April 7, 2011

2011 TLT Symposium

Posted by Dr. Laura Guertin

It’s an event I rarely miss, the Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium, held every spring at Penn State University.  I’m always curious to hear what my faculty peers are up to across the university, and the keynote speaker each year never disappoints.

By the way, I embraced the hastag #tltsym11 and Tweeted (@guertin) during much of the conference (except during my own session).  It was a great way for me to take short notes that identify the powerful points and statements relevant to my interests.

This year’s keynote was presented by Clay Shirky, titled Congitive Surplus, Collaboration, and Social Learning.  The talk was fun and informative.  The content brought me back to my days as the civic and community engagement coordinator for the campus, as that’s what social media allows – we are now the creators of the content and the collaborators for disseminating information.  His talk led me to suggest to the honors students that we consider his book on Cognitive Surplus for our honors common read in the fall semester.  It will be interesting to see if the students want to learn about this subject in a deeper and structured manner.

The first session I went to was the one on The Pedagogy of Convenience Using Cloud Computing.  I’m already using Google Docs with my honors course this semester, and was already thinking of using it with my non-honors students in the future.  I’m surprised by how many students do not have Microsoft Office on their home computers, and I’m getting documents in all sorts of creative formats that I can’t open (note that although all the campus computers have MS Office, my campus is a commuter campus, so students will work at home and not on campus).  The presentation fortunately confirmed for me that students are comfortable working in the cloud and can be effective collaborators.  I also picked up a new phrase for me – “learning ecology.”  I need to research this more.

The next session I attended was The Unlearning of Science Education: The Story of SC200.  I had already heard about this course through ETS postings, and this course is exactly the type of course I’m interested in teaching, as I teach intro-level science to non-science majors.  I like how the instructor connected current science news stories and studies with blogging.  Although the point sticking in my head the most is that some students had a “fear” of posting, as they did not want to sound ridiculous, like they did not know what they were talking about, and that they feared that a future employer may find their posting through a Google search.  It goes back to something I struggle with – should we “force” students to publicly post in our courses, especially when a grade is attached?  More to think about.

The third session was the one I presented in, along with my TLT Fellow team Chris Millet and TK Lee, Enhancing Geographic and Digital Literacy with a Student-Generated Course Portfolio and “Amazing Race” in Google Earth.  Of course, I could spend the time in this space stating how brilliant we were(!), but to me, the best takeaways I had include: (1) co-presenting with my TLT Fellow team.  They are a great group of guys to work with, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to share our work as a group; and (2) the last-minute arranging of our session in Google Docs!  TK set up an outline in Google Docs, and the night before, Chris and I happened to be in the Doc at the same time, making edits and leaving comments for each other to firm up our outline.  I was in my hotel room – I have no idea where Chris was.  But for both of us to be online at the same time connecting and collaborating was effective and (unfortunately) something I don’t get to do very often with faculty colleagues.

Next up was the presentation by World Campus about an Online Club Impacting Student Sense of Community.  I was very interested in this session, as I’m always looking for ways to connect the students in the honors community at our commuter campus.  We need to find ways to use the web to more effectively foster these connections.  It was eye-opening to hear about the challenges of setting up an official online club at the university.  But it was clear the online club was important to the psychology majors for their identity, sense of community, and opportunity for professional development.  This session is definitely getting me to think about how I can bring more resources and opportunities to my campus students.

Then there was Cole’s session…. the best for last, right?  Cole Camplese moderated a panel titled Student and Faculty Expectations of Technology and Education.  In this standing-room only event, students and faculty commented on their uses of various technology and commented on questions the audience responded to with clickers.  There was also a Twitter backchannel with interesting comments.  However, I’m still shocked by one of the questions asked to the student panelists (actually, it is their lack of reaction that is what shocks me).  The students were asked to name their most significant learning experience at Penn State.  Silence.  Then the students were asked to name maybe not the most significant learning experience, but “a” significant learning experience.  More awkward silence.  Then someone from the audience shouted, “can you name any learning experiences?”  These were four well-spoken, mature and polished students, that had no problem talking during the panel discussion.  At Penn State, we provide experiences in and out of the classroom, with and without technology… it really disappoints me, as a faculty member, to see students not able to articulate an academic highlight of their student careers.  Yikes.  Maybe we need to go back to square one – maybe technology isn’t creating significant learning for the students, at least in their eyes. This is a point I want my students to begin thinking about and reflecting on – students should be able to and NEED to be able to identify a significant learning experience; otherwise, what good are all of my pedagogical and technological innovations doing?