Digication Scholars Conversations

Join us for Part Two of our conversation with Rebecca Thomas, Director of the Pathways ePortfolio Program at Bucknell University.

We discuss the surprising insights and impressive projects that students have been able to incorporate into their education.

For more information about this podcast, please visit our podcast website using the link below: https://bit.ly/3MfBqbo

Listen on Apple Podcasts using the link below: https://apple.co/3OkFVEn
Follow us on Social Media!
Twitter: https://bit.ly/3M9J7Qt
Facebook: https://bit.ly/3OgnIYw
Instagram: https://bit.ly/3Mjm4D8

Please visit our website at https://bit.ly/3IgGVFP
📚🔬 #Education #ePortfolio #StudentSuccess #STEM #Innovation #BucknellUniversity

What is Digication Scholars Conversations?

Digication Scholars Conversations...

Welcome to Digication
Scholars Conversations.

I'm your host, Jeff Yan.

In this episode, you will hear part two
of my conversation with Rebecca Thomas,

Director of the Pathways ePortfolio
Program and Adjunct Assistant Professor

of the Electrical and Computer Engineering
Department at Bucknell University.

More links and information about today's
conversation can be found on Digication's

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Full episodes of Digication Scholar
Conversations can be found on

YouTube or your favorite podcast app.

Now, you are, you know, again, you know,
the director for, of the, of the Pathways

ePortfolio program, which is like you
said, a campus wide, um, initiative.

Um, how, what are some, can you give us
some sort of insights maybe You know,

anecdotes on some of the things that might
have either surprised you or impressed

you on what students have been able
to do to, to, you know, include those

aspects of life into their education.

And it doesn't have to be about
engineering, because I know, but I

know the majority of our students
are, you know, engineers in this

case, um, you know, something that.

Something that will give other
folks a little bit of a practical

glimpse of, Oh, that's what you mean.

Because to me, I think that there's,
you know, a lot of assumption that

simply just goes, okay, great.

Um, engineer, you know,
doing meaningful work.

Maybe they're doing a better,
I don't know, solar panel.

And that's it.

Um, to me, it feels a lot
more nuanced than that.


Um, yeah.

So we're still.

Fairly early in, you know, getting,
getting students to do ePortfolios, um,

and so I don't know if I have a lot of
specific examples, but, uh, the one, and

the ones that we've been doing so far
are usually pretty course focused, right?

That'll be part of You know, an instructor
decides to put them in the course, right?

They're part of the grade, part
of a project, part of something.

So, so sadly, right?

That, that kind of confines what
you're expecting and, and what we

get, but we're starting to see, right?

The students pull in
other parts, um, right?

And see more of, of who our students are.

That's, uh, faculty who have used
portfolios have really enjoyed them

because they're getting to see more
glimpses of, Of who their students

are and what they're interested in,
but what they really want to do,

which are things like we usually
don't know because we don't ask.

And maybe we didn't even know to ask.


That's so interesting.

I know that you were saying that, hey,
we're just starting and doing this

is actually incredibly insightful.

I, in my mind, because, um, there
is, it almost feels once you said

it, that it should be obvious
when you work with students.

It's great when you know who they
are, who they want to be and what,

what do they value in their lives?

What makes them happy and what
makes them, you know, feel,

feel like, um, feel excited.

But if you don't know that, and all
that you know is here's my questions,

I want you to come with the answers.

It really ignores the entire layer.

So it's almost like, like what you're
saying, before we get to the point where

you can see the results of what these
students are doing, we need them to

have a go at showing their professors
who they are in an authentic way.

So that the professors can then
say, Oh, knowing that, let's push

you in this direction, right?

But without that, it doesn't
It doesn't work, right?

Because even if I were just to say, let's
say that I'm a professor in, you know, in,

in, in, in, um, uh, chemical engineering.

And I, I, I'm really, you know, I'm
expertise is in photophotic cells and

creating, you know, next generation of,
you know, solar power, blah, blah, blah.


