Tips on taking a campus tour for radio, TV, film.

Tips on taking a campus tour for radio, TV, film.

(Last update: 3/09)

Any campus worth its salt offers tours for students and family members. They are great for providing an overview, a snapshot look at the total campus. It is quite similar to walking around a car you intend to buy.  But a campus tour will tell you very little about the true inner workings of the campus.   I propose that you get in the car and take a drive. I will show you how. Getting inside the car might take some effort on your part. If you are not allowed in the car, not allowed to look under the hood,  walk away.

Here are some recommendations, listed below, for you to consider.

External to classroom factors

  • City and state location might be a factor to consider.  Universities located in large or near large cities most always offer superior adjunct capabilities to the college experience and can enhance it.
    • A good diverse faculty is ideal on any campus.  Some campus locations might be in areas where discrimination is above levels acceptable to the minority faculty members.
      • “From my conversations with other non-white faculty, it is pretty discouraging to be in small mid-west towns or small towns, in general, because of the covert racism that goes on.  Most of these towns are white and very conservative, so it is not surprising that (discrimination) occur(s).  Most non-white faculty use these small towns as a jumping off point into larger more prestigious places as well as for the discriminatory practices.  I will be one of those.” (submitted to this blog by a faculty member in a small mid-west town).
  • City environment.
  • Crime rate.  Check with the local police department to see if they offer crime statistics.
  • Housing costs Most campuses have a housing office that can help you more quickly determine this. Are on campus dorms available? Is there a waiting list? Go to the dorm and ask to see a room. How many students to a dorm room? Off campus housing. Look at bulletin boards and talk to realtors. Drive the area and check out apartments. Find out about any down payments and leases.
  • Local food costs. If the student lives in a dorm, is there dorm food and is it available every day? Go to the dorm and ask about the food quality. At some private universities the student population can afford to go to restaurants. North Western University has a huge number of these in the local town, Evanston, Illinois.
  • Entertainment offerings.

Campus area.

  • Campus crime rate. Take special note of property theft, drugs/alcohol and rape.  Many states require this knowledge to be available to anyone who asks (at local campus or city police departments).  If a campus is unwilling to provide this information, you should be motivated to look further.  Also, ask who provides campus security?  Who has authority over that security force?  It should not be the campus administrators.
  • Local crime rate.  There are a number of college and universities that are inside city areas that one might consider unsafe.  Some police departments offer crime maps showing where the highest incidents of particular crime occur.  Ask if those maps exist and if you can look at them and if you do get that opportunity, try to look at a year’s worth of maps.
  • Parking This is very important for car commuter campuses. Are campus parking permits a lottery or is there enough parking available.
    • How much is on campus parking going to cost?
    • How available is off campus parking and what is the cost?
    • If you get a parking ticket, what happens? At one university the tow trucks follow the parking enforcement officer. Once the ticket is placed on the car the tow truck hooks up and tows the car away.
  • Book store The campus book store is often times a money maker for the campus. One university actually has a student co-op book store to save the student money, not a bad idea. Check out prices by picking some titles and then go on the internet to see how much money you can save. Off campus book stores stay in business because they offer better prices. Used books can be good money savers but make sure you get an edition of the text that the instructor requires. Did I tell you to keep a look out on the hall way bulletin boards? This is where outside book vendors will post their phone and address.

A good college book store will offer you educational prices for computers and software. Apple Computers will offer any student educational discount pricing at their super stores with a good college ID.  Check this out before you buy a new computer for your son or daughter.  Before buying a computer, ask which operating system is favorable to our child’s’ study.  Macintosh computers typically but not necessarily used for the arts.  Windows machines might be a better choice for engineers and business majors but this knife cutting is getting blurred so check with the college you are accepted.

  • Library Take a tour of the library but do so critically.  There should be floors full stack of books.  Walk the stacks.  Does the collection look old and out of date?  Some universities have colleges that posses separate libraries attuned for their discipline such as law, business, engineering and science.  If you are entering a master’s program or going for a doctorate degree you might want access to a superb library for your research.  Are your needs being met on campus or do you need to travel for the necessary books and documents.  More and more library information is being put on line.  Does the library offer enough computers to conduct searches and research?  Behind any good on line library is the necessity to have a good information technology department.  The internet pipe line connecting the campus must be sufficient in speed and capacity for multiple users.  Ask students you see on campus their impression of the library and the internet service on campus.  If there are on campus dorms, are they serviced with free internet with sufficient capacity?  Go to the dorms and find out.
    • What is the total library collection worth?
    • Journals and newsletters total?
    • Determine the total number of Books and compare that number to other institutions.  This should easily be done using the web.
    • Look for a list of reference services.  Is it extensive?
    • Find out the hours opened in a weeks time.
    • What is the policy allowing faculty and administrators to check out books?  A lot of books might be missing from the stacks if the policy is too liberal.  Some faculty think it is their right to keep books for as long as they see a need.

