Brief: Portal Connects Oberlin Students in Dialogue

Passersby might have noticed an anomaly in Wilder Bowl yesterday, as a large gold shipping container took residence in the field outside DeCafé with little explanation. Thus, we welcome Oberlin’s very own Portal system, which will be based in Wilder from Sept. 6 to Nov. 10.

The Portal, which was coordinated through Oberlin’s CIT department, is an interactive audiovisual room where students, faculty, and staff can video chat with people from around the world. The College is renting the Portal from the art, design, and technology collective Shared Studios and obtained the funding for the initiative through a grant.

“The Oberlin College community is invited to use the Portal to engage with individuals in other Portal locations across the globe,” read a statement by Oberlin’s Office of Communications.

The Portals are refurbished shipping containers equipped with audiovisual technology. Participants will be able to video conference with others at Portal locations around the world. Most Portal conversations are pre-arranged and will be organized by a Shared Studios Portal Curator.

Although many students were perplexed about the container’s abrupt arrival, the potential to connect with international communities was appealing.

“I’m a little confused, as it’s never been something that’s ever been brought to me or my awareness in any way, shape, or form, and having a giant gold shipping container is a little bizarre,” College sophomore Will Birney said. “But as far as a cool immersive experience — I don’t see a problem with that. I took Chinese for a long time, so if I could speak to someone in China in real time, hopefully that’s kind of cool.”

Shared Studios says that “when you enter a Portal, you come face-to-face with someone in a distant Portal live and full-body, as if in the same room.”

The Portal can be used to connect with international museums, band concerts or performances, other universities, refugee camps, and arts centers, along with countless other possibilities.

Those interested in using the Portal must choose a location and topic of interest and fill out an online form. Individuals will then be contacted by a Portal curator.