Set Up Your Own Digital Media Lab for Next to Nothing

A green screen and a Mac turn a storage space into a hi-tech playground

media-labBack when I was in school, class projects were limited to written reports, dioramas, and posters—things we could create with pencils, paper, Popsicle sticks, and glue. To say our students today have many more options available to them would be the understatement of the 21st century.

With the advent of lightning-quick computers and gorgeous digital media tools, students are now dreaming up PowerPoint presentations, Prezis, websites, wikis, Photo Stories, and more—things limited only by their imaginations. Creating these types of digital projects has become second nature to them, and they have no concept of a time when these technologies were not available. In fact, creating digital media has become a very personal matter. Just look on Facebook, YouTube, Vine, Vimeo, Instagram, Twitter and you will see that our students are creating and sharing digital content on a daily basis.

As educators, it behooves us to find ways to provide opportunities that allow our students to engage in learning activities relevant to their lives. As a library media specialist, I know there’s no better place to provide them with these opportunities than a school’s own library media center.

With all of this in mind, I recently decided to renovate an old storage room in our school library into a cutting-edge digital media lab. My plan was to provide a space where students and staff could explore their creativity using digital media, and my hope was that they would use these tools to create authentic, curriculum-related projects.

I’m happy to say, that’s exactly what happened. Our students are now creating weekly newscasts, commercials, book trailers, weather reports, and much more. They have become roving reporters, interviewers, editors, directors, commentators, producers, and musicians. They have become creators of content and not just consumers. And, amazingly, I was able to do it all without breaking the bank.

If you think you would like to create a digital media lab in your school, here are some tips to get started.

Next page: 4 ways to set up a cost-effective lab

Find a space: You don’t need a large space, especially if you are using a green screen. Our newscasts appear to be set inside a spacious studio, but they are actually recorded in our 12-foot by 12-foot storage room. Even if you don’t have a separate room, you can easily set something up in a corner of your classroom or library.

Purchase equipment: Believe it or not, you don’t need a suite of pricey computers and peripherals to get started. Right now, the extent of our equipment is a Mac. We use the built-in camera for recording and we began with iMovie for editing the video and for green screen keying (recently, we upgraded to Final Cut Pro for more advanced video editing). If a Mac is out of your budget, don’t fret: there are some great iPad apps that will do the trick.

You will need a green screen, which I was able to purchase for less than $20.00. You can also paint a wall green. We actually painted our entire digital media lab green and threw in some green foam flooring for the total package. Some photography lighting is helpful, but not necessary if you have sufficient lighting in your space.

Recruit some students: Once you have everything in place, find a couple of tech savvy students who are willing to experiment. The first few months, I had some students come in during their free periods to play with the equipment and software. We learned a lot and I can honestly say, I learned more from them than they did from me.

Create some sample projects: In order to pique teachers’ interest in assigning projects using the digital media lab, the students and I created some samples, including a cloud project for a science class and a book talk video for English. We also began creating newscasts incorporating the school’s daily announcements. Our newscasts have since become a weekly production that our students really look forward to and these days our lab is regularly used for student projects.

So what are you waiting for? Keep in mind, you don’t have to be a technology expert to start a digital media lab. While not all of us are “tech savvy,” we need to keep in mind that many of our students are. All we need to do is provide them with the tools and the opportunity and I believe they will do the rest.

The next time you assign a project, think about allowing the students to create a piece of music, a newscast, a movie, a podcast, or some other digital project. Let them express themselves in a way that is most comfortable for them. I think you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Donna-Head-Shot copyDonna DeLuca (@DonnaDeLuca22) is a library media specialist at Accompsett Middle School in Smithtown, N.Y.  She is a professional development trainer and a Google Certified Educator. To see some of the projects created by students in the digital media lab, check out her website at

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