Dr. Eric Freedman joined the Knight School of Communication as its new dean in July.
In sharing the news with the Queens community, Provost Abiodun "G-P" Goke-Pariola said, "Thanks to his extensive experience in new media, digital literacy and community partnership development, Dr. Freedman is the ideal leader for the Knight School as it advances through the next chapter of its development."
Freedman joined Queens from Florida Atlantic University, where he was the assistant dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters and the associate director of its School of Communication and Multimedia Studies.
At FAU, he worked to launch several significant public-private partnerships, engaging local business and civic leaders with the educational mission of the university.
A published and nationally respected scholar, he has experience not only as a media artist, but also as an active public access producer engaged with community media practices.
Prior to joining FAU, Freedman was an assistant professor at Duke University where he served as the founding director of the Duke in Los Angeles Program. He earned his Ph.D. from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.
We spoke with him recently about his research, his acclimation to Charlotte and his vision for the Knight School.
As a media scholar, you've done quite a bit of research on the emergence of "technobiographic" practices associated with social media and the digital age. Will you tell us a little more about your work in this area?
When I use the term "technobiography" I am referring to the way our lives are written through technology. I am interested in how our technological dependencies may be driven by industry-how Apple, for example, humanizes its products, fostering personal attachments with new communication frameworks such as Siri. Or how Nike runners may see themselves as a data trail-the company's shoe-based biometric devices give them insight into their well-being. These deeply felt relationships we develop with technology are structured by private sector research.
In addition to your academic research, you're also a professional new media artist who's exhibited in venues from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami to the American Film Institute. What drives your creative passions?
My video projects experiment with the properties of narrative. I am fascinated by the processes of memory, and the impact of technological mediation on interpersonal relationships. At the same time, digital editing lends itself to an archival approach, and to intricately woven forms of storytelling. Though my projects are intensely personal, they are also critical explorations of the autobiographical impulse and the conventions of melodrama. Stylistically, I am inspired by the visual poetry of directors such as Michelangelo Antonioni-those film works where the images speak louder than the characters, and where the pleasure of a forward moving narrative is often withheld, forcing the viewer to pause and observe.
An important part of your job is to execute the Knight Grant initiative to increase our community's digital and media literacy. How will the Knight School approach that work?
Academic institutions should function as change agents in their communities. To understand how we can have the greatest impact, we will be administering a community survey this fall to establish baseline digital and media literacy levels across the city of Charlotte, and to get a bottom-up view of the city's media ecosystem.
This baseline survey is needed as a gauge for future measurement of the School's impact, and will allow us to see whether or not we are "moving the needle," creating a community with greater digital and media literacy; it will also allow us to understand the environmental obstacles to digital and media literacy-we need to know how well technology is distributed across our neighborhoods, and identify any lingering boundaries to entry. We can provide the training, but our media partners need to plug these holes in the infrastructure.
My interest in community engagement and public-private partnerships across industry, municipal agencies and the academy is naturally connected to the Knight Grant initiatives to increase digital and media literacy throughout the Charlotte area. Our grander goal is to act as a national model for how universities can shape their local media ecosystems.
We have several focused projects that we will be launching in the coming months, including a community-centered website dedicated to increasing digital and media literacy in Charlotte; the site will provide educational toolsets for the general public and highlight local technology-focused literacy efforts. And we will begin publishing a peer-reviewed journal to engage academics and community leaders in the national conversation about digital and media literacy.
We are taking a multi-faceted approach to digital and media literacy. Of course, we will also continue with our digital citizen training, equipping students and faculty across Queens to serve as community workshop leaders, furthering the reach of our digital and media literacy efforts.
Where do you see the Knight School five years from now?
We will be continuing the important work of preparing our students to work in the new media convergence environment, developing their professional skills so that they can fully exercise the civic responsibilities of journalists, media practitioners, media handlers, media theorists, and communication specialists.
In five years, I want the School to have fully engaged in building connections between the varied media, technology and communications industries that are driving and benefiting from applied innovation.
To this end, one of my goals is to leverage our location in Charlotte and partner with those private and public sectors that present the greatest entrepreneurial opportunities. These collaborations will strengthen our profile while helping us realize our academic goals, providing service-learning opportunities for our students, public-private cross-industry funding opportunities, and potential research associate connections for our faculty and staff.
I have already been inspired by the intellectual energy of this city's leaders, and in five years I see the Knight School being intimately woven into the fabric of the greater Charlotte community as a premier educational resource. And I see peer institutions turning to us to ask, "How did they do that?" In five years, we will be only too eager to show them the way.