Students create immersive videos to enhance criminal justice courses

Students create immersive videos to enhance criminal justice courses

Immersive technologies such as 360-degree videos will revolutionize the future of forensic science, giving police and criminologists a tool to visualize different crime scenes and ultimately, become better investigators. Through the Berks Teaching & Learning Innovation Partnership Grant, Penn State Berks students in CRIMJ 210, a course on Policing in America, are learning to create 360-degree videos of crime scene scenarios.

These videos are viewed by their peers in CRIMJ 100, an introductory course to Criminal Justice, to learn about topics such as self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property.

“The project transforms student learning on two levels: It allows students to engage in creative collaboration related to a course topic, and students get to ‘experience’ the scenarios presented by the 360-degree videos created by their peers,” said Mary Ann Mengel, an instructional multimedia designer for Penn State Berks’ Center for Learning & Teaching.

During the fall 2018 semester, students were separated into five teams to research their chosen topic, brainstorm ideas for a storyboard, create the dialogue, assemble props, and select locations to film. Like good police work, careful research and attention are required to recreate crime scene scenarios that accurately represent the characters, props, settings, and timing of events.

Due to the limited examples of 360-degree storyboards, Mengel designed a template for students to visualize how their scenes would play out through the 360-degree camera. The camera’s vantage point positions the viewer within the scene, and the viewer can focus their attention in any direction. By design, minimal video editing is required.

“This should be the standard,” said Deb Dreisbach, lecturer in criminal justice. “I’m always thinking outside of the box and as we continue to come up with other ideas for these videos, we will institute them.”

Dress rehearsal videos were peer-reviewed before students produced their two- to three-minute-long final videos in November 2018. Assessment questions were written by the teams, which students in future classes will answer after exploring the immersive scenarios.

“In having to develop questions, students are analyzing it a lot differently, and enjoying it more,” Dreisbach said. Dreisbach plans to expand the library of scenarios as she repeats the assignment in future semesters.

These videos significantly enhance how criminal justice students learn. Students are better engaged in the course through extended classroom discussion and reflection.

“By experiencing 360-degree videos created by peers, students are provided a safe way to be present ‘on the ground’ at what might otherwise be a dangerous policing situation,” Mengel said. “The result is an engaging and memorable learning experience.”

Submit your One Cool Thing for Canvas Day 2019

Submit your One Cool Thing for Canvas Day 2019

Which Canvas tool or feature did you discover that helps create a better experience for your students? Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology is giving you the opportunity to share your best practices with your colleagues at Canvas Day on Friday, March 15, 2019, at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center. 

At Canvas Day, enjoy a scoop of Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream at the One Cool Thing mini-session and vote for the “coolest” presentation. The presenter with the most votes will win an iPad. Stay until the end of the session and one lucky attendee will be randomly selected to also win an iPad.

Submit your One Cool Thing by Wednesday, February 6 and the 2019 Canvas Day planning committee will select the best ideas to showcase. 

Canvas Day will feature presentations by Ryan Seilhamer of University of Central Florida and representatives of Instructure (the creators of Canvas), breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Open to Penn State faculty and staff only, registration is required for Canvas Day. Registration is free to attendees and includes breakfast and lunch.  

In preparation for Canvas Day, there will be several pre-conference training sessions on Canvas. These sessions will help bring audiences new to Canvas up to speed before attending Canvas Day. 

All training sessions listed below will be offered online via Zoom, enabling faculty and staff to participate from anywhere. If a session is full, you may still request it. You will be contacted if space becomes available. Additional sessions may be added based upon waitlist demand. 

Canvas Day pre-conference sessions 

Canvas: An Introduction 
Tuesday, Feb. 5, 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. EDT
Thursday, Feb. 7, 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT 

Canvas: Creating and Delivering Effective Content 
Monday, Feb. 11, 9:00-11:30 a.m. EDT
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 9:00-11:30 a.m. EDT 

Canvas: Creating Assignments and Quizzes 
Tuesday, Feb. 19, 1:00-3:30 p.m. EDT
Thursday, Feb. 21, 9:00-11:30 a.m. EDT 

Canvas: Using the Gradebook
Monday, Feb. 25, 1:00-3:30 p.m. EDT
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 9:00-11:30 a.m. EDT 

For more information about One Cool Thing or general questions related to Canvas Day, contact 

Robot technology helps connects students and faculty across Penn State campuses

Robot technology helps connects students and faculty across Penn State campuses

Telepresence robots are helping students engage in meaningful ways with their instructors and remote classmates while bridging the distance between two locations—Penn State Greater Allegheny and New Kensington.

This fall, students in the shared biobehavioral health program are interacting with a couple of robots known by the name of Beam. The robots, one at Greater Allegheny and the other at New Kensington, allow students and faculty who cannot be present in person to participate and interact, virtually. The student or instructor logs into the Beam app on a computer or mobile device and beams or projects, themselves onto the robot’s display screen. From there, they can move the robot around and interact practically with others in the room.