I can tell people.

That, hey, this is it, you need to be
working on this because, you know, our

world is, you know, getting too hot.

We need to find new ways to create energy.

Almost like if you just tell
them that, it doesn't count.

Do you know what I mean?

It's like, like you need to get
to, you need to learn what the

students, who the students are first.

So that has been kind of my
first ePortfolio, ePortfolio

project in class has been.

Um, I teach the first year design course
in electrical and computer engineering.

Um, and this is the first course that
students take within the department.

They take it the spring
semester of their freshman year.

Um, and so I designed an e portfolio,
right, that gives them a little bit

of a chance to explore the discipline
because a lot of Them to come in not

really knowing what an electrical
engineer or a computer engineer does.

Um, right.

A lot of people don't know that.

'cause I still get asked when I
say I'm an electrical engineer.

If I can wire a house, and I
most certainly cannot do that.

And electrical engineers are
doing all kinds of things that

have nothing to do with wiring.

But you're also not an electrician.

Right, right.


But so it gives them a chance to explore,
you know, what are the different things?

And electrical engineering
is hugely broad, right?

There are the people that work on
power, like traditional power stations.

Um, even You know, different
things with signals and RFID.

Uh, I did very small things, right,
uh, uh, semiconductors and, you

know, making, making devices out
of, out of semiconductors, right?

So students get a chance to at least
dip their toe in this, um, but also in

their ePortfolio they have to answer
questions like, what do you value, right?

And we give a list.

What are the top five things
in this that you value and why?

What interests you?

Like, what?

What hobbies did you do, um, and, and
what have those taught you about yourself?


So they're learning at the same
time, what are the possibilities in

this discipline that I've chosen?

You know, who am I and, and how
did these things link together?


And it's, it's only one, one
ePortfolio assignment very early on,

but I, you know, I think that kind
of sets them on the right track to.

To think more in that way, um, and just
to be reflective in general, right?

A huge part of ePortfolios are,
are learning how to reflect and,

and learning, you know, how to, how
to apply that in different places.

And that's one thing that we've seen
even early on is that when we ask

students to reflect in their first year,
then they get to their second year and

they're taking design courses or they're
even taking, you know, kind of a more

technically focused required course.

But we see them being more
reflective and transferring that,

you know, to different courses and
to like different domains even.

Um, yeah, so that's been really, really
cool to see and, and kind of surprising

that it, it didn't take that much.

It took like one, Intervention.

An ePortfolio Intervention to do that.

Yeah, I really feel like that these are
the, you know, I almost wanted to take

your eight semester long, you know,
follow up, you know, course, like this

idea and like go all the way down to
like middle school or something, you

know, because like, imagine how, um, How
differently people will approach life, um,

if they were exposed to things a little
earlier, because I think it's kind of

like what you, I always have this vision,
uh, Rebecca, you know, when you were

saying, well, it's just this one thing
in the beginning, I have them do, but to

me, it's like, if you're in the ocean,
you're sailing this large ship and you

like turn them, you know, one degree.

One direction, but if you then run
four years of sailing this boat, you're

going to be in a different continent,
you know, um, and so it's like, it's

such a big, huge, you know, impact when
you can catch them at the right time.

Don't you think?


Um, can you tell me a little bit about.

I want to talk a little bit about
today's engineering students.

Um, I, I think that in the last,
definitely in the last decade, but I

think even especially perhaps because
of COVID, because of, you know, all of

the different societal, um, norms being
changed and challenged, you know, in the

last few years, um, they're There seems
to be a whole new set of students having

maybe different value systems, comes to
facing different issues, um, and, and I've

talked to a lot of people about that in
sort of the general student population,

but I kind of kept wondering whether
some of those issues exist for, you know.

Engineering students, or whether you see
any sort of trends, so you already had

mentioned, you know, gender is something
that you're still fighting for, right?

And we already talked about the, the
sort of nuance, you know, approach

of like problem solving versus
let's talk about the problem first.

