Campus News

OCMC: Making Interdisciplinary Learning More Accessible

February 4, 2015
Lisa Gulasy

Associate Professor of Biology Taylor Allen has always challenged students in his physiology course to think beyond the textbook. Since 2006, he has taken his students to the Allen Memorial Art Museum to reflect on evidence of bodily manifestation of emotions in art and literature. He would then ask his students to express what they’d learned in some creative fashion, usually through short narratives or drawings.

“Obies seem to like a multidisciplinary approach,” Allen says. “It’s really a testament to their diverse skills, talents, and interests.”

For the fall 2014 semester, Allen wanted to take this interdisciplinary approach to the next level, having his students create and present videos that would convey a thesis regarding the bodily experience of emotions. “I had seen Shigehisa Kuriyama at Harvard show some videos his students had made for one of his classes and was really impressed with how the students were able to, in this particular case, draw on cultural artifacts and embed them within a video to convey a thesis,” Allen says. “I thought that would be a unique way to get my students to formulate a thesis and to draw support for that thesis using visual arts.”

The only problem was Allen knew little about video production. Not wanting to assign his students a project without providing them with the proper understanding and support, Allen knew where he could turn: the Oberlin College Media Center (OCMC).

Oberlin’s On-Campus Media Hub

Housed in Mudd Library, OCMC is Oberlin’s first creative media literacy, collaboration, and experimentation hub. OCMC launched in 2013 under the guidance of the Oberlin Center for Technologically Enhanced Teaching (OCTET).

OCMC is headed by Julie Cruse, who designed and launched OCMC after a decade of creating programs that mix arts and technology and promote interdisciplinary learning. “We were lucky to get someone with a skill set and background like Julie’s,” says Albert Borroni, director of OCTET. “Her involvement a testament to the caliber of people who come to work at Oberlin, and her hard work and unwavering dedication has helped mold OCMC into the successful resource hub it is today.”

At OCMC, student staff, known as media associates, provide workshops, playshops, drop-in lab assistance, and course support to help integrate arts and technology across curriculum, organizations, and independent projects. Or as media associate and senior cinema studies major Gabriel Maxwell Freed says, OCMC is like the Writing Center, but instead of providing assistance with the writing process, OCMC is “focused on media production and media creation.”

Workshops, delivered by media associates, last roughly one hour and are open to any student or faculty member to learn more about hardware or software (such as digital cameras or Adobe Creative Suite) or skill (such as how to best plan lighting for a photo or video shoot). Playshops are inquiry-led sessions that encourage hands-on experimental play in live spaces for discovery-based learning. “We set up some cool equipment, interfaces, and exploration frameworks as optional avenues to getting familiar with these materials on your own terms, but it’s all choose-your-own adventure!” reads the OCMC website. Past playshops have included sessions on the kinect, leap motion, installing multimedia art, and more.

OCMC has produced roughly 130 workshops, playshops, and educational installations since its launch in spring 2013. For the first time in fall 2014, Cruse and the media associates led course-related workshops created specifically for seven faculty members’ class projects. Freed led two such workshops: one for an introduction to cinema course taught by Burke Hilsabeck, visiting assistant professor of cinema studies, and one for Taylor Allen’s physiology course.

“Gabe had the very important role of introducing the students to the software and ensuring they didn’t get frustrated and abandon the project because of technical difficulties,” Allen says of the workshop. “He had a class period where he took the students through a project where they captured some images and assembled them into a video. The students created a brief video with him, and then a week later, they submitted a 15-second video they had created [as the first stage of their projects].”

Freed says his workshop also covered how students should organize their files and save their projects so as not to lose any of the work they were doing. “There’s a lot of misinformation that floods the Internet surrounding things like how you export a video,” Freed says. “Every time you Google ‘How do I export this file for the Internet?’ half of the pages are wrong because people are talking about things they don’t understand. It’s really helpful to have a person who knows what they’re talking about and can explain the concepts.”

OCMC has also helped make a number of unique individual student and faculty exhibitions possible. For example, media associate Matthew Omahan and former media associate Charlie Spears ’14 assisted Simone Baron ’14 with her senior recital, “Scriabin Sonato,” which interactively translated her performance of Alexandre Scriabin’s fourth Sonato Op. 30 into light and color to create a multisensory experience for the audience. Throughout the performance, a Max patch translated variables (density, frequency, patterns, and dynamics of pitches) to bring to life the synthetic and visual details of Scriabin’s sonata.

Photographs of Baron’s and other exhibitions made possible with the help of OCMC, including “Oberlin Modernist Salon,” presented by students in Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian Polina Dimova’s color of music course, and “Shifting Forms,” Melissa Ewing’s ’14 senior capstone exhibition, can be seen on the OCMC website. New media art performances and works currently being supported by OCMC media associates will be on display in Polina Dimova’s Synaesthesia Symposium in early March.

Getting Assistance from OCMC

Numerous students and faculty have been positively affected by OCMC in its three semesters, and according to Cruse, more people continue to take advantage of drop-in assistance and appointments and express interest in workshops and playshops every day.

“We’re very busy,” Cruse says. “There’s so much demand for this program, and we’re so young.” But, according to Freed, the media associates are always available to answer questions and give one-on-one attention to any student or faculty member who seeks it.

“Having a general campus resource that is accessible to everyone is a very beneficial thing,” he says. “It can be daunting to find someone who will help you edit a video if you’re not in an editing class, for example. Everyone who works at OCMC wants to share their knowledge and help people put their projects together. Seeing more people use OCMC as a resource is something everyone who works there wants.”

Learn more about OCMC on its website or by dropping in to speak with media associates during Lab Hours Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., resuming Monday, February 9.

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