Voices in Tech: Collaboration in technology for higher ed

A Q&A with Penn State University’s Kyle Bowen on how technologies are invented and evolve, and how to use them in teaching


Kyle Bowen leads efforts at Penn State to identify effective uses of technology for teaching and learning—overseeing instructional design, faculty research support, digital media development and other services. Formerly, as director of informatics at Purdue University in Indiana, he shaped and led strategy for advancing student success through innovative technologies. He has co-authored and edited more than 20 books on web design, development and usability. Bowen is part of a team developing the CoAction Learning Lab, a collaboration of 19 universities taking a community- and human-centered approach toward integrating emerging technologies in global higher education. The lab will produce an online repository with high-quality, openly licensed resources.

Bowen will present at UBTech 2019 in Orlando, Fla.

What’s the purpose of the CoAction Learning Lab?

The CoAction Learning Lab is a collaboration between institutions that explores meaningful uses of technology in advanced teaching and learning. So many conversations around learning are technology-centric. We’re looking into the future about how technologies are invented and evolve, and how we design and develop teaching approaches that take advantage of these tools in the most useful ways. Then we share that information among people in the teaching and learning environment.

What is key to this collaboration? 

It is the team of people who join from an institution. Rather than one person from each, we join as a small team with at least one faculty member, student and technology leader. Having those perspectives is incredibly important, especially as we consider questions that faculty and students are likely to ask about an emerging technology. As we design and think about approaches to teaching and learning, we must include that student voice and faculty voice in that forward-looking view.

How did you start the CoAction Learning Lab?

Our initial goal was to include seven, eight or nine institutions. We rose to 19 and closed it off so that we could make it manageable. Then we threw everyone together over the next several months to continue to work on design. We began to develop our values, and came up with a shared understanding around what are very complex problems. Having a shared vision makes it much easier to exchange ideas.

Were there any complex problems that kept coming to the top of the list?

Yes, and we identified six values: innovation and leadership, digital fluency, effective digital pedagogy, student-centered learning, inclusivity of access, and communities and partnerships. They’re intentionally somewhat broad, and they’re intended to provide a direction that the group can focus on while thinking about the unique ways these values appear in our institutions. We benefit from a diverse range of perspectives, as opposed to one very specific perspective.

What are your next steps?

We are working toward a place where the community can publish and share approaches quickly and easily. One of the challenges we have in higher education is that really great teaching practices tend to be locked inside journal articles or long-form research pieces. What’s needed is to understand the practice and how to implement it, and to answer: What are the perspectives that students are likely to have about these topic areas? Once we work through our pilot and answer the initial questions we want to answer, then we can expand to include more institutions. I would expect that within 2019, we’ll launch a broader effort. As this material becomes solidified, the intent is for these resources to be openly available. 

Melissa Nicefaro is UBTech’s deputy program director.

Melissa Nicefaro
Melissa Nicefaro
Melissa Nicefaro is UBTech’s deputy program director.

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