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Predicting the future

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By Tara Deschamps

Years ago, photographers could purchase a camera and keep it for 15 years, pulling it out to take photos whenever an opportunity arose. But according to Ryerson photography professor Vid Ingelevics, nowadays, even a six-year-old digital camera is only useful as one thing – a doorstop.

“Cameras were something that you held onto for 10 to 15 years at a time,” he says. “Something like a view camera, for example, you might use for your whole life, so the longevity of camera equipment was something quite different than it is today.” Ingelevics says the constant evolution of cameras is just one sign of how fast technology is changing and how the race to keep up is challenging universities like never before.

State-of-the-art equipment and innovation is rarely free, but the cost of falling behind with the latest equipment is making technology purchasing at the university a game of risk versus reward – especially in programs like photography and film, but also for administrators trying to keep the campus itself technologically modern for its students.

A recent three per cent, university wide budget cut and pressure to reduce spending are putting technologic equipment on the chopping block, as Ryerson decides what purchases are immediately necessary and which can be delayed.

Ingelevics says it’s these conditions that constantly have his department attempting to be wise about spending.

A recent wish list the department reviewed was comprised of items like computers, printers, Blu-ray burners, camera lenses and studio lighting.

But Ingelevics says, “My suspicion is that you never get all that you ask for.” Instead, he says what you don’t get, you make do without or learn to work in a different way.

“I don’t think we’re doing colour

[darkroom] printing right now, because the problem with the older colour processing technology is that it doesn’t get used often and it kind of goes bad, so it’s not economically feasible to keep the machine on without it being used,” he explains.

Though colour darkroom printing has been a technological casualty at Ryerson thanks to its expensive price tag, Ingelevics says the department hasn’t closed its darkrooms.

It’s still buying drying cabinets for negatives, print washers and various chemicals used to process images though at a slower pace than it would have years ago when digital photography was still relatively new.

In fact, he says the decision not to move the program in a completely digital direction is offering students rare opportunities in facilities that other universities have slashed.

“About five years ago everybody was getting rid of their darkrooms and there are schools of media arts across the country that no longer have analog darkrooms,” he says.

“And sometimes, I think, they are really regretting that they did that.” Enabling students to spend time working with older film mediums, Ingelevics says, has taught many of them to blend technologies and delve into industries that were once unheard of for photographers.

Mary Anderson, a third-year photography student says she likes that aspect of the program.

“There’s always going to be film.

There’s a tendency for us to go back to the foundations,” she says. “If you want to do digital media, go to Seneca.” Now, it’s common to see a photography student working with video or audio while learning about design and cross-platform media.

“What we would like to produce in this program are students fully capable of working across all these media, and those are transferrable skills,” he says. “When you get out

[of university] you don’t have to be working as a photographer. You might end up working in video editing, as a photo editor, at a magazine or helping with archiving or cataloguing images or films.” But as a student’s capabilities expand so must the school’s technology, which is why the department has been looking into purchasing audio recorders and a rig to turn digital cameras into cinematic ones.

And photography isn’t the only department finding various industries and their technology bleeding into one another.

According to Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) Dean Gerd Hauck, students and industries are becoming more technically savvy, causing FCAD to rethink how it structures programs.

Last week, the school announced plans to introduce a sports media program. The program would teach students about digital production and sports reporting and business, combining skills currently being taught in the radio and television arts (RTA), journalism and business programs.

“There’s not a single program in the nine schools of FCAD that haven’t come under significant review in response to this digital revolution that we are living through,” Hauck says.

With new areas of interest and technology emerging, the university plans to welcome creative industries, biomedical science and professional communication programs next year.

And Hauck hints that these aren’t the only revamped or new areas of study headed our way. He declined to identify one FCAD program, which he says is at a “pre-emptive stage” of restructuring because of its industry’s technical innovations.

“I had a long meeting with the folks in one of our schools to talk about a complete curriculum revision that is based on the likelihood, the possibility, the projection of how that particular industry will be changing over the next five years,” he says. “You can’t take a more long-term view than that.” Academic programs aren’t alone in making educated predictions about the future in hopes of putting Ryerson ahead of the technologic curve.

