Books took a secondary position at Van Pelt Library this past Friday as Penn instructors learned about the digital future of education.

Over 200 faculty and staff members across all 12 Penn schools gathered on Oct. 30 for the annual "Engaging Students Through Technology" symposium organized by Penn Libraries.

The event, held initially in the Claudia Cohen Hall and moved to Van Pelt for the afternoon session, focused on the future of educational technology with the theme, "Ed Tech 2020: What will learning look like?" From Instagram as a classroom tool to 3D printers in Penn Libraries’ own facilities, the event informed instructors of practical ways to introduce new technology into their classrooms.

“The idea is we’re looking forward. We’re asking students to look forward, faculty to look forward and talk about changes we see,” event coordinator Anu Vedantham said. “The hope is that you leave the day with some specific to ideas that you could use in your teaching.”

The early morning faculty panel discussed their own personal successes with new digital programs and strategies. Penn students may have already experienced firsthand Marketing professor Pete Fader’s use of Panapto video capture or Mathematics professor Philip Gressman’s LightBoard video lectures. Four undergraduate students weighed in on the success of such initiatives during a later student panel moderated by Cinema Studies and English professor Peter Decherney.

“It’s always fascinating to hear what students have to say — as an example, how strategies like the flipped classroom are affecting them, impacting how they’re being assessed, how they’re managing their time,” Decherney said.

With the symposium’s emphasis on the mobility of ideas across disciplines, Penn undergraduates from all departments are likely to see the new ideas implemented in the coming months. Workshops in the afternoon focused on innovation in a variety of contexts, from Canvas to content and data visualization.

Instructors of programming and romance languages alike addressed technology as the foundation for current learning.

“It’s not about programming,” Instructional Technology Director John MacDermott said. “It’s about programming to analyze bodies of text or find correlations between changing attitudes over time. It’s about using the technology to better understand what’s going on in the world — past, present and future.” 

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