Symposium 2019 sparks one's imagination for what is possible in higher education

Vilma Shu
March 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Saturday, March 16, more than 500 attendees packed into Presidents Hall at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center to kick off the 26th Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology, one of the most innovative professional development events of the year at Penn State.

In her opening remarks, Jennifer Sparrow, senior director of Teaching and Learning with Technology, touched on Penn State’s commitment to forward-thinking with initiatives such as President Eric Barron’s vision for One Penn State 2025, a guiding framework for University-wide education innovation with a focus on student success and lifelong engagement.

“I am proud that Penn State continues to be cutting-edge, and Teaching and Learning with Technology collaborates with faculty to explore how innovative technology can transform education to advance student learning,” Sparrow said.

Penn State leads the charge in reimagining student learning by tackling the burning discussions in higher education on topics such as immersive learning, connecting education to the workforce of the future, and promoting access and equity.

After the buffet breakfast, Dan Heath, four-time New York Times bestselling author and a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE Center, delivered the keynote address on how to make ideas stick.

“Our memories are leaky, fallible and they deteriorate,” said Heath. “For an idea to stick, it needs to be understood, remembered and change something.”

Citing the research done by Michael Palmer, professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Virginia, Heath captivated the audience with his explanation of how Palmer used learner-centered, backward-integrated design principles to convince instructors to rethink how they create a syllabus to teach their courses. By starting with a goal of what is most important for students to take away from a course and working backward to create the activities and assessments, the core ideas have a chance of sticking long after students leave the classroom.

Heath has co-authored four business books with his brother, Chip, including "Made to Stick," "Switch," "Decisive," and their latest, "The Power of Moments."

Energized by the keynote speaker’s message, attendees dashed to the concurrent sessions — two before lunch and two afterward. The most popular sessions covered topics including 3D printing, 360-degree videos, open educational resources, learning the art of storytelling, the future of digital fluency, and leveraging prototypes of artificial intelligence applications to support data-empowered learning at Penn State.

The most anticipated aspect of the Symposium every year is the Open Innovation Challenge, where five faculty innovators have five minutes to present their idea in the hopes that it will ignite the attendees’ curiosity and earn their votes as the most impactful.

Chris Palma, professor of astronomy, envisioned technology that will help students embody solar system formations; Faith McDonald, professor of English, hoped to prepare students with digital stories to face workplace challenges; Matthew Woessner, associate professor of political science and public policy at Penn State Harrisburg, wanted to create 360-degree videos to take students to distant places through virtual reality; Josephine Wee, assistant professor of food science, wanted students to reimagine classrooms without textbooks and embrace interactive content in real-time; and Rodney Allen Trice, professor of practice in the graphic design department of the Stuckeman School at Penn State, won the challenge with his idea “Walk a Mile,” a series of 360-degree videos and photos that create an immersive experience to invoke empathy. Penn State's Stuckeman School also houses graduate and undergraduate degree programs in architecture and landscape architecture.

Over the course of the year, Trice’s idea will be explored and developed with the help of TLT staff.

“Working on the Open Innovation Challenge is the highlight of my year,” said Zach Lonsinger, learning experiences designer for Teaching and Learning with Technology. “I enjoy having the opportunity to meet and work with amazing faculty who have this contagious enthusiasm and passion for transforming teaching and learning with their big ideas.”

The conference ended with faculty networking over scoops of Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream while trying out some new technologies such as test driving a BEAM robot and stepping into virtual reality with headsets at the Discovery sessions.

The Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology brings together faculty, staff and innovators to inspire new ideas for what is possible in the future of higher education. It takes one “sticky” idea to inspire innovation that changes the world. From Gutenberg’s printing press to Thomas Edison’s light bulb, curiosity fuels learning, and educators are charged with stoking it.

“It’s incredible how dedicated our faculty, staff and students are to show up at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to share the innovative things that they are doing in the classrooms and to learn more about what is happening in the teaching and learning community at Penn State,” said Sara Davis, 2019 Symposium chair and Teaching and Learning with Technology instructional designer. “I want to thank everyone who attended the 2019 Symposium and mark your calendars, the 2020 TLT Symposium will be on Saturday, March 21, 2020. I hope to see everyone next year.”

Last Updated April 24, 2019