Communication Connection

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UNCW Getting the Birdseye View

Drone Usage and Incorporation into UNCW Curriculum

By Meghan Black      

Students in the Communication Studies program get hands-on learning experience with various types of recording tools throughout their journey through the COM Studies major. Whether using a GoPro or a JVC 700 to get the footage they need for a video production project, ground shots are the only option. However, the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington recently gained a new piece of technology that will enhance the video production curriculum and give students the opportunity to take their views higher than before.

Tom Gale, a 1998 Communication Studies graduate and alumni chapter member, donated a drone to the department this past summer. Dr. William Bolduc, Associate Professor of field video production, audio production and media literacy is the primary user and instructor of the drone now. Though this piece of technology has not yet been integrated into the video production curriculum, Dr. Bolduc says he is eager for students to get their hands on the equipment.

When Gale donated the drone, Dr. Olsen, department chair, knew it would be a tool for the video production side of the department.  Yet, they wanted to ensure one professor knew all the details about the technology before sending students into the field with it. Dr. Bolduc has been able to gain knowledge on the ins and outs of the drone through his own video project about Masonboro Island. He has used the drone to get aerial footage of all sides of the island, and says he now sees what restrictions and limitations the students will have once they are able to use it.

“This is different than most of the tools we teach our students on. It’s an awesome tool, it gives you a view that you don’t typically get and I know many students are looking forward to the opportunity of working with it,” says Bolduc. The optimal locations of the Wilmington area provide the complex aspects of the drone to be used in its entirety. Bolduc's example of his Masonboro Island documentary highlights the clarity of the shots the drone is able to capture, and how he feels the students will react to the shots they will be able to get when they learn the proper techniques.

In most video production courses, students learn the proper way to use equipment in large, classroom settings and apply it to the field without issues. However, in regards to the drone, Dr. Bolduc says, “We will train select students in small groups because we have to make sure the students operating know how to fly it before we send them out into the field.”

Bolduc explains that the department needs to figure out exactly what students will have to demonstrate before they can fly the drone. “Students need to know the legal issues, how it operates based on a field demonstration and test, and the ethically safe places to fly it,” he says. One important aspect of drone usage is legalities. Though most students do not even realize there are legal issues with using a drone, Dr. Bolduc says it is a main concern the department has. He sees the legalities as a teaching point and feels it will not be a major challenge in the grand scheme of incorporating the drone into the curriculum. 

“The idea of using a drone is a challenge in and of itself because things won’t necessarily go wrong, but if they do it’s worse than any other piece of equipment we have,” Bolduc says. The department is going to be vigilant about students complying with the policies and procedures of the drone once it is part of the equipment students can check out. The professors are eager for the integration of the drone and look forward to the experiences it will provide for students.