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Video blog unites CUNY honors students

Aspiring television writer David Kane, 20, of Rockville

Aspiring television writer David Kane, 20, of Rockville Center connects CUNY students to each other across seven campuses from his bedroom. (April 10, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Two years ago, CUNY student David Kane did what a lot of college freshmen do when they have to write an English paper. He watched YouTube videos instead.

But unlike some, he was a commuter student, living in his parents' Rockville Centre home rather than in a dorm, where you might find someone to brainstorm with at 2 a.m.

Using the tiny camera on his laptop, the Macaulay Honors College student recorded an irreverent reflection on college life and posted it online. From that, TheMacaulayVlog -- a video blog linking Macaulay students across seven CUNY campuses -- was born.

"Some of the best ideas are born out of procrastination, right?" said Kane, now 20.

TheMacaulayVlog is the first official CUNY-wide collaboration or "collab channel," an Internet television station of sorts on the popular video-sharing site YouTube.

With his vlog, Kane turned to Web video to bridge the distance and encourage participation among Macaulay Honors College students, an elite group of 1,400 spread across New York City.

The content is casual and irreverent: One quirky discussion is about the evolution of spring break; another about why all freshmen tend to say they're pre-med. The students sit in front of their computers, looking into the tiny cameras atop their screens. Often, they're seen against a backdrop of posters, unfolded laundry and a twin bed.

Each day of the week, a different student from each of the CUNY locations sounds off on a topic of Kane's choice.

"The point is to share, not come to any one decision," Kane said.

The goal is to have a collaborative piece of work that includes many voices. Collab-channel participants reply to the main video, and the main channel owner -- in this case, Kane -- then edits them into a coherent piece, said Jamie Cohen, director of Web and digital media at Hofstra University's School of Communication.

"It might look weird now, but in a few years, this will all be very normal," said Cohen, who doesn't know Kane.

Since its debut in November 2010, TheMacaulayVlog has grown to 548 videos, with more than 32,000 views.

Jacques Herbert, a YouTube spokesman, said this is exactly the reason the video-sharing website is encouraging its use as a tool for educational institutions. The company recently began a training program for young video bloggers and released an instructional manual on how to create, edit and make more effective video projects.

On a recent afternoon, Kane sat in front of his MacBook Pro, wearing jeans and a black T-shirt with white print that read "Impossible Is Nothing."

The vlog, he said, helped him land an internship on the TLC cable-network show "What Not to Wear" and earn the civic and community service award from the Goldberg-Revson Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Revlon cosmetic company.

"I think it's a little lofty to say it makes the city a better place," he said, "but we do our part."

A graduate of Molloy High School in Queens, Kane always wanted to go to college in New York City.

He applied to New York University and to Fordham and was accepted, but decided on City College because the Macaulay Honors College program gives students a full merit scholarship, a $7,500 stipend to use on educational trips or projects and a free laptop.

Ann Kirschner, dean of the 11-year-old Macaulay Honors College, who gave the project the university's sanction, said each day the image of the traditional college campus is being challenged.

"Building community in the 21st century no longer means sitting in a leafy quad," Kirschner said. "We don't have that. And even in colleges where they do, most students are in their rooms buried in Facebook anyway."

A July 2011 study by the Pew Research Institute found that more than 90 percent of adults 18-29 years old have used video-sharing sites, and 75 percent are college students.

Nick Scala, 19, a finance major at Baruch College and a contributor to TheMacaulayVlog, said video seems "more real" and tangible than a status update on Facebook or a 17-character Twitter post.

"Our generation tends to be a lot more visual," said Scala, who commutes to class from his parents' home in Glendale, Queens. "This is a little more personal than a tweet."

Scala said he was recently flattered when a prospective student approached him during orientation, having recognized Scala from watching the vlogs.

"That was pretty cool," he said.

For Drew Adair, associate director of student development at the Macaulay Honors College, the video blog is a natural progression in the evolution of student life for a campus that spans all of New York City. A student from Lehman College in the Bronx would have to travel more than two hours if she wanted to meet someone at Staten Island College, Adair said.

"This is very much a 21st-century solution to this problem," he said.


What is a collaboration or "collab channel"? It's a YouTube channel that allows users to reply with their own video to a main video. The goal is for users to add content.


What is The Macaulay Vlog? This vlog is a collab channel that includes student video bloggers from seven campuses that are part of CUNY's Macaulay Honors College. Topics include "the evolution of spring break" and "NYCisMYplayground." The channel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/TheMacaulayVlog

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