You could almost see the ideas sparking among faculty and staff May 1 when the University was visited by an eBus—a converted city bus equipped as a self-contained, high-tech classroom, complete with satellite Internet access, onboard generators and air conditioning.
Hosted by the Office of Service-Learning and the College of Arts and Sciences, the bus was brought to campus by Dr. David Springett, president of the Community College Foundation, to introduce the idea of the mobile unit and see if there was potential for its use at BGSU.
The eBus Program was founded in 1998 by the chancellor of the California community college system to train California teachers to integrate technology into their curricula. It later evolved, through the Community Connect program, into a nationwide program offering a variety of services on site to people who would otherwise not have access to them.
The buses traverse the country, from Florida to Vermont to the West Coast, teaching computer and Internet skills to people in low-income and rural areas, administering the GMAT exam and tests for state jobs, helping people write resumes, helping first-time home buyers apply for mortgages, teaching financial literacy classes and offering schools without technology resources a fully equipped classroom. “We’re here to bridge the ‘digital divide’” for those without access to technology, said Springett, the founder of the program.
Following Hurricane Katrina, six eBuses spent a year in Louisiana and Mississippi serving as communication centers for the Federal Emergency Management Administration, local police departments, municipalities and schools. “Sometimes we were the only communication available,” he said.
“Whatever your imagination can come up with, you can do,” he said. “When you reach out into the community, these things do make a difference.”
BGSU faculty and staff at the presentation and tour were intrigued and enthusiastic. Dr. Bob Midden, chemistry and director of the Chapman Community, asked Springett if an eBus could be outfitted to conduct water testing and learned that it could.
Dr. David Springett (right) demonstrates for President Ribeau the technology applications available on the eBus.
“I thought the eBus program offered some interesting and potentially exciting opportunities,” Midden said later. “I like the idea of the ability to take computer technology and other kinds of technology, along with instruction and interaction with the community, on the road.”
Midden said he is exploring the possibility of launching a project to characterize the Maumee and Portage River watersheds, using community volunteers and collaborating with a variety of area agencies and organizations. “Such a bus would be a valuable asset,” he said.
He is also intrigued, he added, by the way the buses are funded through corporate sponsorships and their potential for meeting an important need for engagement—transportation.
Dr. Radhika Gajjala, interpersonal communication, was also impressed with the eBus. “I see great uses for it in our classes and for research projects here at BGSU with the increasing focus on service-learning and on scholarship of engagement,” she said.
“For instance, I teach courses in feminist research methods and in digitally mediated identities and computer-mediated cultures—all of which involve both going out into the community to do ethnographic field work, collecting of oral histories, one-on-one interviews and community-based focus groups as well as studying online contexts that are produced by such community members.”
The eBus could help with that research, she said, and would have been well suited to a previous project. “Last year, my students and I did research projects involving Perrysburg Heights Community Center teens and children who were also using the Internet (instant messaging and MySpace), so my undergraduate students went to the Heights to interview the children and to observe their use of the Internet. Then they came back to the computer lab and connected to the same children and teens via social networking systems online such as MySpace and Facebook. This interaction led to my students understanding how stereotypes are produced online while also dispelling their stereotypes about communities such as Perrysburg Heights.”
Dr. Jane Rosser, director of the Office of Service-Learning, encourages all faculty and staff who might be interested in exploring the possibilities an eBus could offer to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 2-9288. The Office of Service-Learning is located in 309A University Hall.