The 2019 Teaching and Learning with Technology Impact Award call for nominations is open now through Friday, Oct. 19. This award is given in recognition of excellence in teaching and learning at Penn State. The Impact Award celebrates cross-disciplinary projects, courses, or collaborations that have positively enhanced teaching, learning, or the use of learning spaces at Penn State and beyond.

Penn State tenure-line faculty or non-tenure-line teaching faculty are eligible for nomination. Nominations can be submitted by Penn State faculty, staff, and students. Self-nominations are welcome.

The award recipient will receive a commemorative medal and an award of $3,000. They will also be invited to serve as an ambassador of TLT and will receive support to extend the impact of their work.

To learn more about the award and submit a nomination, visit

Enhance your digital photography skills with free workshops in September

Enhance your digital photography skills with free workshops in September

Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) and Adobe invite students and faculty to participate in an exciting exploration of photography and image editing techniques hosted by Adobe’s Principal Evangelist for Digital Imaging, Julieanne Kost. Kost will be teaching workshop sessions on September 19 and 20 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at Hintz Family Alumni Center.

“This event is a great educational opportunity for students and faculty across all disciplines—whether they take photos with their cell phone or a DSLR camera,” said Kyle Bowen, director of innovation at TLT “Through their improved skills and techniques, the participants will be able to tell visual stories that showcase their creativity and expertise.”

Online registration for the event is currently open, and there is no cost for Penn State students and faculty to attend. Pre-registration is required. There will be a variety of sessions covering different topics, and attendees can register for the entire two-day event or solely the sessions that fit their schedule.

Participants will need to bring a smartphone with a built-in camera, or a digital camera. For the photo editing sessions, a laptop with Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop will be necessary. Penn State students and faculty have free access to a fully-featured Adobe Creative Cloud account. Representatives from TLT will be at the HUB on Wednesday, September 12 to assist any students or faculty members set up their free Adobe Creative Cloud accounts.

Instruction at the workshop sessions will be provided by Kost, an expert in digital photography and editing with Creative Cloud tools. She has presented at training sessions and tutorials around the world. She has won awards from the Professional Photographers of America, the American Society of Photographers, and is a member of the Photoshop Hall of Fame.

Penn State’s MacAdmins conference offers a world-class experience

Penn State’s MacAdmins conference offers a world-class experience

In 2017 the New York Times reported that $2.8 billion worth of Apple devices were sold to education institutions—from K-12 schools through universities—over the course of a year. While Macs and iPads deliver teaching and learning results to instructors and students across the world, systems administrators provide critical services that ensure the machines operate properly.

In 2010 Penn State hosted its first MacAdmins conference to help the men and women of the world-wide MacAdmins community tackle the challenges they face. Since then, the use of Apple devices has increased, and users have become progressively more mobile.

Rich Trouton is an IT technology senior consultant with multinational software corporation SAP and presented at the MacAdmin Conference at Penn State 2018. He is well aware of the tests that mobility and increased usage present to modern systems administrators. “If there is a country on Earth, I probably have a user in it,” he said. “We have about 17,000 Macs registered with our system. The main goal is to make sure they’re secure, but at the same time provide a good user experience.”

Considered the best conference of its type on the East Coast, Penn State’s 2018 MacAdmins conference set a new high-water mark with over 600 in attendance, 67 speaker sessions, and six workshops.

“In the beginning, we hosted the MacAdmins Conference at Penn State because we wanted to bring technical training to the education community at reduced costs and to foster collaboration,” said Terry O’Heron, director of operations with Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State. “While the mission hasn’t changed, attendance is larger and international, and that brings together a wider convocation of experts and industry leaders to collaborate, learn, and innovate with their peers.”

Finding solutions requires more than technology

What is it about the MacAdmins Conference at Penn State that draws attendees from regions such as France, Switzerland, Calgary, and San Francisco? For Nikki Lewandowski, a systems administrator at Canisius High School in Buffalo, NY the answer lies in the personal connections that develop among her peers who join the conference.

“My administration told me that I could attend one conference this year, and I would have to present at it. I chose this one. So many knowledgeable people in education coming together and sharing their wisdom is what’s so valuable about this conference in particular,” she said.

Conference sessions at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center hosted representatives from tech industry influencers like Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Apple, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and many more. While the information and solutions that they presented were valuable, many conference goers found just as much value, if not more, in conversations outside the breakout rooms.

Trouton said of those conversations, “You often hear that the ‘hallway track’ [at MacAdmins at Penn State] is frequently more useful than the sessions. There are constant discussions in the hall or over meals where problems and solutions are talked about.”

“We have to have these conferences because we’re human people trying to solve human problems with technology,” he added.

