Penn State designs collaborative learning spaces

November 03, 2009
University Park, Pa. -- To meet the growing national trend toward team-based learning, Information Technology Services (ITS) has been installing collaborative learning spaces equipped with the latest technologies throughout Penn State's University Park campus. The new learning spaces, many of which are available around the clock, are helping faculty test the limits of team learning by making it easy for students to collaborate on activities and course projects.

Collaborative learning spaces at Penn State are popular with students because they make group project assignments easier to complete Mary Ramsey, manager, learning spaces, said. “It’s nice for students to be able to work together in the same location as opposed to say being in different residence halls,” she said. "Having a place where you can go and work together helps expedite the project.”

Along with supplying these spaces with comfortable furniture that students can arrange to meet their group needs, ITS has installed technologies designed to assist students with team projects. Ramsey said there are several technologies that are available to students. In addition, wireless is available, if students opt to bring their own laptop.

Below are several popular collaborative spaces currently available at University Park:

Two "TeamSpot" locations 

In 201 Pollock enhance students’ ability to collaborate on group projects via technology, allowing them to transfer files, collaboratively edit documents, and share individual computer screens on a large, central monitor. “In this area, we have a very large screen with a couple of computers around it. It’s great for collaboration,” Ramsey said. “For example, someone can be working on an intro to a project paper while somebody else is working on the analysis part, the final report, the appendix, and so on. Thus, you can have different people working on various aspects of the same document and when it is pulled up on the large screen, everyone can see it, share it, and modify it.”

Each TeamSpot station features Windows computers, with either a 37" or a 40" shared LCD HD monitor, tables for 2-6 students, wireless access, and a semi-private location. Ramsey said that it may take a while for students to fully comprehend how all this equipment can help them. “TeamSpot is a good collaborative tool, but it is a little more complex to use and to understand its concept,” Ramsey said. “Students may walk in and wonder ‘why do we have these computers around here, and what do we do with the big screen’?”  To resolve the confusion, an instructional video on using TeamSpot is in development, she added. The video will not only include how to use the tools, but summarize why students might want to use each of the elements in the system.

Another collaborative technology available for students is the CopyCam, located in 107 Warnock and 102 Wagner, which enables students to write on a regular whiteboard and then electronically save and share notes, drawings, etc. “It’s a whiteboard with a big camera that captures what is written on the board. You write on the whiteboard like you normally would without CopyCam,” Ramsey said. “Instead of taking time to copy down the notes that were on the board, you simply press a button and save it to your flash drive. CopyCam is not extremely complicated, so it doesn’t require any training.”

MIDI Keyboard

In addition, students can create music with the collaborative tool available to them i

n 107 Warnock. In this location, a Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) keyboard with a microphone is installed on a Windows computer. A MIDI keyboard is also installed on an Apple computer in 201 Pollock. Students use the technology by playing and composing with the keyboard similar to a piano. Along with the MIDI keyboard, there is a microphone for vocal input as well as software to help students record and edit music.

“It’s not a collaborative tool like TeamSpot where you are working on a document collectively, but instead you are writing music,” Ramsey said. “We put the MIDI keyboard in Warnock because so many music students live in North Halls and it gives them easy access to it.”

ITS also offers music students a variety of software for use with the MIDI keyboard. Among the types of software available are programs that offer students “virtual musicians” for accompaniment, produce sheet music, teach piano, produce dance music, provide music editing and production, and more. To see a complete list, go to .

Electronic Whiteboard

Another tool available in Pollock is the Interwrite electronic whiteboard. The e-whiteboard enables students to interact and write on the board using dry erase markers, then have their work save electronically to a file. This allows more efficient use of time because students do not have to copy the information on the whiteboard to a notebook, they can merely save it.

To learn more about collaborative learning spaces and available technologies, go to This site will be updated later in the fall, so check back soon for the latest information.



Last Updated November 18, 2009