Education

CNN: The Portals Project: This gold box is 'better than Facebook'

CNN: The Portals Project: This gold box is 'better than Facebook'

Thousands of commuters buzz by it; dozens more see it from the Starbucks line less than 100 feet away. But only a few enter this gold box in the middle of downtown Los Angeles' Grand Park.

"That was amazing," Bernadine Harris said as she stepped out of the shipping container covered in gold paint.

Moments before, she was speaking live to an Iraqi refugee standing in front of her — on a large video screen.

Austin American-Statesman: Golden shipping container at St. Edward's University is a videoconferencing portal to the world

Austin American-Statesman: Golden shipping container at St. Edward's University is a videoconferencing portal to the world

My two new college-aged friends -- at least I think we're friends, we just met -- love to hang out with their friends, shop and hit the beach when it's not too crowded. One of them loves horror movies, the other is really into action films. They've both gearing up for exams coming up in their studies of English and French literature

Greenwich Time: A Door to Human Connection

Greenwich Time: A Door to Human Connection

A stream of some 10 fourth-grade girls poured out of a metallic gold shipping container into the bright sunshine at Greenwich Academy. "Oh my gosh, that was so fun," several said, smiles on their faces. Inside, the students had been speaking with students in Honduras through a live stream, full-body video connection.  They talked about their favorite parts of school and what they like to do for fun with the help of a translator.

Hilltop Views: Inside the Portal Conversing with 2 Honduran Girls

Hilltop Views: Inside the Portal Conversing with 2 Honduran Girls

Going into the Portal, I did not entirely know what to expect. I mean, I was about to go into this golden shipping crate that was supposed to connect me with someone across the globe. What was I going to say? what kind of questions would they ask me? Would I be awkward? My mind went into this experience loaded with questions. However, as I propelled myself into an eye-opening conversation, I soon learned that the selfish questions wandering through my mind were unnecessary

Stanford Daily: Crothers Portal Connects Students Worldwide

Crothers RFs Stephen Stedman and Corinne Thomas stand in front of the Crothers Portal, which is now connecting students with conversation partners around the world (Courtesy of Corinne Thomas).

Crothers RFs Stephen Stedman and Corinne Thomas stand in front of the Crothers Portal, which is now connecting students with conversation partners around the world (Courtesy of Corinne Thomas).

The Stanford Portal, a long-distance video-chatting booth which facilitates conversation between Stanford students and individuals in portals in Kigali, Rwanda, Heart, Afghanistan and Mexico City, has been operating outside of Crothers Memorial since May 2. So far, student experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.

Caroline Neel, Stanford’s Portal Curator, explained the appeal.

“We’re trying to recreate something that’s pretty normal, like meeting a stranger,” Neel said.

According to Neel, an important part of the experience is to make the user feel like they are having a normal conversation. To do so, Shared_Studios – the collective leading the project – takes empty shipping containers and fits them with carpet to create a natural room environment. Live footage from the other portal is then projected onto the wall.

“You’re seeing a life-size person as if they’re really there,” Neel said.

Every portal operates in the same way. According to Neel, this creates parallel experiences in completely different parts of the world.

Savannah Pham ’18 had a conversation with a 27-year-old man from Kigali.

“First it [was] a little awkward, because I’ve never seen this person and never experienced his culture before, but it got a lot easier,” Pham said. “We ended up bonding over the fact that we like helping other people and want to go into education.”

Discovering similarities between the people using the portal has been a common theme for Stanford students. According to Pham, the experience gave unique insight into how completely different countries and cultures can still have shared experiences in their day-to-day lives.

Although a translator was present, just in case, almost all communication occurs without the help of the translator, which students describe as adding similarity and comfort to the conversation.

Neel echoed this idea, adding that these interactions served to break down cultural barriers.

According to Neel, who talked to different students after their sessions in the portal, this facilitation of dialogue is very important in the current politically charged times. Some students, she said, came out wanting to discuss the need for discourse between Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan and the United States to stop cultural preconceptions we may have.

Neel also recounted one of the Portal interactions in which a Stanford student played ukulele in the portal while the Rwandan person sung along from the other side of the world.

In another case, a student from Seattle who had conversed with an individual from Kigali, Rwanda, who is visiting Seattle in six months. Neel exchanged their email information so they can meet in person.

Since these conversations are brief, many of the participants choose to avoid small talk and often focus on more intimate questions. As a result, people can grow close in these exchanges.

“He asked me, ‘so what is your dream?’ and it caught me off guard, because people here don’t ask me that,” Pham said.

The Portal will be open to students who make reservations until May 12.

 

Stanford News: Portals Project makes connections around the world

Stanford News: Portals Project makes connections around the world

While celebrating May Day in Kigali this year, University of Rwanda student INNOCENT UDAHEMUKA stopped by Stanford for a visit – well, almost.

Stepping into a gold-painted, soundproofed shipping container, Udahemuka stood in just the right spot for the mic to pick him up, the cameras to provide a full-body projection and the 4G connection to deliver him to a similar container in front of Crothers Hall on the Stanford campus. Udahemuka was in Rwanda.