Mobile technology like smartphones and tablets have been so popular for so long that it can be hard to believe that they surpassed desktop computers in use less than two years ago. And as consumer habits continue to drive the pace of tech innovation, system administrators can feel like they’re playing catchup. MacAdmins at Penn State gives them a bit of a turbo device versus desktop usage bar graph

“Apple has thrown a lot at us in the last 12 months, so it’s important to stick together and share what we’ve learned,” said Anthony Reimer, head technician of integrated arts media labs at the University of Calgary. “This conference is a catalyst; it’s human-interaction based, and that’s why I attend. Administrators typically learn little lessons on our own, but here you get all the resources you need on certain topics,” he added.

If the tech industry’s speed of evolution continues to pick up steam, an idea that Trouton floated at this year’s MacAdmins at Penn State may not be so far-fetched.

“I’ve started thinking about what will happen when people move to Mars. How will that work with networking? There’s going to be some definite lag getting back to the internet on Earth,” he said about how wi-fi technology has changed so many things for system administrators.

If technology ever does reach that point, it may not be a surprise for MacAdmins at Penn State to evolve from a world-wide conference to an interplanetary one.

Securing a better user experience 

Type ‘Mac system security’ into a Google search and you will find over 275 million search results. With that volume of findings, it’s not a surprise that system security was a topic of interest at MacAdmins at Penn State 2018.

Todd Echterling, a Millersville University campus IT security specialist and systems administrator is a familiar presenter at the conference. In the past, he’s spoken about security penetration and the workshop attracted an overflow crowd of more than 150 people. His presentation topic this year was on layered security and drew a standing-room-only audience.

“At Millersville, we use a six-layered approach. On top, you have the actual network security like a firewall. We also have data security, the physical security of our buildings and equipment, and other aspects like user authentication,” he said.

A sophisticated, layered approach like that to securing modern Mac systems is necessary because new threats develop as quickly as, if not quicker than, the technology itself evolves.

“The threat landscape is sophisticated and ever-changing, and it can be hard to keep up with that information,” Echterling added. “But as long as we, as system administrators, maintain up-to-date resources like mailing lists and informational websites, and share solutions at conferences like this we’re better equipped to handle those threats.”

Echterling and his security team at Millersville University, an institution with 8,500 students and 1,000 faculty members, to date have come up aces in protecting the university’s Mac users from outside threats.

“Knock on wood, but we’ve been quite lucky in not having to deal with any attacks that impacted us at a university-wide level. We have had some denial of service attacks where the intruders flood the network with traffic and slow the whole thing down. But we always work to make sure our users have the most secure experience possible,” he said.

At the University of Calgary, however, a ransomware attack in 2016 cost the university a fair amount of money to have its systems unlocked. While no personal or university data was compromised, it brought about a significant change in the school’s security strategy.

“Central IT at the university has taken on that responsibility, so it’s not a patchwork effort,” said Reimer. “We realized we have to avoid a situation where the medical school is secure, but kinesiology isn’t because the responsibility lies with different individuals.”

The effort has paid dividends because just over a year ago, the university thwarted a global ransomware attack that was “immediately seen and quarantined.”

While universities like Millersville, Calgary, and Penn State must deal with threats that can impact tens of thousands of users, or jeopardize hundreds of thousands of dollars, administrators like Lewandowski face different sets of challenges.

“[My students] are firmly in the phase where they think that the dangers of being online don’t apply to them. That’s the biggest struggle for me,” she said. “My biggest concern with them is their iPads. We’re a 1:1 school which means they take their tablets home and off our network. Then they’re exposed to things like email phishing scams or cyberbullying on social media.”

With guidance from her peers, Lewandowski was able to tweak Canisius High School’s approach to managing its iPads and help the students protect themselves while off the school’s network.

“When we first got the iPads, our biggest concern was integrating them into the curriculum. But we realized they’re not just classroom devices. So, the last few years we’ve surveyed the kids and heavily invested in age-appropriate digital citizenship programs. If my students are going out into the world and using technology, they need to use it responsibly. It’s a work in progress,” said Lewandowski.

After the five days of MacAdmins at Penn State and the attendees return home, they are not cut off from the peers they met or reconnected with at the conference. A robust online community communicates regularly through channels like Slack and Twitter. It’s through those types of resources that Lewandowski knows that she’ll continue to reap the benefits of her trip to University Park.

“Whether it’s sitting across from people at dinner or talking over things in the hallway, having those conversations and building those relationships is so beneficial,” she said. “They give me the resources I need to solve problems I may face in the future.”

Making personal connections and addressing security issues will undoubtedly be on the docket for MacAdmins at Penn State 2019. Systems administrators who want to lead sessions can begin to submit proposals in December and registration opens to the general public in March 2019.