The Beam robots support the REACH (Re-Imagine, Engage, Align, CHange) initiative maintained by Teaching and Learning with Technology, part of Penn State IT. This initiative provided Penelope Morrison, assistant professor of biobehavioral health at New Kensington, and Kristal Tucker, assistant professor of biology at Greater Allegheny, with technology as the solution to provide a cohesive learning experience for their shared program in two locations.

Having the robots as part of the program has attracted all types of students, including undergraduates who would typically choose an online course as their first preference.

“The Beam has been bringing those students back into the classroom and encouraging them to participate,” said Tucker.

When Morrison would meet with her students via traditional video conferencing, they would rarely participate. Now, the hands raise.

“‘I’m happy they are engaged and paying attention. My students now perceive they are part of the classroom,” Morrison said.

For in-class assignments, a student from Greater Allegheny will pair with a student from New Kensington. The student from New Kensington beams in to share ideas with their partner.

Students at both campuses are already experiencing a deeper connection.

“Enabling the students and instructor to interact face-to-face makes it easier to ask questions and be engaged during lectures and in-class activities,” said Cora Rejniak, junior.

Another student, junior Alyssa Stewart, shares her viewpoint that the technology creates a substantial learning experience.

“Using the Beam allows us to connect with our professor and colleagues in a way which ensures we’re all on the same page. It is easier to hear the perspectives of the students at another location,” said Stewart.

The Beam robots will afford the biobehavioral health program additional opportunities. Since many guest speakers are doctors and physician assistants with busy schedules, the technology will provide opportunities for speakers to meet with the students in a convenient way.

The robot will also enhance learning and engagement across other programs.

“People are working in fields such as engineering and radiological sciences and using robots to enter places not safe for humans,” said Tucker. “Making students familiar with these tools is important because many people work remotely from home and use teleconferencing every day.”

3D printing center enhances visual arts at Altoona

3D printing center enhances visual arts at Altoona

3D printing-centered learning spaces are becoming an increasingly popular way for students across Penn State’s campuses to explore innovative technology, while also gaining skills for their future careers. The Penn State Altoona’s Center for Additive Manufacturing and Printing (CAMP) is no exception, and visual arts students have been using it frequently to elevate their artwork.

“It gives us more mediums to use; it’s not only paper crafts and painting,” said senior and visual arts major Emily Wagner. “We use different machines. We can take our ideas and print them.”

Although the campus founded The CAMP in 2015, a couple of classes have been working with 3D printing since 2002. Through the center, 3D printing has become accessible to the entire campus community.

The CAMP is located in the Doing Better Business 3D Printer Lab in the campus’s Robert E. Eiche Library. Funded and supported by Doing Better Business and the campus’s engineering and visual arts studies programs, The CAMP provides a variety of 3D printers that allow the campus community to explore and understand how this innovative technology will change the future.

Using the space, visual arts students create various types of artwork, including jewelry, sculptures, and vinyl decals, some of which they display at the annual campus student art exhibition.

“Often it’s the case that there’s no physical way of manually sculpting the objects we conceptualize,” said Rebecca Strzelec, professor of visual arts. “For example, 3D printing allows one to build objects within each other. Something like a chain link or objects that move, to build those with traditional tools would take some big feats of engineering.”

The CAMP has significantly enhanced student learning and engagement. Strzelec has found students regularly work in the center outside of class time.

“When students choose to work in The CAMP when they’re not in class it means they’re truly engaged. It’s meeting them intellectually and creatively in a way they weren’t getting elsewhere,” said Strzelec.

students design 3D models on computers

Visual arts seniors Emily Wagner (left) and Josh Weyandt develop their 3D designs through computer software.

Artists today need to be multifaceted problem solvers, which means having experience with many diverse tools and modes of making.

Some visual arts students, like senior Josh Weyandt, plan to pursue careers which will leverage their knowledge of 3D modeling. One such field is video game creation, where Weyandt aspires to work in character design.

“Video game creators will make a character in a computer-aided design program,” explained Weyandt. “Before they send it out for the expensive molding process, they will 3D print a character in their office and ask themselves if it is what they want exactly.”

Strzelec said, “These students use the tools they have learned here and parlay them into working at libraries, art centers, camps, and running businesses. They’re able to piece together what they learn from this degree and make a living by creating—or assisting people in creating—visual art.”

Canvas Day offers faculty, staff opportunities to enhance teaching

Canvas Day offers faculty, staff opportunities to enhance teaching

Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology invites Penn State faculty and staff to Canvas Day on Friday, March 15, 2019. Canvas Day will be held at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center. Registration is free to attendees. Registration is required and Canvas Day is open to Penn State faculty and staff only.

Canvas Day provides a full day of professional development opportunities that include networking and learning about Canvas best practices with colleagues.

Faculty and staff can submit proposals for session presentations through Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Topics related to valuable and innovative uses of Canvas to support teaching and learning are encouraged.

For additional information about the call for presentation proposals or general questions related to Canvas Day, please contact