As a kid growing up in Missoula, Mark Shogren dreamed of making movies. But that was something you could only do in New York or Los Angeles, so as soon as he finished high school, Shogren left town to pursue his goal.
Now, Shogren is back in Missoula and the director of the School of Media Arts at the University of Montana, in an office with old horror and monster movie masks on the shelves, preparing to launch the university's first entirely online undergraduate degree. By offering it via the Internet, Shogren hopes the Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Digital Media will allow those isolated by geography and circumstance, as he once was, greater access to the knowledge and technology needed to make movies.
"We just [want] to reach out to a broader audience," Shogren says. "And I feel like we're in a great place to see that happen."
In addition to increasing opportunities for students, Shogren sees the online degree as a way to help the School of Media Arts thrive despite the university's shrinking budgets and stagnating enrollments. University Provost Perry Brown also sees the potential in what media arts is doing and anticipates online degrees being offered in other schools and departments.
"It certainly represents a way to increase enrollment," Brown says, "because you end up dealing with some students who are unlikely to be here on campus that become part of our total enrollment." The university can serve more students, Brown adds, "but not necessarily increase the pressure on housing or food service or whatever else."
While this decreasing pressure will reduce costs, there is some question about whether it will also reduce the economic and employment footprint of the university as it becomes less tied to its physical campus location. Shogren and Brown, however, think the opposite will happen.
"The impact will be on actually needing, potentially, to hire additional people to help with online demand, because the total population is growing," Brown says.
For now, Shogren and others on the media arts faculty are working hard to make sure they are ready for the new semester to begin on Aug. 25. But instead of making lesson plans and picking out textbooks, they are filming lectures, creating online discussion forums and waiting to see what happens when students log onto course websites instead of filing into their classrooms.