Episode 122 ePortfolio as Digital Makerspace in Liberal Arts Education Part II

Welcome to Digication
Scholars Conversations.

I'm your host, Jeff Yan.

In this episode, you will hear
part two of my conversation with

Abe Reshad, Director of Language
Technology and Academic Support at

Oberlin College and Conservatory.

More links and information about
today's conversation can be

found on Digication's Twitter.

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Full episodes of Digication Scholars
Conversations can be found on

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I actually had a, um, recently a pretty
amazing experience myself with this.

I was, um, traveling in, in Alaska,
um, and, um, and, uh, I visited,

um, A group there and this group is
just really an unbelievable group

and it's, um, it's a group, um, that
is part of what's called a Fab Lab.

And so it's like the fabrication lab
and it's, it's, it's like a, it's a

pretty big thing all around the world.

It's, it's well funded and they do
a lot of 3D printing and whatnot.

But what's amazing about this group
is that this entire lab there was

established for native Alaskan, um, It's
so K 12 students can basically be there.

It's their, you know, home away from home.

Oh, wonderful.


However you, you know, like there's
a lot of ways to look at it.

Look at it.

And then I'm kind of always wondering,
well, so what do they do there?

You know, they, they always,
you know, provide amazing.

Examples that makes me just realize
how little I think, you know, and,

and, and they were showing, um, they
had an object that they created that

said, this is how we can study and see
how our answer students build canoes.

Oh, wow.

And these are native Alaskan
canoes that, I mean, they were.

Like, you know, many, I don't know
how many years of experience had been

put into this to perfect these canoes
because they use it, use this stuff

to fish and they need it in order
to sustain, you know, they, they,

you know, they don't fish for fun.

They're fishing because they need.

We need the, the fish for, you know, for
the oil, for the, for the, for, you know,

for potentially for a different, um,
uh, day to day objects, you know, that

they make with, et cetera, et cetera.

So it's, it's a pretty amazing,
um, thing for them to be able to

sort of use technology in that way
to, to understand and study it.

Oh yeah, absolutely.

And it's such a great age to do it where,
I mean, You have an audience where they're

hungry for that kind of tactile experience
and a way to, you know, work those

creative muscles and they're willing and
able to do it if they have the resources.

I mean, our kids are pretty ready to go.

And I think that this is the part too,
though, which is, um, where, and I just

appreciate, appreciate this part so much.

I wanted to just talk about it a little
bit more, which is, look, There is

something, at least the geek inside
of me, just, you know, like, as soon

as you said 3D, I already, I've been.

And the 3D printing of objects and
like being able to, just the process of

that, it just sounds awesome and fun.

You know, like, the idea is
to create these things out of

thin air, you know, it just.

Well, it's not thin air, I guess it's
the filaments, but still, you know,

it feels like it's thin air, right?

Yep, so it's like so much about, you
know, being able to use your imagination

and, you know, being able to see.

To me, that's almost like just
the beginning part of, you know,

getting people in the door.

Because the real, the real
learning happens when you give

them the space and the time to...

Absorb themselves into being
able to touch this object and

look at it and play with it.

And, and that space and time
feels like to me is really the

thing that is, if anything,
missing in higher education today.

I think that all the people that
are saying, you know, we're not

teaching the students enough.

I actually think that we might
be trying to cramp in too much.

We're not giving them.

Space to, to just digest and reflect.

Yeah, I'm in agreement with that.

You know, I think that there's a
lot of knowledge that is gained.

You have like, um, you have the activating
objectives and then you have these

objectives that kind of carry out.

Um, you know, as a result of what you're
doing, it's like, how do we, um, how do

we leverage these kind of experiences
in such a way that we're kind of, you

know, you know, we're succeeding in
meeting, uh, more than one objective at

once, you know, I mean, I guess thinking
of that from a planning perspective,

but then also, I mean, yeah, I mean,
it's, it's, there's a, a true need for

these types of experiences for sure.

Now let's switch gears for a minute,
because you had said that you, Obviously

work with all the faculty members as well.

What are some of the, what have your
experience been trying to get faculty

members to get engaged into, you know,
3D printing, into portfolios, into the

kind of, you know, you know, sort of
these new creative ways of teaching and

learning, you know, how do you, how do you
get them, how do you get them on board?


