Distance Learning

Penn State Revs English Department with Technology

An initiative at Pennsylvania State University is enhancing instruction in what was already recognized as a world-class English department.

With the help of the Penn State Digital English Studio, information technology professionals are assisting both English teachers and students in a number of ways.

Stuart Selber, an associate professor of English and the studio director, said the digital studio initiative is a three-pronged effort involving:

  • Pedagogy — helping teachers integrate technology into their instruction;
  • Usability — making sure content in courses is accessible; and
  • Strategy — providing assistance in developing courses and measuring the successful use of technology in the classroom.

For example, the studio staff helps professors design English courses for the online version of the university, Penn State World Campus, and provides a Teaching With Technology Certificate to graduate students who undergo training provided by the studio and run the English department's social media platforms.

Last year, Selber and his staff revamped the English department's Web site. However, at the same time, it created five new videos to go along with the site reintroduction, one for the English major and one each for its four concentrations.

"We don't see designing and updating a department's Web site as an administrative task," Selber said. "We see it as intellectual work that shapes how people, including potential students, see our department and university. It's a huge recruiting tool."

There is also a stock of iPads available to English teachers and teaching assistants, all equipped with appropriate apps, that they can borrow to use in the classroom.

Next on Selber's to-do list is an initiative to help instructors automate the grading process.

"One of the features of Penn State's new learning management system, Canvas, is a tool called SpeedGrader," he said. "We'd like to see how it influences how instructors think about grading and how they respond to students and their assignments."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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