Penn State Continues To Adapt To Innovative New Trends In Teaching And Learning

January 21, 2002

Teaching and learning – driven by information technology, a strong trend toward active and collaborative learning, and other factors – are rapidly changing at Penn State and some other universities. Students today learn faster, have many different learning styles, and expect more from the institutions they attend.

“Today, and even more tomorrow, students will have an information-seeking mindset and the technology skills to apply it. Thus, active learning, research and experiential learning will become even more important,” said John Cahir, vice provost and dean for undergraduate education in an informational report to the University’s Board of Trustees today (Jan. 18) on trends in teaching and learning.

Cahir presented data collected in a survey of 49 research universities that show Penn State students are writing more and using electronic media in relation to class work at significantly higher levels at most universities. More than 5,000 Penn State students participated in research or capstone projects last year.

Active learning is being introduced widely, even in large classes.  With leadership and support from the Center for Education Technology Services, several large classes – notably Statistics 200 and Biology 110 – are now being taught with a new approach, using technology to promote active learning.  In Economics 2 and 4, 3,000 students per semester are writing two challenging papers in a collaborative model.

One of several groups aiding faculty at all Penn State campuses, the Schreyer Institute for Innovation in Learning serves the academic programs of Penn State by supporting pioneering educational initiatives, including an active learning exchange data base and student-driven quality assessment. A collaborative effort with the School of Information Sciences and Technology demonstrates the institute’s ability to promote innovative learning.

“We have partnered with IST to facilitate the implementation of problem-based learning and to provide assessment regarding the effectiveness of various delivery methods,” Renata Engel, Schreyer Institute director, told the board.

Cahir and Engel expect all Penn State graduates to be experienced team workers who are better able to think globally, critically and creatively. The University Faculty Senate and administration have taken steps to achieve these goals, including emphasis on active learning in general education courses, a required seminar for all first-year students, versatile and technologically equipped classrooms, and colloquies on teaching and learning.

Penn State’s Teaching and Learning Consortium (TLC) has become a vehicle for faculty members, students, staff, and administration to link their efforts to improve teaching and learning, to share ideas and results, and to support each other.  Consisting of 130 members and nine teams, the TLC has become a force for constructive change in the learning environment.

“Our current expectations and efforts to create and maintain a vibrant academic culture that is underscored by the Penn State Principles – integrity, civility and respect for others – is sure to bring a rich harvest of success to Penn State,” Engel said.