Teaching first, technology second

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Stepping through the glass doors of the Krause Innovation Studio feels like taking a step into the future, and in many ways, it is. But it’s not only the vibrant seating pods reminiscent of spaceships that give the studio its modern feel — what makes the space a window into the future is its innovative approach to teaching and learning with technology.

The Krause Innovation Studio, located on the second floor of Chambers Building at Penn State’s University Park campus, opened in spring 2012 thanks to a donation by College of Education alumna Gay Krause and her husband, Bill.

The studio — which is open to everyone at Penn State — was partly developed to support the College of Education’s EDUCATE program. As a result, the studio was created as a learning space where both students and faculty could explore the possibilities of “teaching first, technology second,” as the studio’s slogan says. 
     
“The way we try to think about it is how do we help faculty think about their teaching first? How might they teach their classes better?” said Scott McDonald, director of the studio and an associate professor of science education. “Second to that is how might technology play a role in helping them?”

The studio is divided into two main sections: the Learn Lab, a classroom that seats 24 to 30 students, and a large, open collaborative space with individual breakout rooms that can be scheduled via online software.

The Learn Lab houses a smart board as well as five projection screens that can be individually controlled to display different presentations. In the collaborative space and breakout rooms, students can use large display monitors and adapters to share their work with peers.
    
Aside from these innovative technologies, the studio was intentionally designed to be free of computers, and instead, is a “bring your own device” space.

“There were a couple reasons for not building technology into the space,” McDonald said. “One is we wanted students to use their own tools. The other reason is we were really conscious that technology goes obsolete very quickly. If you spend a lot of money putting technology into a space, you have to life cycle that out, and we didn't want to always be hunting for new things.”

In addition to offering students a colorful and quiet place to study, the studio is also a research environment for instructors like McDonald to examine the benefits of smarter learning spaces.

“Part of our research agenda is to develop a set of design principles that articulate what it is about these learning spaces that works,” McDonald said. “So others don't just copy this space, but they understand what it is about the space that’s good.”

So far, the studio has inspired three similarly-designed learning spaces in Chambers Building: the Language and Literacy Lab, the Mathematics Education Lab and the Social Studies Lab. And, McDonald hopes, the inspiration will continue to spread across campus and beyond.
     
“We've had visitors from other universities and K-12 schools who tour the spaces to get a sense of what they can do at their schools,” McDonald said. “I like to think we're influencing other people in the way they're thinking about space.”

For students like Leigh Boggs, an innovation consultant at the studio and a junior studying secondary math education, the Krause Innovation Studio has been a model for herself and other educators of tomorrow.

“As a student in the College of Education, I think the studio gives you opportunities to learn how to incorporate technology into your future teaching practices. I know for several classes, I've seen them come in here and use the technology in the studio to really enhance their lesson.”

According to Boggs, the technology in the studio encourages active learning — a style of teaching that encourages students to be engaged with course material through problem solving and analysis.

“I think technology serves as a great medium to allow students to actively engage in their learning rather than just passively absorbing information,” Boggs said. “For example, they could be using computer programs to explore mathematical concepts or research information in science and history, as well as working collaboratively with their other classmates. So I think it makes learning more active as well as gets everyone involved in an easy way.”

For Simon Hooper, a professor in the Learning, Design, and Technology program and a former Teaching and Learning with Technology Fellow, this kind of engagement is what sets the Learn Lab apart from the traditional college classroom.

“In terms of the teaching environment, the studio supports different configurations much more easily than a traditional classroom,” Hooper said. “I use a lot of small-group work and collaboration in my teaching, and if I were in a traditional environment that would be much more difficult. The group tables and technology make it very easy for students to quickly demonstrate what they’re working on.”

According to Hooper, the Krause Innovation Studio reveals a glimpse into the future of what can be achieved by incorporating technology into education.

“The reality is that there are similar ideas about using technology in education cropping up all over the institution,” Hooper said. “What we've done with technology to support teaching and learning is really in its infancy. This field hasn’t really started to blossom since the beginning of the Internet around 25 years ago. So thinking about where we’re going to be in another 25 or 100 years is incredibly exciting.” 

For more stories about IT at Penn State, visit news.it.psu.edu

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Last Updated February 12, 2016