PSU Faculty, Staff Stay in Technology Loop to Better Communicate with Students

UNIVERSITY PARK – Students at Penn State are using technology innovations to communicate with each other, which means faculty and staff are modifying their actions to keep up with these changes and effectively stay in touch with students, a panel of experts explained Friday in a report to the University’s Board of Trustees.

Panelists — who included Gail Hurley, interim vice president for Student Affairs; Cynthia Hall, assistant vice president for University Relations; John Harwood, senior director, Teaching and Learning with Technology, and Allan Gyorke, manager of Education Technology — explained that the University enlists evolving strategies to use technology to communicate with students, promote scholarly discussion and deliver student services.
Hall explained that marketing research conducted with college-bound high school students shows they are adept at consuming several media at once — the internet being their primary source. A second popular medium for the group is television, with reality TV being the fastest growing genre, Hall said. She then introduced Penn State’s latest marketing tool.

“We have produced our own reality show called ‘1st Thirty.’ It consists of seven episodes approximately three minutes in length that we are serving on a microsite,” Hall said. “The program follows four incoming freshman for their first 30 days at Penn State, from move-in day to finding their classes to their first football game.”

Another form of technology extremely popular among Penn State students, Harwood said, is the use of cell phones — but more specifically — the use of text messaging, which keeps students constantly connected to their friends and the world. Penn State has acknowledged this preference and uses text messaging to send alerts for critical or emergency situations.

More than 60 percent of classes at Penn State use ANGEL, the University’s course management system, to build communication among students and faculty. Within ANGEL, they can have discussion forums, space to store files, a special e-mail system that pertains only to the course, and even a way to do “instant messaging.” Harwood added that all students use eLion to register for courses, check their grades and receive information on their academic programs. In addition, there is a vast array of Web sites created by colleges, departments and campuses.

“If we really want to stay on our toes, we should understand what today’s fourth graders are doing with technology. They are our future, and the future will be here soon,” said Harwood.

Along with instant messaging, e-mail, and phone-based text messaging, Gyorke spoke about students sharing photos, audio recordings and videos they create.

“Creating and sharing digital media is easier for today’s students because our students have access to broadband connections, laptops that have desktop power, the ability to record media through cell phones, and inexpensive digital photo and video cameras,” Gyorke said.

Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube allow students to upload their photos and videos onto their own pages to be seen by friends invited to view their site. Even the general public can view postings on these social networking sites. As the popularity of such sites grows, Gyorke said it’s important not to underestimate their value

Within the ANGEL system, a wide variety of groups such as student government, course project teams, minority student associations and event planners take full advantage of what the site can offer, because of its powerful group management and communication capabilities.

Gyorke also described the use of faculty and student blogging as a type of reflective writing in the open, and explained new Penn State initiatives that align with student digital expression: Blogs at Penn State and The Digital Commons.

“The evolving technology is providing exciting new opportunities but it also bringing us new challenges,” said Hurley. “Penn State’s technology learning environment is changing to keep up with student expectations.”

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