Managing Collegiate “Digital Treasures”

By Al McCord231 Comments

I was quoted extensively in the March 2012 issue of “University Business” magazine in the article, “Digital Treasures.” I have been involved in digital asset management since helping to establish the University of Michigan’s “Deep Blue” service prior to coming to Lawrence Tech in 2003.

As we worked on designing and implementing a digital asset management system at the University of Michigan, a couple of key differentiating factors emerged. First, most commercial digital asset management systems are conceptualized from a “top down” perspective, assuming that a central marketing department controls all of the enterprise’s digital assets. The marketing department is the “owner” of digital assets and provide permission to the “users” of the assets in a hierarchical fashion. Higher education uses a completely different model: each faculty member may be the “owner” of their own digital assets, and need to provide permission to other “users” of the assets, including the university. The university itself may own its own “branding assets” which are managed in a hierarchical fashion. This multi-owner environment makes it extremely difficult to manage the use of digital assets.

Another key differentiating factor is the way in which faculty use digital assets. As I related to the author of the article, ” “Most faculty members don’t manage digital assets in particularly complex ways. They may decide something is ‘useful’ or ‘not useful,’ but they’re not going through the whole tagging of metadata. From that perspective, digital asset management systems are overkill for how faculty typically use media.” There are several reasons for this. Tagging any content is very time-consuming and involves first identifying a tagging schema. Furthermore, multimedia content needs to be tagged internally: we need to know what is important at the two-minute marker in a video, while not caring what happens at the four-minute marker.

My closing argument to the author was that large-scale digital asset management systems are overkill for most institutions: “I would argue most campuses don’t capture lectures and re-purpose them. One department may use it more than another department. To have a centralized solution of it at this point doesn’t really align with the way departments do their work.” When a faculty member can quickly tag a YouTube video at its two-minute mark, retrieve a persistent URL from that point in the video, and integrate that persistent URL into a Blackboard class shell, they are able to do something “for free” that would cost the university hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) to provide.

The ability for faculty members to use digital media has come a long way in the past ten years, and most of us are only scratching the surface of the potential to use digital media to promote learning. I hope that more faculty members learn to integrate digital media into their on-ground and online courses to provide a richer learning environment for our students.


Dr. Alan McCord, Interim Dean

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