I mean, I think that that just, it
starts with a conversation like this.

I think that, um, especially with, you
know, technology that may seem out of

reach, you know, kind of, uh, like a
low stakes conversation about, you know,

what we can do, um, collaboratively and,
and that's like relationship building.

And then yeah.

You know, um, and then kind of making
that a part of the conversation, you

know, so the lab is in, um, Peters
Hall, which is kind of where a lot of

the language faculty and staff are.

And, and so that's like, that's been
the only way to really get it done.

Um, and then there's also been, you know,
having some, having some programming

too, to kind of invite people over.

But I feel like the, The big
curricular, uh, projects to really

get into the classroom have been just
conversations and, and, uh, having

a fun, informal conversation like
this one and, and just seeing what's

possible and then experimenting, you
know, that's been how it's been done

here and at a small community, at a
small liberal arts college 3000, 000.

Um, you know, students, we have a lot
of staff, but like, it's still a good

environment for that type, I guess,
of that type of way of interacting and

seeing if we can bring people in that way.


So in working, in your experience working
with faculty, you know, in, in adopting

these things, has there, has there
been, I don't know, memorable hurdles or

surprises that, that, that comes to mind?


I mean, I think that, um, you know,
I think that, you know, that the,

for me, For some, I think it's
that, that million dollar question,

like, okay, what's this doing here?

You know, um, and, uh, and so, and
answering it responded to that right away.

Um, but like, but even then, it's,
um, there's, there's, uh, I mean.

Every, every person, you know, I work
with people who've been teaching,

uh, for years, you know, and it's
not enough to answer that question.

They have years of experience of not
using that in the classroom and never

felt feeling the need of doing it.

And so, um, so, yeah, I mean, we have a
really kind of interesting conversation

where I talk about how I've used it
and, uh, And then we see what happens,

you know, and maybe not agree or
disagree, but still kind of, I feel

like people, even though they might
disagree, they're still really curious.

And they're, they're, and they
can, yeah, and my colleagues can

definitely wrap their heads around
the possibilities of doing it.

And so, and speaking of like space,
a lot of times it's like, when we

talk about, um, you know, these
kind of curricular, um, advancements

or like these new ideas, it's, we
still have to fit it in, you know?

And so, uh, and so, you know, getting
them on board is one thing, but then like,

you know, getting to that point where.

Um, they make space for it in their
curriculum for the next class.

Uh, so, you know, a lot of times
these conversations are happening

like a year in advance, right?

Uh, and so, uh, yeah.

And so like, and that's a
different type of conversation.

Uh, and that's a, that's
another leap, right?

It's like that first leap is like, this
is, you know, this can make a difference.

Oh, I can see how that
can make a difference.

And the next leap is, okay,
we're going to put this in.

In our, our classroom, we're going
to use it, you know, and, um, and the

second part doesn't always happen, but,
you know, there's a lot of variables

and doesn't mean that they can't
have, and there's a lot of like co

curricular or extracurricular experiences
that we can still offer at the lab.

Um, that can give those experiences
to students in another way.

What are some of the, you know, like,
maybe not so much purely about them

adopting new, you know, technologies.

And it doesn't have to be that, right?

Because they might be doing
something super innovative.


It's, it's just fine.

But what are some of the, um, what,
what do you see as some of the

biggest hurdles and issues that
faculty members face these days?

I mean, I know that, you know, students,
for example, also face a lot of their

own issues, you know, um, uh, um, and
talking to different people in this

series of, um, you know, uh, podcasts,
um, and conversations, you know, people

had talked about everything from mental
health to, you know, um, um, you know, the

financial burdens and to whatever else.

But, you know, as someone who's working
with faculty on a day to day basis

and, um, what are some of the issues
that they, that you see them facing?


I, I do feel like, um, you know, I kind
of wonder if this is more a symptom

than cause, but I think like, you
know, a symptom of just being kind

of overwhelmed or having a plate full
is kind of that resistance to, you

know, a new platform, whatever the
platform is, you know, um, even if it.

Um, even if whatever platform can
help streamline things and provide a

certain experience, um, you know, you
know, everyone's kind of overwhelmed.

I feel like there is not
everyone, but I do think that,

you know, um, faculty, staff.

In general, and this is across the
board, I think in most higher ed

institutions, like everyone's, we
were wearing multiple hats and it

takes, you know, a lot of effort.