You have to do research right? Well if the college library is deficient, what do you do? Some campus libraries have reciprocity agreements. Some libraries even have shuttle services to and from other libraries. This works if you are close to a large city.

Campus overall

  • Campus Map Take a good close look at the campus map. Is everything laid out well? Typically police and plant operations will be located along the perimeter of the campus in some out of the way spot.

Does one college posses most of the land? Agricultural schools do require a lot of land but does this suck up most of the resources? Does any one academic department hold most of the campus acreage? Try to find out if this is cronyism or some good explanation is given. Remember that space and money are most important and often go hand in hand.

  • Grounds Is the campus a nice place to walk around? Are the plants and grass well taken care of? Do you get a good feeling walking the campus? The student will be spending 4 or more years trekking this area of Earth.
  • Buildings Do the buildings show good paint or is it pealing. Poorly maintained campus buildings means deferred maintenance is possibly taking place. Find out why.

Are the stair wells clean or are there dust balls along the edges of the stairs.

Are all the elevators working?

  • Pathways Look for wide walk ways. Look for any rises in the concrete that are not attended to and might cause tripping hazards.
  • Parking Put simply, there should be plenty. Good entrance and egress routes should be available.
  • Lighting Try to go on campus at night. Look to see of the buildings and walk ways are properly lit.
  • Athletic fields Athletic fields take up a lot of campus real estate. Look at the fields, stadium, and any fencing, gates, tracks, courts, etc. Do they look well maintained? If not why?

Department and classroom. Evaluate the overall program (this will be most difficult task)

  • How expansive are the class offerings? Consult the course catalog. But be aware that some courses might be in the catalog but seldom offered. One state university cut out film production and TV from its curriculum and decided to concentrate on live stage performance. They are very good at providing this focused education but to the unsuspected student thinking that TV and film acting would be a part of any drama curriculum, well it is, but looked down upon by the department and limited.
  • What specialized labs are offered and what requirements are necessary for their use.

Video control room should be configured as a teaching sized room. With a control room crew of X number of students, multiply as follows: X times 100 square feet. That might sound like a lot but we are only offering a 10 foot by 10 foot space per individual and adding furniture and equipment into the same space. For the example below, the control room would hold 10 students and 1 instructor making 11 total (the X factor) individuals. Multiply 11 times 100 square feet and the control room should be roughly 1100 square feet in size. The equipment racks will eat up a lot of this pace. A class of 20 students necessitates the following individual crew rotation positions for a rotation class exercise:

  • Director*
  • Assistant Director (AD)*
  • Technical Director (TD)*
  • Audio*
  • Audio 2*
  • Character Generator Operator, (CG)*
  • CG 2*
  • Teleprompter*
  • Video Tape Recorder (VTR) operator , or computer roll in operator.*
  • Video Tape Recorder operator 2.*
  • Video*
  • Camera Operator 1**
  • Camera Operator 2**
  • Camera Operator 3**
  • Floor Manager**
  • Lighting**
  • Talent 1**
  • Talent 2**

* indicates control room position.
** indicates studio position

From the list above you can count 18 students have a job and 2 are standing around. If a facility cuts back on any one of these positions listed above, more students stand around doing nothing.
Watch out for the cable TV control room concept. The cable TV concept is for just a couple of people to do everything. This type of control room would only work for a class size of 5. The equipment is typically inferior, not broadcast quality and really does little to teach the student much except to be proficient on one or two equipment pieces that are not found many places.
The video control room must have computer flooring. The computer flooring is best if it forms a plenum and cool air is pushed into the floor. Where the racks are positioned, cool air and wiring will run up into the racks. If you do not see computer flooring, keep this in the back of your mind as a possible empirical indicator of hidden problem(s), lack of money or understanding.

The video control room must have adequate cooling. If you step into a control room and it seems hot to you then this should also be an empirical indicator that things are not running smooth. Running a control room cool is preferred for the equipment survival. It is best if the cooling is totally local and not from a central plant. Some large educational institutions incorporate managed environmental control where they have a large reservoir of heat and cold, huge water tanks. The problem is the range for the temperature control is set for the whole university and receiving more cool air flow locally, for special purpose, is difficult to impossible.

