Strategic Directions | Feature

What To Change About Teaching and Learning in 2015

A Q&A with Kyle Bowen on the technologies of student engagement

Kyle D. Bowen, Penn State University's Director of Education Technology Services, is a leader in the development of technology for the enhancement of teaching and learning. His work has focused on tools that support student engagement and success, both in his current role at PSU and in his previous post at Purdue University, where he led the development of the Purdue Studio applications.

As we head into a new year, we naturally consider opportunities for change. Here, CT asks Bowen where educators might place their development efforts for 2015.

Mary Grush: As an education technologist, what do you want to change about teaching and learning in 2015?

Kyle Bowen: I'm glad you asked the question that way, because it implies that education transformation takes a long time — so what area should we try to explore now? Thinking about this, I keep circling back to student engagement. Over the coming year, I think we should really enhance our focus around student engagement.

Grush: You can cover a lot of ground with that…

Bowen: Of course, student engagement is a broad concept. And it has many different definitions. In this case, I think about student engagement in terms of the question: How do we support our students to help them get the most from their education?

Some of the newer technologies, or even technologies that have been around for a while, are beginning to mainstream in ways that are helping us extend learning beyond the class. We are starting to see a generation of tools, practices, and spaces to support this, and that's where our opportunity is. At our institutions, we can provide an environment to help our students build businesses, uphold causes, engage in undergraduate research… These are just a few examples of areas of learning — beyond the classroom — that can be supported through the use of technology.

Grush: You mentioned tools, practices, and spaces. Can you give examples of these?

Bowen: As I thought about this, I realized there is a collection of technologies — some new, others not new, and some a new interpretation of previous themes — that really are the technologies of student engagement. In particular, these are the tools that help students extract more from their education experience.

When we look at novel new spaces, for example, two stand out:

One type is video production spaces. These are spaces where students can produce video in a very simple and easy way. At Penn State, we developed technology for One Button Studio, a self-service video production studio. Students can just walk in and push one button… the technology automatically provides the presentation background, the necessary lighting, and camera recording. The student can pursue the development of their video project without having to be concerned with the subtle nuances of elements like proper lighting techniques, and so forth. And, they can do this all themselves. They can use this space to practice presentations for their class, or work on a business pitch, or, they might record or create content or a performance piece they could submit to an instructor as evidence of learning (especially in areas where the only way to assess learning is to demonstrate it). This technology has been adopted at other institutions across the country.

We can point to another great example of technology development that helps erase, if you will, the technology from the technology solution, in the makerspaces that enable 3D printing. Of course, 3D printing has been around for a little while, but what's different now is that this technology is beginning to scale. We can now have a number of networked printers in a space to support the production of 3D printing by students. The main reason that's new is that a networked series of 3D printers can at last help overcome the biggest challenge of 3D printing: its slow speed. The bottom line is, this is a technology that students can finally use for their creative projects.

Grush: What does all this mean for faculty?

Bowen: As we make such extended experiences possible for students, at the same time we can provide new ways for faculty to include more active learning experiences in their courses. For that we need to use technologies that scale in a curricular sense, allowing faculty to reclaim time in their classes — time they can recover from less efficient practices and reallocate it to teaching.

Professors can integrate projects in their classes — for which students can use a technology like One Button Studio — and know that this technology is in place to support their students. The technology challenge fades into the background and the students can simply engage in creating a video.

Similarly, very slow speed was once a truly prohibitive component for instructors wishing to incorporate 3D printing as part of a course. Now that the technology is beginning to scale, instructors can reasonably include 3D printing projects in their class assignments.

So, these are two good examples — One Button Studio for video production, and networked 3D printing  — of spaces with enabling technology inside of them, that support both sides, if you will, of student engagement: helping our students extract value from their own learning, and allowing faculty to include these technologies in their classes without having to take on the onus of providing technology tools training in the classroom.

Looking even a little further, as new teaching and learning methodologies are developed we see multiple configurations around how courses are delivered — hybrid courses, for example — and we have an opportunity to explore areas like Open Education Resources, interactive video, or novel online learning experiences. And in particular, we want to make sure, even if faculty and students have never used these technologies or practices before, that there is an "on-ramp" to engage.

In general, if we can simplify practices, provide greater automation, create interconnectedness between tools and spaces, and work at scale, then we'll be creating new opportunities going forward.

Grush: Is there any other element the institution should be aware of, in following through with an emphasis on student engagement in 2015?

Bowen: There's one more important piece concerning how to tie all of this together both for students, and for the institution. And that is the use of digital badges and portfolios to recognize learning in all of its forms, including learning that takes place in the types of spaces, and with the tools and practices we've talked about today. Micro credentials put such learning in a common context that can be shared widely. This is an important part of the ecosystem to support student engagement and help our students be successful.

Grush: You've mentioned some interesting technologies including two nice examples from Penn State. But can the majority of institutions expect to be effective in similar initiatives?

Bowen: Sure. As I mentioned briefly, One Button Studio, as an example, has been adopted at colleges and universities across the country. One important aspect of this is that it uses off-the-shelf, commodity technology — rather than special lighting or cameras, etc. — and the software simply ties all of the components together. This helps in preventing the cost from inflating too far.

But this example also serves as a more general model, of seeing a particular type of technology take off in a growth trend… and then preparing it for wider adoption in such a way that it can meet every institution's needs. Hopefully, we can reach similar economies of scale very quickly with all our initiatives for student engagement in 2015.



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