Ryerson’s computing and communication services (CCS) department, which oversees universitywide systems like Blackboard, GMail and RAMSS, has been planning its technology decisions with the future in mind for years, says Director Brian Lesser.

The department keeps seeking funding to improve its systems, make servers quicker and increase storage for the thousands at Ryerson who depend on technology to communicate, enroll in courses and access information.

With more and more students and staff using computer labs, cell phones and other wireless devices for these activities, he says CCS is constantly predicting it will need to add more Internet access points.

Lesser says, “students who experience slow download speeds sometimes blame our Internet capacity, but the problem is usually too many people on one wireless access point.” Last year alone, the university installed hundreds of access points in high-traffic areas like Kerr Hall, the library building and the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre. This summer, it will tackle Jorgenson Hall, the Podium building and more areas of Kerr Hall.

The date when new access points will be added to buildings like the  Rogers Communications Centre, the student campus centre and Eric Palin Hall is yet to be determined.

By the time classes recommence in fall, Lesser hopes the university will be operating 1,595 access points, up from the 1,063 that were available in March 2012.

“We now have a 2.6-gigabyte capacity to the public Internet,” he says. “Right now Ryerson’s usage is well under that amount and we monitor usage so we can provision more capacity in advance, when needed.” Part of the reason why capacity is boosted is because students are increasingly using mobile phones, but cell phone usage also entails optimization for university webpages and applications. Again, optimization comes with a hefty bill.

“In the beginning the only way to create well performing applications was to write software for each platform.

That usually meant writing software for the web, for Apple’s iOS, and for Android devices,” Lessar says. “That’s driven up the cost of providing similar experiences on the desktop and mobile.” But not every technology price tag is astronomical. Hauck says as technology ages, it sometimes becomes cheaper.

“A high-definition television that cost $15,000 a few years ago now costs $3,000 so we’re benefitting from the costs of some of the new technologies,” he says.

But that isn’t always so beneficial, according to third-year urban planning student Reva White.

“We’re being taught technologies that are changing – that’s a problem,” she says.

Ryerson’s reputation also helps to keep some costs down.

“Usually we get good discounts from companies,” says Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science Dean (FEAS) Mohamed Lachemi.

“We work with our industry partners to make sure that we get these from them but also so that our students are using the technologies for when they go to work.” Lachemi, who was recently appointed as the university’s provost and vice-president academic, says FEAS regularly applies for grants from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to cover costs. The university also receives help from funding agencies, researchers and donors.

For example, last November, commercial printing company Esko donated software and hardware to the university’s graphic communication management program. A few years ago fashion magnate Harry Rosen gave the school $1 million, some of which funded a multi-media system and a ceiling-mounted camera that can record lectures to be broadcast over the Internet.

And according to Ingelevics, last year the image arts department was a recipient of expensive Kino flow studio lighting that came from a donor eager to help the school fill a funding void.

While state-of-the-art technology or lighting may be easy to see for students working on photoshoots, some technical changes Ryerson is investing in aren’t always flashy and obvious.

Lachemi says a big chunk of the cash being allocated for technology goes towards renewing licenses.

He says every year FEAS spends more than $100,00 on MATLAB

– a mathematical tool that enables students to work with programming languages like JavaScript to develop algorithms and applications.

And that’s just one of the computer programs being used. Other FEAS students use computer-aided design systems to render and make plans, sometimes before spending hours in a lab constructing prototypes.

In the Faculty of Communication and Design, journalism students assemble newscasts using the iNews network, graphic communication students explore typography and the use of colour through the Adobe Creative Suite programs, and interior design students outline structural plans with the touch of a button.

Nowadays, it’s hard to visit Ryerson without seeing students filming on street corners, taking photographs in the quad or scurrying along Gould Street, toting heavy equipment. The digital revolution is making its mark and if you ask Hauck he’ll tell you, Ryerson is stepping up to the challenge.

“We do what we can with our limited resources and I think we are doing a pretty darn good job at it,” he says.

And Ingelevics agrees.

“They’re not buying really expensive digital backs for large format cameras because that’s a $30,000 to $40,000 item…. What they’re doing instead is spreading the money out and buying things like a few more less expensive DSLRs,” he says. “It’s an exciting but also expensive time.”

With files from Simone Blais

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