The Bluebox is Penn State’s next step as a leader in learning space innovation

The Bluebox is Penn State’s next step as a leader in learning space innovation

The Bluebox doesn’t look like a traditional classroom, and it doesn’t function like one either.

As a high-tech experimental learning space, it’s not meant to, as it is anything but traditional, and in coming semesters more rooms like it are slated to launch across Penn State’s campuses. Designing and implementing the spaces comes as part of the University’s ongoing efforts that have helped make it a worldwide leader in educational technology.

The Bluebox, launched in 2016, is designed to increase student engagement and support active, collaborative learning pedagogies. Its design, along with its versatile nature, is the latest manifestation of decades of Penn State’s educational research around active learning. This research has shown time and again that a more dynamic and flexible learning space yields positive results when compared with the increasingly outmoded classrooms and lecture halls that many still define as the essential standard for university classes.

“Traditional classrooms are set up for students to sit in rows and listen to a professor at the front of the room, and this setup is not conducive to teaching with the idea that learning is an active and interactive process,” said Sarah Ades, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology who has taught a class in the Bluebox.

Everything you see in the Bluebox is there (or not there) for a reason backed by science, student and faculty experience, or both—which is what really makes it stand out in the experimental education field.

“There are reasons for everything we do, and a science that has gone into how this room looks and functions,” said Jennifer Sparrow, Penn State’s senior director of teaching and learning with technology. “The space itself is a laboratory in some ways. It’s a classroom designed to help us develop new understandings about classrooms and how to improve them with the technologies we have today.”

The studio combines easily movable and adaptable furniture and whiteboards with higher-tech educational tools, like several displays that allow for wireless projection, and can be quickly reconfigured to accommodate a professor’s or class’s needs. To keep pace with evolving research and technology, it is designed to undergo more structural changes every semester as necessary.

Instructors can use or not use whichever classroom components are appropriate for their learning outcomes. Some prefer to use all of the screens and modular tables available, while others have found that clearing out everything except the mobile chairs and whiteboards works best for a particular teaching session.

“More traditional classrooms, they limit flexibility,” said Sparrow. “The intent here was to bring an experimental classroom into play that really allowed faculty to think differently about how they taught, and to provide them with a unique support structure that would help them with whatever they might need.”

The robust support structure serves as one of the classroom’s most unique multi-faceted components. Instructional designers, technologists, and a research team dedicated to continuously evolving the space and helping instructors use it in the best ways for the classes they’re teaching and the results they’re hoping to achieve are available to help faculty using the space.

“We are really unique in this full concierge level of support,” said Sparrow. “Spaces don’t transform learning, great teaching transforms learning. Penn State provides the scaffolding needed for faculty and students to be successful.”

The instructors who teach in the Bluebox meet monthly as well to discuss how they’re using the space, what is working well, and how the space and learning experience can improve.

The Bluebox is the first room of its kind at Penn State, but it certainly won’t be the last. The space has served so far as a sort of litmus test for how the University will proceed in its future classroom designs and updates.

“These adaptive spaces are important for education,” said Ades. “There are many ways to design adaptive learning spaces. Research is important to evaluate what works best, to maximize their value. The same as a lecture hall with fixed seats that can only face front are difficult to adapt to an educational style other than lecturing, new spaces with designs that don’t work aren’t good either.”

The University is taking findings from the Bluebox, combining them with its ongoing scientific research, and using the information to help plan for how spaces will be redesigned across the Penn State community.

“We’re always asking ourselves, ‘How do we lead in learning spaces instead of just being a keeper of facilities?’” said Sparrow. “And we have a mechanism in place for how we’re going to do this.”

If the Bluebox is any indication, it’s likely the demand for experimental learning spaces will be high. By its second semester of availability, the Bluebox was completely filled, and the university had to turn away interested instructors heading into the Fall 2017 semester.

“We plan to grow these experiences, and demand will push development,” said Sparrow.

Submit applications for Penn State ID2ID program by September 7

Submit applications for Penn State ID2ID program by September 7

Instructional designers and learning design graduate students at Penn State are invited to apply for the 2018-19 Penn State ID2ID program. This is the local, Penn State companion to the international ID2ID program, and will match participants with a mentor, mentee, or buddy depending on their personal goals.

The Penn State ID2ID program:

  • Formally match pairs of IDs to share their areas of expertise with each other and allow them to focus on improving areas where they are less knowledgeable.
  • Increase the communication among instructional designers outside of their reporting unit and create an opportunity or participants to learn about the different roles IDs play depending on their reporting unit.
  • Provide an opportunity for participants to grow professionally by cultivating the expansion of their professional networks, enlarging their perspectives within the Penn State Learning Design Community, and increasing their expertise in the instructional design field.

The application process is open right now and available online at Any questions can be directed to program co-chairs Brett Bixler or Eileen Grodziak.