Ann Clements envisions a classroom of the future: a 400-person lecture hall creating a symposium of sound, all coming from the latest in electronic devices.
Clements, an associate professor of music education, is considering the future of the iPad-based music course she teaches along with colleagues Paul Barsom, associate professor of music composition and Tom Cody, instructor of music theory.
Clements came up with the idea for Music 497B (iEnsemble,) after watching viral videos on the Internet of people who have created sophisticated music with electronic devices.
This is just one innovative course that incorporates new learning techniques and technology with the goal of providing students with ways to connect to material.
Col. Jacob Graham, USMC (Ret), professor of SRA 440W (Capstone Course for the Security and Risk Analysis major,) recently won the Penn State College of Information, Science and Technology’s George McMurtry Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award.
He has created analytical decision games that are similar to military war games to give his students practical application in the classroom.
Graham said he thinks he won the student-chosen award because students seek innovation in the classroom and interesting course material.
“The exercises are very realistic,” Graham said. “A lot of students go on to work with the intelligence agencies and encounter real problems similar to these.”
Graham said the scenarios, which are usually based on a historic or current example, follow protocol as it would be in agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He said scenarios involve topics such as a cyber threat to the financial sector or stopping a terrorist plot though following a money trail.
Graham said the five to nine week-long exercises increase awareness of the threat spectrum and promote critical thinking and collaboration between his students.
Lisa Lenze, director of Learning Initiative and Instructional Assessment, said she thinks that two major positive aspects of integrating technology into the classroom are students’ accessibility to information and engagement with material.
Lenze said she would cite Marc Friedenberg, a lecturer in IST, as having utilized technology in a way that supports his student’s learning.
“He records everything he does in the classroom, which gives students the ability to catch up if they miss something,” Lenze said.
Lenze said Friedenberg also uses an iPad during class to comment and take notes that are captured on the recording. She said she believes incorporation of technology in the classroom in this manner is something that should become a staple for the future.
“He’s using technology to capture things and make it available,” Lenze said. “That’s something we can’t go back on.”
Marcela Borge, senior research associate and instructor in IST, said she incorporated an online chat environment called Yammer, which she described as the university version of Facebook, into her course, IST 331 (Organization and Design of Information Systems: User and System Principles.)
Borge said each week, a student would have the responsibility of posting about a related topic that would start off a class discussion.
“Yammer, or similar discussion forums, provides students with the opportunity to discuss things and allows for more control about what ideas are explored in depth,” Borge said.
Borge said that it is not just about learning the content and that students need the ability to negotiate with the ideas.
“The technology provides a platform to be able to do that,” Borge said.
Borge said that another useful employment of technology in her courses involves students writing concepts from lectures that they don’t understand on a public Google Doc. She said she then transfers that to Wordle, which generates “word clouds” that feature the most prominent words in larger font.
“Wordle is an easy and visual representation of words in the course content that they don’t understand,” Borge said.
Borge said this occasionally surprising practice allows her to assess where the class stands in terms of the material being presented.
The iEnsemble, which ran for the first time last spring and was offered again in the fall, received funding and support from Penn State’s Educational Gaming Commons.
“The course is really just about creating music on the devices,” Clements said. “We work with improvisation, arranging and composing of music.”
Barsom said that the class often works in groups to compose and play music collaboratively. He said they also spend time researching new applications and teaching the fundamentals of electronic music.
Amanda Jones, a former student who took the course, said the class’ focus each day often depended on who was teaching.
Barsom said one of the most difficult aspects for students is learning to think outside of the confines of traditional musical instruments.
“People trained as musicians tend to think of these instruments as just surrogates, when in fact they are a completely different entity,” Barsom said.
Clements said rather than just faculty distributing the information to students, the iEnsemble course is more focused on creating a product.
Jones said she loved the amount of creative licensee the students were given.
She said she thinks that because new technology allows people to create and share music without the high skill level required for traditional instruments, music is becoming more widely available.
“Music is anyone’s game at this point,” Jones said. “Our instructors are more facilitators for students’ own learning.”
Lenze said that she believes there are many ways to engage students in their learning. She said that technology just a learning tool, similar to any used in the past, but that this is just the most current tool.
“Today’s students are so well-versed in this,” Lenze said. “By incorporating technology, students are in their own element.”