Overview of crowded President's Hall at the Penn Stater

Presidents Hall at the Penn Stater was packed with the biggest crowd ever seen at Symposium.

More than 500 Penn State faculty, staff, and students attended this year’s annual Penn State Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology — the highest attendee count during the event’s 25 years. A standing-room-only crowd gathered at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center on Saturday, March 17 to hear the keynote speech by award-winning author, journalist, and radio/TV personality, Stephen J. Dubner.

“The Symposium is woven into the teaching and learning fabric of the University, and works to offer new ideas and inspiration to Penn State faculty,” said Kyle Bowen, director of Education Technology Services in Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT). “Stephen Dubner’s keynote drew new people from the community to the symposium, and kicked off a day-long conversation on the interesting stories that data can tell when you look for it.”

Jennifer Sparrow speaks at podium

Jennifer Sparrow talks about the history of teaching and learning with technology at Penn State.

TLT Senior Director Jennifer Sparrow opened the event with comments about how far TLT and technology in higher education have come since the first Teaching and Learning With Technology Symposium was held in April 1993. Back then, TLT was known as the Computer-Based Education Lab and served as the faculty support unit under the Center for Academic Computing. The organization formally became TLT in April 2002 and has since helped enhance teaching and learning with technology at Penn State.

The Symposium has always been the largest TLT sponsored and produced event.

“We never stop thinking about how to bring the community together for this great event and increase networking experiences and the fostering of new ideas,” said Hannah Williams, chair of the 2018 Symposium.

Stephen Dubner speaks at podium

Stephen Dubner gives the keynote speech to a standing-room-only audience.

After Sparrow’s opening remarks, Dubner, of Freakonomics fame, took center stage with a keynote focused on the hidden side of data and how research can yield surprising results, with anecdotes about agriculture economics woven into his speech. Afterward, Dubner met with attendees and autographed their favorite copies of his works.

Throughout the event, there were concurrent sessions — two before lunch and two afterward. The sessions covered a variety of topics, such as 360-degree video, virtual reality, telepresence robot collaboration, open educational resources, the future of learning spaces at the University, and more.

Kyle Bowen addresses attendees in session

Bowen talks about the future of learning spaces at the University during one of the concurrent sessions held in the morning.

After lunch, Symposium attendees listened to five innovative ideas that could transform the future of educational technology at Penn State. This was the fourth-annual Open Innovation Challenge (OIC), a competition that gives faculty, staff, and students the opportunity to dream big and have their winning ideas developed into reality with help from TLT staff.

OIC presentations this year covered a variety of topics, such as students teaching robots and using artificial intelligence assistants in the classroom. Each presenter had five minutes to give their pitch, with a timer counting down every second and the audience clapping as the presenter’s allotted time drew near. Afterward, attendees voted for their favorite idea.

Toward the end of the day, this year’s winner of the Open Innovation Challenge was announced, an honor bestowed upon undergraduate student Vamshi Voruganti. Voruganti, whose idea was “Student Led Curriculum Design: How We Can Take Ownership of Our Education,” was the first student to present at and win the Open Innovation Challenge.

Susan Russell presents while other presenters listen

Susan Russell, an associate professor in the Penn State School of Music, presents her idea at the Open Innovation Challenge. Other presenters were, from left to right: Austin Boyle, assistant teaching professor of economics at Penn State University Park; Aaron Mauro, assistant professor of English and digital humanities at Penn State Behrend; Angela Hissong, associate teaching professor of occupational therapy at Penn State Mont Alto; and Vamshi Voruganti, a student at the University Park campus.

Symposium concluded with its first-ever “Discovery Sessions,” where faculty and staff presented new ideas, opportunities, and research. Attendees had the opportunity to explore the “Discovery” tables and talk one-on-one with presenters, network with colleagues, enjoy ice cream from the Berkey Creamery, and try out various forms of technology, such as virtual reality and 360-degree video.

Stay tuned for more details on the next Symposium by following TLT on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram.

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