And sometimes there's just not that
mental space to make room for it.

And then there's that resistance.

And, um, I can certainly
empathize with it.

And, uh, And then just try to have a
normal con try to have kind of a, a

conversation about things and demonstrate
it and uh, maybe brainstorm, um, but, you

know, at the end of the day, you know,
there, I think that resistance is, well,

you know, uh, people in their, you know,
I'm trying to be careful here, but like,

you know, they're trying to carry all
of this weight, you know, and, I think

that's what it is, you know what I mean?

And whatever that might be, whether
it be like, you know, uh, getting

an extra chair responsibility or
there's always new needs that come up.

I think any good institution is, uh,
is sensitive to the needs of their

students and is making sure that,
um, that the faculty and staff are

able to kind of meet those needs.

Um, but that also comes at a price.

Where, you know, yeah, it gets tricky.

It is, it is.

I mean, there isn't actually,
if anything, an ever increasing

amount of needs by students.


And it's not the fault
or anything like that.

It's more, to me, it feels a lot more,
it's about, you know, a changing world.

Also, a change of, you know,
Different sort of support

structure that's necessary.

I mean, look, people used to not be able
to come out if they are, you know, in the

LGBTQ plus community and they, they may,
you know, coming out in college was not.

You know, it was not a given, it
certainly wasn't a, you know, it

would be a very scary thing to do.

But because of that, college didn't
need to have to support people

who could have had that need.

But today, many, many students...

I don't think that they necessarily choose
to come out during college, but during

these formative years, during the years
when your brains are still, you know,

trying to develop, you know, you, you
know, I, we know science, you know, in,

in, in, in our bio, biology, that our
brains really don't get fully developed

until, you know, at least 26 or so.


Um, and so these are some of
the years when, when certain

aspects of life start to.

Take charge.


And if we're not there
to support them, who is?



So these are the types of things
that colleges, to me, has taken

on the role of doing that.

Um, you know, and I'm really not sure.

First of all, I'm not sure if people
would, I would imagine so many people

won't agree with me, you know, that
that's what the colleges are doing.

Now whether they're supposed to be
doing that, I don't, I also don't

know, but it certainly doesn't say
that on the degree, on the certificate.

Yeah, that's an interesting point
too, but there is a level of...

Um, stakes were, you know, you're trying
to, uh, enable or facilitate students to

participate in this academic community
to be, to have that buy it and to feel,

you know, that responsibility that,
you know, they have something to offer.

I mean, what does it take
to get them to that point?

You know, um, it's a lot more
than what they did in the

fifties for sure, you know?

Right, right, right.

You can't just go like, here's
a bunch of stuff, learn it,

test it, we're done, right?


That, that sounds super clean and simple.

I know, very naive, right?

It's like, oh my god.

You can, you can take
away the 3D printer now.


Um, but, but it's, it's just, yeah,
it's, it's, it feels like that.

It feels like that the needs of
students have changed dramatically.



I mean, just, we were talking about, you
know, getting them to, to get a sense

of, you know, sort of grounding and
developing their own passion and all that,

that, that also sort of almost isn't.

You know, like people say, what do you,
what are you going to school to study?

What are you going to school for?

And students are supposed to just
know that that's, that's hard, right?

That's actually part of the, that's one
of the hard questions, you know, and you

are expecting them to just know, right?

As if, as if, Oh, it was, it was
printed on your driver's license.

You should know already.

You know, like you are supposed to
be, you know, an engineer, now go

for it and then you'll be all set.

That's not how it works.

I mean, I think in my generation too,
I mean, like, um, you know, born in

1978, went to college in the 90s.

And, you know, I, I think that, um,
I guess from my context, my neck of

the woods where I grew up, you know,
there was still this understanding

that like, it's like, Go to college.

You'll just, you'll be just fine.

You just pick a, pick a major.

It'll be fine.

You know what I mean?

There wasn't a lot of support to really
kind of engage with, um, you know,

to, to help you engage with yourself
or with the classes and way and make.

Connections, which are vital.

Um, I mean, we're basically, and that's
why there's a lot of second career, right?

You know, I think that myself and even
my partner as well, you know, we, you

know, we've expanded beyond our degrees,
uh, you know, moved on to others,

uh, to do what we're doing right now.

