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Meera Komarraju: SIU’s liberal arts programs innovate during the pandemic
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Column | On Campus

Meera Komarraju: SIU’s liberal arts programs innovate during the pandemic

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At the School of Music, one thing is clear: The show must go on.

In this year of pandemic, SIU's School of Music has shifted its traditional concert experience from Shryock Auditorium to your living room.

This past semester, all concerts, recitals, and student convocations were livestreamed on YouTube and other digital platforms. The man behind capturing these performances is Gary Griffith, staff recording engineer who has overseen numerous recording sessions and countless livestreamed performances. He also oversaw the development of a low-latency Dante network that allows real-time collaboration between faculty and students while being in different rooms of Altgeld Hall.

“It has been inspiring to see our talented faculty create virtual learning experiences with these tools,” Griffith said. “Far from a quick fix, these technologies will only serve to enhance the creative experience for both faculty and students going forward."

You can catch all of the School of Music performances on its YouTube page, including “Mexicali Nose" performed by the SIU Studio Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Richard Kelley.

With trends moving in the right direction, the School of Music remains committed to preparing students for our new digital reality. The simple truth is that a 21st-century musician needs to be a performer, audio engineer and director. Not only do they need to sound like a professional musician, they must be able to edit and produce videos that look professional.

Christopher Butler, winner of a competitive teaching innovation grant, is providing more instruction in these areas through the development of a new course: Music Video Production. In the course, students develop a practical knowledge of hardware and software to capture their own performances and learn how to build their online presence.

Likewise, in English, creative writing director Pinkney Benedict is moving swiftly into “born-digital” narratives — works created for the digital realm but without a conventional intermediary “on-paper” incarnation. These forms include podcasts — the audio magazine Earworm Labs will begin publishing this year — as well as 360-degree immersive videos, virtual-reality storytelling, augmented and mixed reality experiences, and game design.

In the Digital Humanities Lab, Benedict notes, “Fiction writers at SIU are training in the great established traditions of storytelling, undergirded by these amazing new technologies for creation, production and instantaneous global distribution.”

In classics, Mont Allen is leading a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded program to create an interdisciplinary minor in Ancient Practices, exploring how ancient civilizations both made and did things. How did the Romans make catapults or invent concrete that sets underwater? How did the ancient Greeks invent the analog computer and modern city planning? How did the Egyptians build the pyramids? How did the Vikings navigate frigid oceans in small vessels without maps?

The Ancient Practices program offers students the chance to explore — and answer — such questions, while providing them with a transcriptable qualification that will enhance their degrees — whether in science, engineering or in any of the university’s colleges.

These are cutting-edge programs for our region. SIU’s innovative teachers, technicians and students are collaborating in creating the classroom of the future.

Meera Komarraju is the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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