Barron highlights transformative experiences through digital innovation

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State President Eric J. Barron outlined the University’s progress creating transformative experiences for students through digital innovation to the Board of Trustees at its Friday (Feb. 23) meeting at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.

As a foundation in Penn State’s Strategic Plan, the University is committed to driving digital innovation by preparing students for success in the digital age and using technology to foster economic opportunities in communities across Pennsylvania and beyond.

“Digital innovation is happening faster than ever and technology is transforming our lives, as well as our classrooms,” said Barron. “The classroom of tomorrow has not yet been imagined, and the big question is whether Penn State is going to lead or follow. We have a head start through the World Campus and hybrid classrooms, but we need to find ways to do even more to create innovative learning environments that empower students outside the classroom and create lifelong learners who are resilient in an ever-changing job market.”

During the presentation, Barron said the University is stepping forward as a higher education leader in partnering with faculty members, technology experts and students to generate knowledge that will drive advances in teaching and learning at the University and beyond.  

Barron shared examples outlining Penn State’s progress in five key areas:

Flexible, adaptable spaces

  • Classrooms like the Design Experience Lab — for digital prototyping — and Penn State Fayette’s STEAM Suite — an arts and engineering lab with 3-D printers — are giving students across colleges and campuses opportunities for innovation, collaboration and creative thinking. At the experimental BlueBox Studio, faculty can test new teaching methodologies involving technology-facilitated learning. In four semesters, the space has hosted 40 courses across five colleges.  

Technology classrooms with online and blended learning options

  • To reimagine how courses are structured and delivered, the Blended Learning Transformation Program (BlendLT) helps faculty redesign an existing residential course to a blended face-to-face and online format that engages students in new ways.
  • At the Media Commons, students can get multimedia support and become content creators using the One Button Studio’s simplified video recording set-up. The One Button Studio is now available at every Penn State campus location and has expanded beyond Penn State to more than 100 universities.

Virtual and augmented reality

  • To help bring the power of immersive experiences to students, the Dreamery was created as a co-learning space where students, faculty and staff can explore emerging technologies and leverage innovative tools in their teaching and research pursuits. Across the Commonwealth, the Dreamery has inspired the creation of a new virtual reality lab at Penn State Lehigh Valley.
  • Opened in fall 2017, the Immersive Experiences (IMEX) Lab supports the creation of immersive media and has been used by students in six colleges. The lab features a space designed for 360° video creation, which offers students a new model for storytelling, and allows viewers to experience locations — like an underwater exploration or African safari — from the classroom.  

Accommodations for multiple learning styles

  • To make education more affordable, BBookX is a technology developed at Penn State that uses artificial intelligence to enable faculty to create their own open-source electronic textbooks, which students can access at little to no cost.
  • The Maker Commons in Pattee-Paterno Library is a University-wide initiative to enrich teaching and learning through 3-D printing and rapid prototyping. In 2017, nearly 1,600 students from eight colleges printed more than 6,700 projects using 3-D printers.

Support for faculty innovation

At the presentation, Penn State faculty members — Ann Clements, Ashu Kumar, Scott McDonald and Scott Yabiku — joined Barron to share their ideas, projects and experiences as past winners of the Open Innovation Challenge, which will take place this year on March 17. 

Supporting faculty to be innovative and creating richer, more immersive learning experiences for students is also a critical piece of Penn State’s new philanthropic campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence, according to Barron.

“From faculty to students to instructional designers, we have thought leaders here at Penn State who are innovators in the educational technology space,” Barron said. “As a community, we need to make sure that more of their worthwhile ideas continue to be supported and funded, so that as a University we can advance fast enough.”

Last Updated March 15, 2018