollard says. “We will show these students what Ball State is capable of doing, and that college is a great step to a future career in media.”