The general public probably knows Ashley Raburn as one of the three forces that combine to organize the annual Cleveland Geekster, a local toy, comics and collectibles show, but he serves an even bigger role in the community: He leads today’s faculty at Cleveland State Community College in finding unique ways to reach students and guide them in their classes.
The general public probably knows Ashley Raburn as one of the three forces that combines to organize the annual Cleveland Geekster, a local toy, comics and collectibles show.
But, he serves an even bigger role in the community: He leads today’s faculty at Cleveland State Community College in finding unique ways to reach students and guide them in their classes.
Raburn serves as the director of Dynamic Instruction at CSCC, which entails supporting faculty in evolving teaching techniques and increasing online and multimedia teaching tools to capture the attention and interest of students.
In addition to his duties in Dynamic Instruction, he is one of the faculty that teaches the First Year Seminar class to freshmen. This class covers things like learning styles, budgets and the intricacies of transferring to a four-year university.
Being a First Year Seminar instructor, Raburn says he was recently approached by a group of students who wanted a “tip” about college and classes. His Jedi wisdom was to actually “go to it. It’s one thing to attend college, but you have to go to class,” Raburn said.
Raburn recognizes that you have to attend class to find out what you like and don’t like about the careers that you are interested in. Starting out at Cleveland State, Raburn transferred to the University of Tennessee, eventually earning his undergraduate degree in broadcasting. He was looking for a contact to help him get his foot in the door in the world of TV.
“I started at Cleveland State, fresh out of school, as a part-time temporary position in 2005. I was trying to get a job in television production, and it just wasn’t happening. But I soon realized after college that it’s not a job that I really wanted to do,” Raburn said.
His initial “part-time” position eventually led to more and more responsibilities and evolved into the job he now has. Eventually, Raburn dedicated himself to completing his Master’s Degree at UT in Instructional Technology. Leading the department has opened an avenue for he and his team to make presentations about dynamic teaching techniques in several different cities across the United States, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix. And he loves it.
“Ultimately, our department is here to support faculty. The school’s role is to support students. The way we do that is by supporting faculty. I love being able to come in each morning and see faculty experience something new in a new way…expanding what they do, and I get to be a part of that,” Raburn said.
Upon taking the Director of Dynamic Instruction position at CSCC, Raburn reflected on his educational path and reached out to the one instructor who, to him, stood out from the rest — a history teacher from Bradley Junior High School (now, Ocoee Middle School), Kris Gilbert.
Gilbert was new to Bradley Junior in the late 1990s in his first couple of years with the school, when Raburn was a part of his class, but that class was important to both Raburn and Gilbert. According to Raburn, Gilbert credits that specific group of students and his turn to a more experimental teaching style as being an important time for him as an educator.
“A lot of things from that class have informed me in my life. He (Gilbert) took history and ‘gamified’ it,” Raburn said.
Gilbert introduced a method of role-playing for the students to learn about a country’s history, classes of people and the changing politics.
“He made it exciting and made you want to go to class,” Raburn said. “For example, one day you might be the king of the class. Tomorrow there may be a revolt and the peasants throw you out of the class. It was the best learning experience I ever had.”
Aside from Raburn’s professional success, he is also involved in the realm of pop and "geek" culture. Raburn, along with his compatriots Rob Alderman and Ryan Faricelli, organize the yearly Cleveland Geekster event, which will celebrate its fifth year this Sept. 22. Cleveland Geekster brings in thousands of fans to celebrate a myriad of different fan cultures, such as Star Wars, comic books, science fiction, board games, role-playing games, cartoons, toys and on and on.
In addition to his role in helping organize the event, Raburn is also a collectible dealer during Geekster.
“As a kid, I remember a lot of mall shows, and it would be a kind of treat to happen upon a show going into a mall,” he said. “At first I was a toy dealer to feed my collection. I would buy stuff that I didn’t necessarily want to sell to buy the things that I wanted for my own collection.”
But over time, that initial compulsion for Raburn changed. At one of the first couple of shows that Ashley sold stuff at in 2011, he had a box of common, vintage He-Man stuff for sale, and a boy attending the event with his dad saw the contents of the box and recognized it from seeing the original 1980s "He-Man" and the "Masters of the Universe" cartoon series newly added to Netflix. Raburn gave the family a tremendous deal on the entire box just to pass on his love for the property to a new generation.
In that way, Raburn is much like one of his personal heroes, the Fourth Doctor from the long-running British sci-fi television series "Dr. Who." The role is a mantle that many actors have played over its more than 50-year run, but “The Doctor”as played by actor Tom Baker from 1974 to 1981 was the one who Raburn most identified with growing up.
Raburn is quoted on one of his more recent blog posts on his website www.lifewithfandom.com describing the Fourth Doctor: “He inspired me to be strange and goofy if I wanted to, but also reminded me that I could be serious too. He convinced me that I should keep full pockets of trinkets because you never know when you might need one of them. He taught me how to make an entrance at the most inopportune time. He taught me there was a time to fight for what you believe in, but also to make the best decisions I could while doing it.”
Raburn’s love of all things fan culture oriented has even led him into the world of writing and self-publishing. In 2014, Raburn wrote and illustrated his own mini-comic titled "Quinton Harrison: The Man From Earth" and more recently he has been published as part of an unofficial, non-fiction Dr. Who anthology called "Children of Time: The Companions of Dr. Who."
Raburn is also an avid tabletop and role-playing game enthusiast. The past few Cleveland Geekster shows have added a room specifically for experienced and novice players to take part in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. But his love for games is far reaching, from the intricacies of a D&D game to a “chaotic, cooperative, real-time” Uno-like game called 5-Minute Dungeon. He is only interested in the core aim of any game — fun.
Raburn has even recently begun collaborating with one of his Geekster partners to develop a “space-western” tabletop role-playing game. They are hoping to use the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter to fund the project in the future. According to Raburn, Ryan is more of the “creative force” behind the project, whereas he is more of the game “librarian,” in the sense that he brings knowledge of so many past tabletop and role-playing games to the project with which they can fine-tune the game mechanics.
When posited with the eternal question: “If your house was on fire and you could run in and save one possession, what would it be?” Raburn replied, “My original He-Man (action figure) … I feel like it’s the catalyst for many of the things that I do for hobbies.”
It is no coincidence that Raburn serves as both a support to the faculty and students, finding new and exciting ways to navigate the business of teaching and learning and as a curator of all things geek — board games, role-playing games, comics, toys, cartoons, science fiction — much like his hero, the Fourth Doctor ends up serving as a curator within the "Doctor Who" world. He is serving his community, and the universe, in the best way he knows, without actually traveling the galaxy.
When he is not juggling his time at work or organizing Cleveland Geekster, he is home with his wife, Jennifer Balding, who is expecting their newest addition, a daughter name Julia, in August, or he is chasing his first-born son, Ian, around the yard as he tries aiming his light-up He-Man sword at the neighbor’s cat in an effort to turn him into his trusty sidekick, Battle Cat.
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