The Digital Aquarium Decade

ATLANTA—When Akeem Mason wants to record music from his electric guitar, the senior graphic design major only has to head to the audio suite in the Digital Aquarium.

The open access multimedia computer lab, which has been operating at GSU for 10 years now, enables students like Mason to use high end workstations to develop music, movies, interactive media, websites and virtual worlds. The lab, which was the first of its kind in higher education in the Southeast, has now had more than 200,000 student visits.

Akeem Mason lays down some tracks in the Digital Aquarium audio suite.

“A lot of things that you can get here you normally have to pay a lot of money to attain,” said Mason, a student assistant lead in the Digital Aquarium. “People are expecting us to have the latest knowledge of the newest software and to be able to have a lab where we can use that software for free is really convenient.”

Akeem Mason lays down some tracks in the Digital Aquarium audio suite.
The Digital Aquarium was originally the brainchild of Julian Allen, GSU’s professional services director in Information Systems and Technology (IS&T). Through funding from the university’s student technology fee and Student Center fees, Allen was able to find housing for the lab and hire management for what would become a joint venture between IS&T, the Student Center and the Student Government Association.

“The Digital Aquarium has been a fantastic success from day one,” Allen said. “Our original goal was to provide students of any academic background access to the latest in multimedia development tools. We’ve far exceeded this goal and have witnessed the creation of a community of students passionate about the digital arts.”

Nureen Bhimani, a junior graphic design major, has been using the lab this semester to design a logo for an assignment in her Graphic Design 3000 course. And Lauren Crockett, a freshman in the Emerging Leaders Freshmen Learning Community, recently stopped by to pick up a flip camera to make a campus tour for a GSU 1010 assignment.

“It’s great that instead of just having lectures, they’re giving us the ability to be hands on with our school work and to use any of the technology the Digital Aquarium offers,” Crockett said.

Nathan Reetz, who manages many of the multimedia labs on campus, said the Digital Aquarium has grown dramatically over the past 10 years. In addition to providing multimedia production tools, the Aquarium developed many different types of training workshops to teach students, staff and faculty how to use cameras, editing software and graphic tablets.

“The equipment check-out program has probably grown the most over the past 10 years,” Reetz said. “The Digital Aquarium currently manages over 1,000 items, including laptops for the Honors program, iPads for the FLC program and video cameras for several departments on campus.”

Richard Heller, executive director of the Student University Center, worked with IS&T to develop the Digital Aquarium and to configure space in the Student Center to house the lab.

“Ten years ago when we conceived of creating a computer lab in the Student Center, we didn’t want the standard lab with rows of computers,” Heller said. “We wanted something unique and fun for students. The layout of the Aquarium environment and exhibit screens proudly displayed outstanding student works.”

“You have to remember, what was cutting edge at the time is now much more commonplace. The Digital Aquarium was truly a one-of-a-kind unique creation.”

IS&T’s CIO J.L. Albert has been impressed with how the aquarium has progressed and been a conduit for collaboration in the campus community.

“When I began my role as CIO at Georgia State a few years back, I was so excited to see that we were already so invested in improving the availability of technology for students. The Digital Aquarium is a perfect example of what can happen when students, faculty and administrators work together to improve the student experience.”

The most popular resources at the Digital Aquarium are the 26 high-end Apple workstations that students can use in the lab, Reetz said. The university has remained committed to providing students cutting edge equipment and recently installed new Apple iMacs in the lab in August.

The most popular free check-out items with students are the HDV video cameras, SLR photo cameras, lighting kits and video projectors.

“Our goal going forward for the lab is to provide increased support for check-out equipment five days a week,” Reetz said. “We are also working to train our staff on supporting mobile devices, such as laptops, iPads, Andriods and iPhones.”

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Digital Aquarium, IS&T has been working to increase awareness of the lab by hosting open houses and educating students on how the student fees they pay will benefit them both in their classes and on adding multimedia abilities to their resumes.

“With videos and animated slide shows becoming more expected for classwork, it’s more important than ever for students to have a place they can go to not only access these tools and resources, but it is also important that students have a place they can go to get help and ask questions,” Reetz said. “It’s the goal of the Digital Aquarium Support Team to help students with the multimedia production tools and software, so that the students can focus on the content, the art and the coursework.”

Sept. 10, 2012