Eight Penn State instructors—including Randy McEntaffer, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, physics, and of materials science and engineering, and Jan Reimann, associate professor of mathematics—worked in teams with Teaching and Learning with Technology over the past two years as part of the 2020-22 TLT Faculty Fellows program. Their goal was to enhance the student engagement experience through technology.
Faculty Fellows are selected through an application process. They partner with TLT to test and grow innovation opportunities within their teaching and research, with the potential to share their innovations more broadly across Penn State and throughout higher education. In addition, they work to transform courses by leveraging technology-enabled teaching modalities developed in direct support of University, campus, or college goals.
"The Faculty Fellows program is a long-standing and signature program in TLT. It represents our deep commitment to creativity, experimentation, and faculty partnerships,” said Crystal Ramsay, interim director at TLT. “We're always excited to work with faculty who are passionate about innovating around teaching and learning."
As the next Faculty Fellows cohort gets underway, the McEntaffer and Reimann shared lessons learned from their work.
Randy McEntaffer — Exploring the Universe through Virtual Reality
McEntaffer utilized his TLT fellowship to study how virtual reality apps could replace classroom content in introductory astronomy courses.
Astronomy courses currently have large enrollments with limited practical methods of engaging the students with the material. VR provides a nearly limitless environment, creating an immersive experience that provides a better understanding of the concepts.
This project operated in two phases. In Phase 1, they tested the VR hardware and software for usability issues to ensure the ability to navigate the app Titans of Space. The students were also encouraged to provide verbal feedback during their experience to gauge their reactions. In Phase 2, they used the Titans of Space app to answer questions for extra credit in an introductory astronomy course.
Because students found it difficult to read questions on a screen while using the VR headset in Phase 1, the team encourages future studies of gathering student feedback when utilizing VR.
Jan Reimann — Learning Math with Jupyter Notebooks
Reimann leveraged his fellowship to create a platform based on Jupyter Notebooks for open-source content sharing, and then authored and deployed accessible and interactive course content.
The team used the platform to redesign Math 110 Techniques of Calculus and piloted it in spring 2022. Replacing a commercial textbook with the interactive Jupyter Notebook reduced the cost for each student by approximately $100. They continued running the redesigned Math 110 in the fall, and Google Analytics data for October showed almost 3,000 active users in the interactive course content.
The team is continuing to integrate new interactive elements, including new learning activities that utilize the versatility of computational notebooks, which will ultimately assist them in enriching lower-division math education through a strong data science perspective.
The infrastructure can be used to deliver content in various forms, including e-books, interactive computational notebooks, and QTI quizzes for importing into Canvas. The system also offers flexible and cost-effective cloud-hosting workflows, overcoming a frequent barrier to using Jupyter Notebooks in the classroom.
To learn more about the TLT Faculty Fellows program, please email email@example.com.