Um, and, um, and not that
that wouldn't happen before.

I'm not, you know, I mean, I'm not,
uh, I guess I'm not, no regrets

in terms of my own journey, but.

There is that sense where, um, you're,
and then also there's the economic piece

where, you know, you have to kind of,
uh, roll with the punches and see the

market and see how you can retool to,
to, to partake and participate in that.

Um, but yeah, I, I wonder what that would
have, would have been like to, to have

that type of engagement with, um, the
major with, with, with my fields of study.

Even though I did feel like I was.

Studying what I was really interested
in, you know, linguistics and language

education, at least at the time.

It, it, Uh, yeah, I just kind of wonder
what that would have been like, where

would that reflective process go?

Because I, you know, I do wonder, I
mean, there are, you meet every now

and then students where this is a
part of their practice somehow when

they grew up, they, they developed
this habit of keeping a journal.

You know, and, and, and always
kind of reflecting on what they're

doing and who they are and, and,
and, and taking power from it.

Like it's not, it's not this
thing you chuck off the list, you

know, but it's like, Oh, I'm being
energized by this amazing practice.

And you know, I feel like I've gotten
to that point now in my life for

sure, uh, in the thirties, you know,
but it's like, but you know, um,

certainly it's, there's no reason why.

You know, uh, students can start this
practice earlier, soon, you know.

Well, I think that that's a, um,
there's a really interesting way for

me to think about, you know, the value
of the type of education that you

provide at Oberlin or it's similar,
actually many similar institutions

are trying to crack this nut, right?


Which is how do you engage
students, um, beyond.

You know, and, and try to, to
figure a way to dedicate themselves

to, to doing things that matter.

Um, and you get to
define also what matters.

You don't get told what matters.

Um, and that's, that's
a, that's actually a.

Beautiful way of helping
them to see the world.

And, and I think as a result can
make the world a better place.

Oh, absolutely.

I mean, like having a community of
enlightened people engages others.

Sign me up.


You know.

The problem, of course, is
that it takes a while, right?

Oh, yeah, exactly.

This group of students,
they're not gonna...

You know, let's, let's take this cohort
of like 2021, you know, it'll, I mean,

I'm sure some of them are doing great
things, um, already and, uh, but, you

know, we're really not going to see the,
the, the, the bulk of the, the impact, you

know, like 10, 20 years from now, right?

Like when we come back and how
about we, we do it, the education

scholars in 2000 and what is it?


And yeah, there you go.

Let's come back to it.


And try to figure out what the, what
the then, then cohort, you know, of, uh,

Oberlin alum, what, what they are up to.


I mean, like, it's so interesting
how it's like, it's this

investment that you're really.

You really have to go in on and you're
not going to see the results right away.

It's very much like climate change, right?

Where you're just kind of like,
okay, we have this problem.

We don't really understand.

And we're putting all this resources in
and you know, we're, we're trying to turn

the dial and it's life or death for sure.

But we got to do it anyways.

I mean, um, anyways.



I went a little dark there.

All right.

Um, what are some of the, maybe we'll
end with something positive too.

What are some of the, what are some
of the, um, opportunities that you see

students do with things like portfolios?


You know, moving forward from here, what
are some of those like exciting new things

you want to try or things that you are
seeing a glimpse of that you're like, Oh,

that's, that's the edge of the envelope
somewhere, you know, like you don't know

where it's going, but it looks cool.


Well, what I've been seeing, uh, and
this is also, um, you know, faculty

led, you know, or facilitated work.

Um, we have, um, You know, professional
acting, um, class, you know, and

it basically the class is preparing
them for the field, you know, just

getting them out there and trying
to be more hands on as possible.

So they, they, they can get start
like a digital professional footprint,

um, to, to get their name out there.

And, and so, and so I guess this is
more of like a, a teacher project,

but it's an example of like, you know,
faculty member trying to, okay, let's.

You know, I, I'm working with this,
um, professor and we're looking

at example, um, portfolios and
we call them portfolios, right?

And the acting industry, you know,
Of what, you know, how, um, what are

these public facing websites look like?

And let's try to create like a
template of sorts that students

can use, uh, on the platform.

Um, and, um, and a lot of times
these sites are quite simple, you

know, it's, it's just a matter of
getting, um, you know, getting those

really good professional looking
images, you know, putting together

what's called like an acting real.