Um, but are there other things too?

I mean, I see a lot of issues,
you know, like mental health.

I see a lot of, you know, um,
Issues with people thinking about

affordability of higher education.

Um, and probably, you know,
one that, that is popular these

days is artificial intelligence.

And I, I, I almost don't want to talk
about specifically like chat GPT or

generative, you know, sort of stuff, but
more than further implications of where

artificial intelligence may, may come in.

Of course, some of your students I'm
assuming are studying that and maybe

practicing, you know, you know, in that.


Um, so, yeah, one change I see just about
kind of their interest, I see a lot more

students interested in, um, environmental
issues, right, and interested in, in

doing things with renewable energy,
um, and doing different things that

can, can help protect our planet.

Uh, so there's, I think that's
one thing that, that is different

about this generation of students.


Can I ask a really, really,
really simple question?

Do you meet any students who don't believe
that we have an environmental issue today?

I have not come across any, uh, you
know, mainly when I hear about it.

But it exists, you know, there are pockets
of our population believes that, right.



Um, right.

But most of the time when I hear about
their, their interests in it, right,

it's because I ask, like, you know,
why did, why did you choose this?

Or what, you know, what are
your interests that overlap?


And I hear that a lot more.

So I don't ask the question flat out.


Um, everyone's, you know, they, they're,
they're, they're more thoughtful

than just, you know, do I believe it?

Do I not?

Of course I do.

Um, yeah.

Um, okay.

And I want to, right.

And, and a lot of them are a little
bit more aware, I think, of, you

know, the, the issues that our
technology, right, that engineers

have created, uh, are causing.

So, so engineers have
been part of the problem.

I believe that's a big part of the
problem, and now we need to really figure

out how to be part of the solution.

Is there a sense of, you know, like, I
know that when, um, when I talk to people,

you know, if you, I mean, I think Greta
Thunberg is the, the, the, the real, you

know, the person that really comes to mind
that, This is a person who is saying, you

guys really screwed up this planet for
us, like literally just this, this last,

you know, few decades, it wasn't that
screwed up before, like you really did it.

You screwed it up for us.

I'm going, we are going to have to fix it.

Hopefully you can help fix it, but we
are going to really be the one who's

going to face this and have to fix it.

There's a sense of, um, both urgency,
but there's also a sense of, You

know, like they are born with this
weight on their shoulders, you know,

and for the generation that created
it, they didn't have that sense.

They just wanted to do whatever they want.

They may not know that
that's what they were doing.

Or they may not be, uh, they may not
realize how badly it can be and how,

how, how large the problem is going to
scale to, you know, like the butterfly

effect, uh, the effect, you know?

Yeah, that, I mean, that was
kind of the, the problem.

Engineers were handed and, you
know, when, when engineering

education was developed, it's right.

How do we marry industry
with manufacturing?

Like, how do we make more things?

How do we make cheaper things?

Engineers have been wildly
successful at doing this, right?

But now we are at the point
where we have to ask, should we?


Should we keep doing this?

And, and, you know, and how do
we address kind of the issues

that have been created already?

So do you see, um, students today
having been equipped now with the

technical skills that they have and,
you know, these, you know, ideas

of, you know, what's, what are the
big wicked problems in the world?

Um, do you still see that, you
know, maybe some of them are?

You know, certainly still interested
in going to get that job at Google

versus people who are doing more
entrepreneurial stuff, or are they

just looking for opportunities?

Doesn't have to be entrepreneurship,
but it might be about joining

organizations and companies that have a
different kind of mission and purpose.

So where do you see that?

So, although I do think where,
where students will go, right,

is, is kind of up to the students.

And, um, Right?

That's part of my goal in
engineering education as well, is

to give the students agency, right?

And I don't expect that all students are
going to want to work on these really

complex, societally relevant problems.

Um, right?

There are some that might work
at Google their whole lives and,

you know, that's their choice.

That's what they want to do.