Video studio The larger the studio, the better. The more studios there are, even better yet. Here are some factors to look for:

  • High ceiling, no less than 14 feet for 8ft flats. This figure depends upon scenery height. Take scenery flat height and add no less than 3 feet to that figure. Lighting instruments will hang down from a lighting grid, on average, 3 feet but the lighting grid must also hang below the ceiling by no less than 3 feet so the lighting person can work above the light clamp if needed and sight the instrument.
  • High lighting grid height. No less than 11 feet from the floor, higher still is best.
  • Floor must not be carpet but smooth and not have any floor outlets, bumps of any kind. The reason for this is the studio cameras must be able to go anywhere, wall to wall with no problem.
  • The studio must not have any pillars, any permanent obstructions, and major protrusions, but must be unobstructed from wall to wall.
  • No permanent pipes, ducts, of any sort except the lighting grid and AC power outlets should be seen along the studio ceiling. All air conditioning must penetrate into the studio from the perimeter as flush mounted openings along the wall. Water pipes, sewer pipes, air conditioning ducts cause noise and impede the setting of lights.
  • If you see any floor lights being used ask why. One university had its ceiling lighting grid so high that no one could get to the lights to adjust them. As a result, floor, roll around lighting instruments were used.
  • Motorized lighting grids are a requirement if the studio ceiling can not be reached safely by ladder.

We do not like to send students up more than an 8 foot ladder. We even install a suspended lighting pipe so students that might be afraid to climb a ladder can understand how to clamp a light, pan, tilt, focus and barn door the instrument.

Linear edit bays These should have been phased out. An argument can be made for their use as some small market stations might still use these but walk away if this is all they have and no non-linear editing is offered. One can argue that learning this method is quite pointless.
Computer Instruction classroom
You want to see non linear editing, either Final Cut Pro, Premier or Avid. You want to see no less than one 20 station classroom all with the same software installed. You want to see large hard drives and an external VTR, typically a digital deck for each station. All edit stations should work completely with external hard drives and VTR decks.
Non linear edit bays
Both audio and video editing requires individual edit bays. Ideally 20 of these rooms should be available with computer, external hard drive, DV deck (with VU metering), video monitor with audio capability, microphone, microphone shock mount, microphone stand and pop filter If an institution fails to have provided these rooms then they have failed to complete the formula for providing a successful and meaningful experience.
Collaboration editing
Another part of the whole educational pie is the experience of having a number of individual students working on a single project. To my knowledge Final Cut Pro and Premier are not capable of collaborative editing. For video Avid does offer this. For web design, Dreamweaver, Contribute is made for this type of work.

  • Video: magazine and news.
  • Web: large site creation.

North Western University has placed Avid collaborative news editing edit stations around the back and sides of its news studio all connected to a server, a rather clever idea.
How much equipment is available in lab and for checkout?
What you want to determine here is to what extent do projects entail group efforts? Is each student getting their hands on the equipment?  Group projects often times fail to deliver full on hands experience unless there is a good rotation rule.
How large is the check out room? If it is small then this too is a factor to add to your list of secret empirical indicators. A small checkout room means that the department program has limited its ability to expand, a definite management mistake. This might mean to you that an administrator somewhere, that has power over this program, does not know what he or she is doing.
Are any production rooms off limits or have restrictions. Make sure you know what the restrictions are. At one university they give tours touting a TV studio complex but the space is actually for the university president. Academic classes have been thrown out when they conflict with the president’s schedule.
The faculty element is by far the most important factor.
Rating faculty is probably the most difficult and even more difficult for anyone visiting a campus for only part of a day. I will recommend the shotgun approach as you need as much information coming to you about this:

  • Talk to the department chairperson. You will get the party line but you do want to let this person know that you are not the typical lemming but someone who does care. You just might find out information you were not privy to in any of the literature they blizzard you with. Determine how many full time tenure faculty and how many part time faculty there are. Ask about each faculty members qualifications. If grad students instructs a class, there is a good chance they are one step or two in front of the class.
  • Talk to students. Do not find students near the dean, department chair or faculty offices. The reason for this is groupies, students that bought the party line might hang out there. Go to the location of the lab classrooms and try to find students that are enrolled in the department you are interested in. Go to checkout room and make inquiries there. You want to know about classes and faculty. Ask about problems. What strengths does the department have?  Is the instruction out of date?
  • Talk to staff. This is a crap shoot. Typically you will ge the party line or will be asked to make an appointment with the department chair person. If you do not get a candid response this too should be treated as an empirical indicator that there might be something going on or your dealing with a dunce. Staff should know about equipment availability and lab class running smoothly or not. They even might reveal insights about faculty expertise and ability to teach. A real important question to ask is who instructs or gives advice for projects when the faculty are not around? If you get the answer that the staff do, you should find out how good those people are. TA’s or teaching assistants might fill in for instructing when the faculty are not around. Grad students can frequently be terrific for providing individual help.

Go to the web sites that rate faculty: Good reviews but it can take years for new faculty member to become reviewed.

Please note that faculty rating web sites can be quite unfair at times. I noticed that some reviews still exist today on one web site for a particular faculty member giving that person a poor rating. The reason for this was the faculty member listed on the web site was actually a staff member filling in while the faculty member of record was either inadequate at teaching or not around enough to help students. The student evaluation was “poor attitude”. At the staff meetings the reoccurring gripe was that staff was going the actual teaching.

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