Engaging Students Symposium – what fun!

Our Engaging Students Through Technology symposium last Friday included several exciting moments! About 75 people from 11 schools at Penn came together for the symposium. Carton Rogers started the morning by urging us to keep pace with new technologies in order to avoid the fate of silent film actors who became obsolete when movies-with-sound gained popularity. Then came a lively faculty panel. Al Filreis challenged the audience to “bite a towel” to resist the temptation to start lecturing in class. Peter Struck offered a powerful analogy: in-person teaching = performing in a stage play vs. online teaching (on Coursera) = acting on a TV show. Connie Scanga explained how she helps nursing students pay attention to test results without forgetting the human aspects of patient care. Shannon Lundeen shared the viral Gangnam Style video (almost 600 million hits) and the Axe and Dove mashup created by her students. The faculty panel Q&A included a lively debate between Al and Peter on the continuing relevance of lectures during class meetings.

Peter Decherney then facilitated the student panel. The five students – Scott Dzialo, Taylor McLendon, Dylan Petro, Linda Schnolis and Aaron Wilson – had much to say! On the topic of student use of laptops during class, it quickly became obvious that the five students did not agree with each other, nor did the faculty in the audience! Faculty jumped in with questions, and the students shared comments that challenged everyone to think differently. A classic moment for me was Taylor’s comment on how short Facebook breaks during lecture help her refocus efficiently.

Lunch in the Data Diner is always fun. I also enjoyed the Lightning Round where several people shared ideas in three-minute segments. Alain Plante described how his students curate Twitter feeds on environmental science. Shaheen Parveen described how she uses Skype to share language and cultural norms with her Hindi students.  Jay Treat described the use of Google@SAS for student-created private websites on conspiracy theories for the Ben Franklin Scholars’ Integrated Studies Program. Ann Greene spoke eloquently about the need to “unplug” in order to stay creative and energized. Ed Dixon explained how he uses Adobe Connect to stay engaged with small groups when he teaches German online. John MacDermott shared his ideas on Pixelture and the Active Learning Classroom. Rick Berman shared a fascinating explanation of how he is using Pinterest and WordPress to record students’ creative processes in designing everything from umbrellas to traffic lights. The audience gasped when Will Noel shared a crowd-sourcing example of a Flickr image of a signature in a book identified by the grandson of the signer. Ana Reyes shared a neat video created by her students of a 3-D world similar to Second Life.

So what did you think about the symposium? Please do share your comments!

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