Electronic Education

May 12, 2014
Jonathan Jue-Wong
A COMETS student mentor with students in Mudd Library
A COMETS student mentor with students in Mudd Library. Photo credit: Julie Cruse

Interdisciplinary learning and engagement is par for the course at Oberlin College. With majors like Technology in Music and the Related Arts (TIMARA) and a popular cross­-disciplinary Environmental Studies program, Oberlin promotes integrative learning. The year­-old Collaborative Media Exploration Technology Support (COMETS) program, which will change its name to the Oberlin College Media Center next fall, is the latest initiative in a long and rich tradition of multifaceted education.

COMETS, launched in 2013, is an initiative aimed at promoting creative media and technology on campus. Technically literate and experienced students from a variety of backgrounds and majors serve as mentors and use their expertise to lead workshops, provide drop-­in assistance, and work with both students and faculty members on projects that involve new media technologies.

Program founder and director Julie Cruse was hired specifically to design and lead the new program. "Integrating arts and media across the college curriculum has been a major goal of Oberlin for several years now," she says.

Under the parent organization OCTET (Oberlin Center for Technologically Enhanced Teaching), COMETS’ services predominantly fall in those three key areas of workshops, drop-­in aid, and “playshops.” Playshops, a unique feature of the COMETS program, are designed to promote “hands­-on inquiry with the technology at your fingertips,” says Cruse. The idea behind playshops is to get students working with new technology and programs, but with the independence and free rein that are critical to encouraging innovation and creativity. With the playshops, “you can bring your own projects and collaborate, or just come play our preset stations for fun,” says Cruse.

Between the workshops, playshops, and drop-­in lab sessions, COMETS will have served an estimated 1,000 students and 100 faculty and staff by the semester’s end. COMETS is not limited to students; mentors work one­-on-­one with professors, too. Mentor Michael Cunningham ’14, for example, provided private tutorials on digital lighting software to Professor of Theater Paul Moser.   Cruse has also worked with a number of faculty members to help them implement technology in their curriculum, acting as "a guide and a collaborator." Some of her recent projects include assisting Professor of Theater and Dance Roger Copeland in a course on lighting, supplying Visiting Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature Polina Dimova with equipment and workshops for her course "The Color of Music," and working with Assistant Professor of English Harrod Suarez to design and launch his own website, poetastic.com, and integrate it into his courses.

Charlie Spears ’14, a double­-degree TIMARA and cinema studies major, has been a mentor in the program since its inception. "It is a great way to strengthen all the departments at Oberlin and relieve pressure on professors to teach technological skills,” he says.

Matthew Omahan ’17 has been a mentor in the program for two semesters and has also appreciated the rich collaboration inherent in the work that COMETS does. “I've really enjoyed working on the crazy projects that people want help with. An example of this was a pianist who wants to do responsive lighting for her recital that would listen to her playing and change the colors of the lights by analyzing the pitch content in real time.” Omahan notes that with his own interest in teaching as a career, working in COMETS has been a natural and well­-suited fit.

Cruse says that the integration of arts and media into Oberlin’s overall curriculum is an institutional goal. "Technological literacy is a vital requirement in countless occupations, and the arts and media hold enormous potential for driving innovation, intellectual inquiry, and problem-­solving in today’s society," she explains.

Her enthusiasm is equally shared by program mentors she works with and supervises. “I teach people how to use video and audio editing software on a daily basis, which is inspiring," says Spears. "It’s amazing how quickly someone can become comfortable in Adobe Premiere after a short workshop.”

“Being able to give a multimedia presentation has become commonplace for any profession," Spears says. "The skills we teach help students get a tech backbone to help them with any of their future endeavors.”

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