Um, but, yeah, I think, I, I do hope,
though, that being exposed to this, more

students will be prepared to take on these
problems, because I think that's a big

part of the issue is in the past, and,
you know, even kind of right now, a lot

of students, right, who are just prepared
with a very technical focus, you know,

don't have the kind of preparation they
need to, like, make solving these kind

of problems even a possibility, right?

That's not an accessible option to them.

So, right, I, I think we're opening
up that door and, you know, I, I think

though, based on what What the current
generation of students is concerned with

that, yeah, we should, we should see more
of them kind of going down that path.

But I do also think, don't
you think it would be fair?

I mean, I feel like that we've beaten
up on Google a lot here, but, you

know, don't you think it'd be fair to
say that, um, We also need students

who will be working and running the
future of Googles and Facebooks, etc.

But they would be the one who need
to inject that sense of urgency to

privacy, respecting people's, you
know, sort of, uh, data and, and

things of that nature too, right?

We need, we need them at all
levels, really, don't we?


And, and that, you know, um, there's
nothing wrong really working at

Google or whatnot, except that,
you know, like they could be on the

team working on the right thing.


It feels like that that happens.

I mean, I still remember when, um, the
person who, um, Pointed out what happened

at Facebook with, um, with a study that
they had, um, on the impact of, you

know, social media on especially, uh,
teenage, um, girls, um, and to that person

worked at Facebook, that person Wanted.

It was a woman, right?

I forgot her name.

Actually, I really shouldn't have.

I should look this up.

But, um, she worked at Facebook with
that being her intention, not the

intention to be a whistleblower,
to, to solve this problem.

And she was promised that
that's what they were doing.

It was not until the fact that she
realized that they weren't being

sincere in solving this problem.

In fact, they were going to sort of just.

Cover it up or, you know, knew it knew
the office, the reports existence,

but then not do anything with it.

That's when she went and
try to do the right thing.

But that person had to have that,
this kind of mindset that you, you

were talking about before trying to
figure out what's right and wrong.

What are the ethical and, and, and, and,
you know, ways to, um, to be able to,

um, to probably just to face themselves
and face the world, don't you think?Yeah.

And I think for sure, if we've, if we've
got enough people with, you know, the.

With different mindsets and the big
corporations, then we have the power to.

Change the direction of large
corporations, too, right?

And it could be that I mean to me it's
sad that in the last You know, it's sad

that there are industries like, you know,
namely like things like oil and gas that

that found Something that is worth, you
know, that is essentially, you know, worth

a lot of money, very, very valuable, but
happens to also destroy our environment.

And then, you know, we have technology
companies that have also then found

this thing that's very valuable.

And that is people's data, people's
profile, people's preferences, but then

it destroys people's privacy, right?

And, you know, they have to resolve
to tricking them into, you know,

giving up their data and privacy
and making money off of that, right?

It almost feels like that the next
generation of innovation could very

well be, Hey, look, this stuff is
extremely valuable and it doesn't

destroy either people or the environment.


I mean, that probably just wasn't
a consideration to be really frank.

I think that I don't, I genuinely
don't believe that people in the

beginning Well, I mean, I'm being
naive, but I don't believe that they

initially set out to destroy and
benefit themselves at the same time.

I don't think that they
could even plan it.

I think they just, you know, come
across it and just rode the wave, right?

Until it became too late.

Well, maybe they didn't even know
the effects, but right, they didn't.

Stop to consider the should,
should we do things, right?

I'm just like, well, we are on the
cusp of that a little bit now with AI.

Don't you think?


Yeah, sure.

I mean, AI has come a long
way, like really quickly.

And it, it's a lot to figure out.

It's kind of terrifying,
but, uh, but there's.

A lot of opportunity there too, and
figuring out the, the boundaries of

it and you know, what, what should
and shouldn't be done as a big

complicated issue that has to be looked
at from a lot of different angles.


Not just the technology one,
which says we know how to do this.



