A James Madison University student settles into the quiet of the campus library, and reflects on a conversation she just had with her media arts professor. She had stopped to ask how her project was coming along. She confided that she was working on an idea, but it was a little out there. She worried that it might be too edgy. Too outside the lines. Too much of a stretch.

"If you’re worried it’s too out there, too different," the professor suggested, "then it might just be ahead of the curve. Work the idea. Learn from it. Grow it. Ahead of the curve is exactly where you want to be."

One JMU story. One hallway conversation. Pull back the frame, however, and you would see a similar one beside it. And other. And another. There is a chain of stories of ideas, inspiration, and genuine faculty-student relationships that stretch across the campus and into the cities, projects, and businesses around the world where JMU graduates make their mark. It is a unique environment and a fitting home to JMU's Center for Instructional Technology.

James Madison University, like the faculty and students on its campus, has its own philosophies and a distinct set of values.

The motto is “Knowledge is Liberty.” More than a slogan or a beacon of rich history, this is the soul of JMU.

Both students and faculty continuously gain knowledge by doing. There is an emphasis on active learning — a thread apparent in the numerous training opportunities provided to instructors and staff. The faculty learns constantly so that, in turn, students can learn constantly.

The Center for Instructional Technology works with faculty to refine their craft while exposing them to new ways to showcase their work and develop course projects digitally. Digital storytelling is a skill that JMU believes transcends all disciplines. The multimedia design principles taught there are universal. Everyone, from artists to engineers, needs to be able to share their interpretations, their findings, and their stories.

Everyone at JMU is encouraged to share their stories — a reflection of an unflinchingly open campus culture. Transparency from JMU leaders gives students the chance to ask anything. Meet with faculty whenever they need it. Create what they dream, from start to finish.

Instructors and staff are always listening to the student voice, and letting those perspectives dictate future programs and offerings at JMU. When faculty step back, students step forward. It’s about giving them emerging technologies and tools, along with the autonomy to make decisions and pursue their ideas. Students are given the freedom to make decisions and trust their own instincts.

Knowledge is liberty.

The Center for Instructional Technology

James Madison University was established in 1908 as a public research university with the mission of providing students with the deepest education in every sense of the word. Through a multitude of learning experiences both an inside and outside of the classroom, the hope is that all students will graduate as enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives. This theme has been evident in the courses, programs, and faculty-student relationships for 106 years.

The university is located near Washington D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. At the beginning of its rich history, JMU was a woman’s college known as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, and was renamed in 1938 to James Madison College in honor of President Madison. In 1966, the institution became coeducational to deliver its unique brand of education to all who desired it, and about a decade later, Virginia Governor Mills Godwin passed legislation to change the name to the present name of James Madison University. No matter the name, the university has always been sharply focused on equipping students with cutting-edge skills.

After the millennium, major expansions of the JMU campus led to the growth of many unique buildings and programs designed to stimulate even more innovation from faculty and students —including the Center for Instructional Technology. High graduation and low cost tuition rates solidified JMU’s spot on Kiplinger’s Personal Finance’s top 100 “Best Values in Public Colleges” for 2014. In Fall 2013, JMU counted 20,181 enrolled students with a freshman class retention rate of over 91%. Thirty-four percent of these students received some form of scholarship to aid their studies there. The Princeton Review recently described JMU as having an “impressive balance of educational, social, and extracurricular activities to enrich students’ experience.”

When speaking with JMU faculty, this emphasis on the student experience is especially clear. Both staff and students are quick to refer to JMU as “the friendliest place on earth.” Students’ needs are at the forefront of every campus program and activity. Second only to these deep relationships is the university’s spirit of innovation. Faculty are provided with intense and continuous professional development to remain on the cutting-edge of emerging technologies and pedagogies — an aspect that is then passed down to students as they are encouraged to push the boundaries with new ideas.


“I have had a wonderful road trip as a faculty member. It's been amazing and I enjoyed every second. I have students today in Hollywood, in Burbank, in Chicago, and New York — literally everywhere — who are some of the best editors at the best post-production facilities in the country. Many of them are computer compositors who are doing massive work.

It’s not because of what I taught them. It’s because of how I taught them to behave and to work within an industry. I get comments back from students all the time, who say ‘you taught me how to deal with other people in an industry that I really want to be in.’ This is the idea of being able to listen more than talk. Being able to respect those that are above you in production experience. That’s from my perspective what we do with students at JMU and what has made graduates so successful.”

by Larry Johnson

Some people you feel like you’ve met simply because all the people you admire speak of them so fondly. My first time hearing of John was years ago when I was visiting a mutual friend in Singapore, and learned we had missed each other by a single day. As social media became an everyday medium, John and I connected, and began to follow each other’s work more closely, and over the years, it became a recurring theme that somehow, we’d still not actually met in person.

Nonetheless, I knew that John was an exacting video pro, an expert storyteller, and a mentor to people all over the world. His work showcased the cutting edge of what visual technology could muster, and his editing skills were renowned. As a photographer myself, I resonated with his appreciation for great glass and the latest equipment. I guess an essential part of the connection between us was the image — for me, still photography, and for John, video — but always the image, the composition, the lighting, and the frame.

It is like we're two winemakers, working adjacent ridges.

And though we finally connected on this project, an NMC spotlight about John’s longtime home, James Madison University, we’ve still not met, not in person anyway.

When we do, I know the stories we'll tell will keep us up late. I look forward to sharing some of that visual wine we each make with each other. A taste of John's appears in the links above. Take a sip. You'll be glad you did.


Photo Credits
Additional Stills and Time Lapse Photography
JMU CIT Coordination
Video Production
Technical Lead