Um, but really kind of, you know,
looking at what the industry is doing

and trying to prepare them for it.

And, um, and that's been, and so
I've seen a couple projects like

that where there's this immediate
transfer, primarily in the fine arts,

of what they're doing with that.

And so I guess it's more teacher
related, but yeah, and so

that's been kind of interesting.

Because there, there is that kind of
excitement and, uh, to, to, to have

those classes here that are, that
really can literally getting them ready

to, to move on to that next career.

Um, and so that's been
kind of interesting.

Um, trying to think of another example.

I see, uh, one example I think is,
you know, I've seen a couple of

students where they're using it as
a way to, um, to deliver content.

So creating like a podcasting
site and, and then just kind of.

Um, using that as their
base for that project.

So it's like, you know, students just
leveraging it for different projects.

And it's kind of neat to see
students, you know, and it's something

you're not going to have with like
Blackboard or, I mean, nothing against

Blackboard, nothing against Canva.

I love those, um, great platforms.

Um, but you know, it's, it's something
that you can't do, you know, where,

uh, and so it, it's a couple of
really great examples of students

kind of using their creativity and.

Um, okay.

One more example I think is, is
from the entrepreneur office that

I collaborate with in the Center
for Gage Liberal Arts and they're,

um, using, um, these portfolios.

as a way for students to, to give,
if they have a product to, to give

their sales pitch, you know, and so
they're, so they're doing that kind

of typical sales pitch with the video
and then pictures of, you know, kind

of pictures or images of the, the, the
service or product they're giving and,

uh, pitching it to real investors,
you know, and getting feedback on.

And so, um, Yeah, it's really kind of
cool stuff and, uh, love to, I'm really

excited to see what else comes up.

And, uh, and I think like, um, and
this has just been year one, uh, with,

uh, the Center for Engageable Arts.

We, we have a physical space.

We're all in this kind
of, um, place together.

And, uh, I'm excited to see what
else we get, you know, I'm sure a lot

more creativity should have come out.

Well, it is, that is just, uh, awesome
and, and also very inspiring to, to

hear, um, I, uh, I, I almost feel like
that, uh, by the way, you and I are

from the same generation and, and, and
I think that, um, looking back, I'm,

I'm always kind of feel like, well,
man, I wish we had stuff like this.

Yeah, totally.

You know, it, I, I feel like
what you said earlier really.

Um, I really identified with,
which was what probably took me

10, 20 years to figure out, you
know, could have been condensed

into a couple of years, four years.

If I was given this space to like sort
of guided space to, and time to just

go in and think about these things,
you know, I was spending, I was working

hard, but I, You know, probably working
on the wrong thing, to be honest.

For sure.

I mean, like, you know, hard
working, you know, rewarding, like.

The good grades and engagement
with these platforms or, I mean,

not platforms, but like whatever
academics you're pursuing or business.

But yeah, I mean, um, yeah, that
the, the heart, the, you know, that

mindfulness piece, you know what I mean?

It's priceless.


All right.

Well, uh, Abe, it's been just
so wonderful talking to you.

It's been a long time coming.

I've, I've wanted to do this
with you for a long time.

I'm glad we finally did it.

Yeah, me too.

It's been a pleasure.


We should do this.


We should have drinks.

Yes, we should.

We should do this over drinks.

You know, that should have been
Digication Conversation with

Drinks, a special edition sometimes.

Oh, yeah, exactly.

All right.

Um, listen, thanks again for
sharing all of your insights.

It's, uh, it's, it's fascinating.

Um, we have that, uh, date
marked in the future, 2042.

Wait, 2041.


Well, we're going to have to take a look
at where your alumni has gone and done.

And let's see if your
hypothesis are correct.

Oh, exactly.

I suspect that it is.


Let's get that data together.

Um, but, uh, actually no.

Um, uh, I hope that we get to do
this more often as well, and I, I've,

I've scheduled some additional time
with other folks at Oberlin too.

So, uh, folks who are listening, you know,
um, uh, if you like this, you know, look

out for more brilliant people from Oberlin
in, in, in future episodes as well.

Um, all right, Abe.

Thank you again so much.

And, um, let's talk again soon.


Absolute pleasure.

Take care.

Bye everyone.


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