PA – 2015 TLT Symposium

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March 21, 2015 by Dr. G

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 7.21.25 PMI haven’t been traveling for a few months – which has been fine with me, especially in this miserable winter weather.  But there is one conference each spring semester I look forward to attending, and that is Penn State University’s Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) Symposium.  I have attended most of these since I’ve been at Penn State (past blog posts capture my experiences), and I’m always excited and inspired to hear about the innovative uses of new and emerging technologies to enhance student learning from faculty colleagues across the university (and yes, this year, members of all Penn State campuses were in attendance!).  Despite the snow and ice the day before, 500 of us gathered at the Penn Stater for a full day of sessions.

The conference used SCHED to create the conference schedule, which also allowed participants to register for sessions ahead of time, including a morning keynote, 43 concurrent sessions split between four timeslots, and a closing panel.  In addition to the print descriptions of the talks, each speaker was required to create an “elevator speech” to promote their talk and provide some additional information on what content would be covered.  These 24 short video elevator pitches are online at the TLT Symposium website and in YouTube.

As you can imagine, a conference about technology certainly encourages the use of technology, especially mobile devices and social media.  The hashtag #tltsym15 was even trending on Twitter today!

The TLT Symposium kicked off with a keynote by Dr. Eric Mazur, a physics faculty member from Harvard University.  His keynote was titled, “Educating the Innovators of the 21st Century.”  Dr. Mazur is a prominent name in the field of innovative teaching and student learning, and has been lecturing on this topic for years.  I was thrilled to see such an accomplished scientist and educator as the keynote – but felt I was left without a significant “ah-ha” moment from his talk.  Dr. Mazur said that to foster and teach innovation, we (faculty) need to teach problem solving with real, authentic problems, and encourage risk taking.  He said that when we lecture, it is more of a “information transfer,” instead of having students “do something” with the new knowledge and apply it – that traditional assessment focuses on the outcome, not the process, discourages risk taking, and focuses on an individual, not the group.  He gave us an example of a multiple choice question for audience members to discuss with each other, and then respond, to show us an example of how students can assimilate information that was learned outside of class.

Maybe it is because I am already a pedagogical researcher that is always trying new teaching methods to engage students in my courses.  Maybe it is because of the fantastic instructional designers and TLT staff I have interacted with over the years that are always thoughtful of technology implementation with learning outcomes.  I felt that Dr. Mazur was describing pedagogical practices and tools that the audience was already aware of without using the names flipped classroom, clicker questions, names like Bloom and Fink, etc.  And I know everyone can be more thoughtful and innovative with our courses, but what I felt was missing today was starting with the overarching course goals/outcomes, and getting to know our students.  All students are not the same between universities, or even between Penn State campuses.  There are times when I do need to do “information transfer,” especially when I’m introducing an entirely new vocabulary that is unique to the geosciences to my nonscience majors.  I think because Dan Pink and Robbie Melton were such dynamic speakers for the 2014 symposium, and Frans Johansson was absolutely incredible from 2013, and I learned so many new ideas and approaches from all of them, I was looking for that “here’s something completely different you don’t think about as educators” in a keynote.

But it was time to move on to the first concurrent session.  I started with the talk given by Dana Carlisle Kletchka and Chris Millet on “Delivering Rich Location-Based Experiences at Palmer Museum Using iBeacon.”  This session was really inspiring and found an innovative way to bring technology to the museum visitor – a recent topic of a New York Times article that was published just a few days ago.  The speakers asked the audience some great reflective questions: so what does a museum offer that the internet does not offer?  How can we use technology to educate/inform in the absence of a person?  Why is location important?  The speakers shared how content can enhance a museum visit (when a person is not available to be your guide) by popping up on a mobile device when a visitor walks close to an indoor location transmitter, one of the iBeacons.  I found this to be a very clever way to integrate technology with the mission of the museum, and I hope to hear more about the next project, using iBeacons in the university’s arboretum for 5th-grade school trips.

The next session I attended was titled “Using Social Media to Globalize Curriculum.”  Presenters Melanie Miller Foster and Daniel Foster started out great with getting the group to try to define global learning.  They shared the AAC&U definition from 2014, that says through global learning, students should (a) become informed, open-minded, responsible people who are attentive to diversity; (b) seek to understand how their actions affect both local and global communities; and (c) address the world’s most pressing and enduring issues collaboratively and equitably.  We then shifted to looking at Dee Fink’s significant learning goals and completed a worksheet modified from this webpage.  Unfortunately, our exercise and discussion went on for so long, we had next-to-no time to actually discuss the social media side and its application to global learning.  I was greatly disappointed that we did not get in to this important part – and it made me realize that the 45 minutes for these sessions goes by very fast!  I knew I wanted to keep this in mind for my afternoon session.

But now it was time for lunch, and time for this wonderful chocolate cake we were hearing about all morning!  Towards the end of lunch, the conference held its first Open Innovation Challenge.  Six lucky faculty members were given five minutes each to present their outside-the-box technology idea to the entire group.  Audience members were able to vote on their favorite topic to be funded and carried out by the TLT staff.

Right after lunch was my presentation with campus research librarian Nina Clements.  We presented on how we have collaborated to help my students use current news stories to enhance their scientific literacy.  But our “At Sea with Zotero” presentation had an interesting twist – Nina wasn’t able to travel up from Brandywine because of the bad weather, so we used technology to Skype her in to present!  It was a fun presentation with some great Q&A at the end.  I hope some people left our session thinking about how to use the citation management tool Zotero to help students improve their scientific and current-event literacy.

The last concurrent session I attended for the day was ““Social” Learning: Getting Students Engaged and “Sharing” with Yammer.”  There were two speakers in this session focusing on Yammer, and I really liked what was presented by Lauraine Hawkins from the Penn State Mont Alto campus.  She used Yammer for a biodiversity photography project for her BIOL 110 course (introduction to biology).  Students were required to take five photos of the environment around them and describe the image in the context of the course.  This reminded me of a project I did in flickr some years ago with students during Earth Science Week – and it reminded me of how much fun myself and the students had, and the connections they were able to make to their learning and local environment.  Thank you, Lauraine, for presenting on this project and inspiring me to bring back (and update) a project I did in the past.  This was a good reminder that the technology quickly updates and changes, making these types of projects easier than ones that were once “clunky” to complete with students.

The symposium ended with an Innovation Panel that shared ideas on hot topics in educational technology.  The panelists were Katie Vale, Director of Digital Learning from Harvard University; Tom Cavanagh, Associated Vice President of Distributed Learning from the University of Central Florida; and Peter Doolittle, Executive Director for the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research at Virginia Tech.  It was a shame that so many people left before this panel began, as important topics were covered that had not yet been discussed at the symposium, such as time and costs (financial and more) involved with innovation involving technology.

There were some really good tweets that captured some quality questions and challenges in 140 characters or less:

And of course, what would a technology conference full of educators be without tweets full of humor throughout the day?  Here are a few:

I have already marked next year’s symposium on my calendar.  There is always something new to learn and new approaches to consider, especially with new technologies and new students always appearing!  Thank you, TLT group, for organizing such a great conference and making this a free professional development opportunity for faculty from across the university.  Our students will be the ones that will benefit the most from our participation.


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