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News and Media

A Global Map of a Small Campus

Dec. 21, 2012

Liv Combe

At Oberlin, it’s easy for students to get to know professors, both inside and outside the classroom. Office hours are held often and for hours at a time, and the 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio means that small class sizes allow for more one-on-one interaction.

Even on a small campus with such personal attention, it can be difficult for students and colleagues alike to recognize all the expertise and experience a professor might have outside of the departmental courses he or she already teaches — if he or she speaks additional foreign languages, for example, or conducted research at a university abroad.

Rather, it used to be difficult. Now this information is just one click away on ObieMAPS.

An online database, ObieMAPS is “a utopian idea for how we can open up everything that happens on campus to the outside world,” says Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies, chair of Latin American studies, and director of the Oberlin College Center for Languages and Cultures (OCLC). ObieMAPS was first dreamed up about eight years ago, says Faber, and has been in the works for the past eight months. The database is the OCLC’s first major project since its launch this fall.

ObieMAPS can be searched through four categories: location, time period, theme, and language. Among its many uses and potential users — prospective students and their parents, current students, staff, faculty, and media among them — Faber sees ObieMAPS as a way to track faculty language skills to find professors who could teach courses outside of their typical departments.

“If it turns out that a faculty member speaks Swedish, like [Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature] Tim Scholl does, then maybe he can mentor a group of students learning Swedish,” explains Faber, who speaks six languages, including his native Dutch. Or if a professor of history or politics would be comfortable teaching in French, he adds, then it opens the door to new teaching opportunities.

In addition, ObieMAPS acts as a useful tool for students just beginning their studies.

“Say a student comes in and says, ‘I want to study Southeast Asia,’” says Faber. “Well, that would be an East Asian studies major. But then you miss out on classes and professors in English, anthropology, history. All those are off your radar, and there’s no easy way normally to see those interconnections.” With ObieMAPS, one “theme” search could provide a bevy of academic opportunities.

On the whole, ObieMAPS allows students — and the general public — to see connections across departments and programs, thereby showcasing the rich and diverse nature of intellectual and academic life at Oberlin.

“ObieMAPS gives a much more complete notion of what is covered in courses, what is covered by faculty expertise, and how those things can interconnect,” says Faber. For now, “we’ll just see what uses people put it to.”

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