My hope, I'll tell you, my hope is
it's Having, having spoken to a lot

of, you know, AI, um, engineers who
actually have many of them say that,

you know what, you know, we made a lot
of this stuff work, but we actually

don't know how the machine is making it
work because it's too complicated for

them to even understand at this point,
but what they, um, what seems to be.

My hope, the saving grace here
is that, um, there is still time.

There's still a chance for not just the
engineers, but for all humans who interact

with the machines, because the machines
are not learning just from the engine.

In fact, they can't learn just from
the engineer because they need a

vast amount of data to learn from.

So they're really learning
from society, but.

It's really from society that gives them
ideas of what ethics look like, what

values, you know, we, we, what, what
are the human values that make, make

the species special, you know, um, and
what happiness look like and, and so on.



But a big part of the risk is,
does the data represent everybody?

Yeah, right now, probably.

Well, that's, that's one of
the problems too, is that.

We have a disproportionate amount of data
that was generated in recent years, um,

to available data in the world, right?

Like, we don't have nearly as much data.

I mean, I, I think that someone said
that, you know, YouTube alone generates

by megabytes more data in any one day than
probably the last century combined, right?

And that's probably, I don't know
whether that's an exaggeration, but

that wouldn't surprise me at all, right?

Um, first it was video versus, you know,
but regardless, the point really is that

there is a lot more data being generated
like disproportionately every minute.

You know, now than before, so, you
know, like, um, there's got to be

some kind of bias built into that,
um, for, for AI to learn from, but,

but, but exactly to what I'm hoping
for is, you know, it's engineers

and students, because it's not all
engineering students at Bucknell, right?

But all students from places like
Bucknell, whether you take on an

engineering position or, you know,
something else, are the ones.

Who will either in the side of the
creation of these new technologies

and machines and, and, and, and,
and intelligence, um, or they are in

the side of just being a, you know,
a responsible part of the community

and society, a member of that to.

Behave and, and, um, contribute to
and to teach, you know, ethically and,

and, and with, with the understanding
of these kind of, you know, um, uh,

uh, these, um, uh, current issues that
allows for, um, technology, whether

it be AI powered or not to, to have
a bias more towards the side that,

that won't destroy us in the future.


Um, well, do you have anything
that you want to say to wrap up?

I think, um, thank you so much for
spending so much time with me so far.

I don't know.

We've, we've went a long ways,
but yeah, I'm, I'm really excited

about like ePortfolios and now
integrating those with STEM can.

Help our students narrate, you know,
their, their paths and, and think about

what they want to do and maybe, you
know, shift, shift the trajectory of

where we're going and, and make it so
that yes, they don't destroy us all.

I know that you're going to
be too polite to plug, but I'm

going to make a plug for you.


And for Bucknell.

I think for.

All the institutions, all the people
who are in power in their respective

institutions who previously had this
idea that STEM students aren't built

to do portfolios because they are,
you know, we, you can't reach to that.

You can't reach them.

They are doing this.

You know, sort of, you know,
your, your own idea of what a

STEM education may look like.

I think you, after this conversation,
hopefully you can think again.

I think you should go and look
at what Bucknell has done.

Reach out to, um, uh, Rebecca and
maybe her colleagues that will be

featuring many of them, um, to, to try
to understand and keep an open mind to

understand that, um, You know, um, uh,
there's a lot to be learned from the

STEM fields and they also are taking
a lot of what you take for granted of

your students, you know, in the liberal
arts or in the humanities, et cetera.

And there's actually a lot more
similarities than there are differences.

And in fact, um, don't discount them.

And if you are in a institution where
your engineering program is not.

Um, currently practicing these
things, really think twice about it.

I think that that could have tremendous
impact to society and the world.

How's that?

I agree.

That sounds great.

All right, Rebecca, um, it
is lovely to chat with you.

Thanks for spending the time with
me again and, uh, yeah, and, uh,

let's, uh, let's talk again soon.


Sounds great.

All right.


Take care.