At the Crossroads of Publishing and Technology

Student Success Story

Christian Botting

Master of Liberal Arts, Digital Media Design Degree '14

In the following Q&A, Botting discusses how gaining skills in digital media has helped his publishing career. And he shares what it was like to bring Hamlet to life using kinetic typography.

As a senior acquisitions editor in the sciences at Pearson Education, Christian Botting works at the intersection of publishing, digital media, education, science, art, and business.

“It’s a fast-moving and rapidly evolving space,”​ he says. “​At the end of the day, I feel I am part of an important mission, helping build tools for science students and educators.​”​

These days, strong digital skills are highly valued in publishing. Through his graduate studies in digital media design, Botting developed and honed these skills—and even brought Hamlet to life in a new way using kinetic typography.

What inspired you to pursue the graduate degree in digital media at Harvard Extension School?

I developed an interest in Flash animation close to 10 years ago. I wanted to learn how to make the sort of Flash animations I was seeing online, whether for education or entertainment. My, how the world of web technology has changed since then!

At the time, I was working with authors of Java Applets, and was generally gaining increased literacy with web technologies. ​But once I had my first multimedia course under my belt, I was hooked—both to learning the tools of digital media and to the Harvard Extension program.

With each semester, I dove in a bit deeper into various digital media tools and techniques: from video field production and editing; to 2-D animation and 3D animation; to Javascript, CSS, and web design; to Java, GIS, and digital photography. Somewhere in the middle of this coursework, I realized that digital media arts was perfect for my interests, and I formally applied to the program.

​This coursework has helped me become a stronger developer of digital and print media. It has helped me become a more agile and creative problem solver.​

What does a typical day look like for you at Pearson Education?​

​Typical day? Ha! I am involved in so many initiatives and types of projects, at various depths and temporal scales. On any given day I may be working with my authors and editorial teams to develop new projects, or collaborating with media producers and developers on any variety of technology projects, or reading reviews, crunching data, and doing research, or giving presentations in person or over the web, or walking the halls of a college campus.

Which skills did you hone while you were at the Extension School? How have you applied these skills in your career?

​This coursework has helped me become a stronger developer of digital and print media. It has helped me become a more agile and creative problem solver. As I work to build the teaching and learning tools of twenty-first century teachers and learners, the skills and knowledge from my Harvard coursework are invaluable.

Did you take any classes online or only in person?

I did participate in both hybrid [courses that combine online and on-campus components] and fully online classes. On one hand, the flexibility ​of online classes was quite helpful—especially given my work travel schedule. On the other hand, I sometimes found I craved more in-person interactions. In an online-only course, you can miss that traditional classroom experience and the synchronous interactions with instructors and students. And I find I always learn a lot from other students—the unique perspectives, skills, and questions they bring to any given class.

While you were at the Extension School, what was your favorite course and who was your favorite instructor?

​I valued different courses and instructors for different reasons. No two are alike! So I am not sure I can select just one.

That said, one of my favorite classes was 2D Animation for Artists with Christine Dehne. Christine’s class really opened my eyes to how diverse digital tools empower creative expression and storytelling—even for people like myself who do not have a deep background in visual or studio arts or technology. The class also helped plant the seed of my eventual thesis project. 

For your thesis project, you used kinetic typography—animated hypertext synched with audio—to bring Hamlet to life in a new way. What inspired this project?

My undergraduate studies focused on English and French literature, creative writing, and journalism. And I have been drawn to Hamlet for over 25 years now. Hamlet has made an enormous contribution to world literature and to the English language, and it has made a lasting impact on me. It quickly became the perfect source material for my thesis project.

Just having the opportunity to work one-on-one with Dr.  Bahktiar Mikhak to develop a unique project that drew on so much coursework and skills … it was a very stimulating and rewarding experience.

When I researched the field of kinetic typography, I did not find many instances of the technique being used to present content from Shakespeare. The technique is a promising and incredibly extensible way to present classic works of literature to a modern audience, especially when synched with audio and engaging graphics.

What was the thesis experience like for you?

Just having the opportunity to work one-on-one with Dr.  Bahktiar Mikhak to develop a unique project that drew on so much coursework and skills … it was a very stimulating and rewarding experience, filled with lots of design experiments and research. 

An original core focus of my thesis was random language generation. However, the results of my early experiments with software were less than satisfying. But early on, Dr. Mikhak drew my attention to the field of kinetic typography. And this opened up an entirely new trajectory for my thesis project.

In reality, there is so much more that can be done. I feel as though my thesis only scratches the surface of what is possible with interactive kinetic typography mashed together with audio and graphics.

Can you tell me about a particular obstacle during your time at the Extension School and how you managed to work through it?

Oh, I faced many challenges! For whatever reason, Java for Distributed Computing was a particular challenge for me, where I really had to buckle down and leverage additional study material to get a handle on the Java and object-oriented programming course concepts. And certain challenging times in and outside of work made some semesters harder than others, where I had to really focus and be ruthless with time management to (barely) keep pace with my coursework. ​

Where do you see yourself in five years?

The world will be a different place five years from now. If I had to guess, I would still be working at the intersection of publishing, media, education, and science—probably using new technologies that do not yet exist today! ​

Be curious, be flexible, be agile. Life cycles for technology are shrinking. You almost have to assume that some of the tools and technologies you master today may be retired and replaced tomorrow. 

What advice would you give to someone just entering the field of digital media? 

Be curious, be flexible, be agile. Life cycles for technology are shrinking. You almost have to assume that some of the tools and technologies you master today may be retired and replaced tomorrow. But most concepts and techniques are transferrable. And who knows—your work may wind up contributing to the next great emerging technology.

Complete this sentence: if I had to do it all over again, I’d . . .

Have done it all sooner!

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