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McEntaffer and Reimann named Teaching and Learning with Technology faculty fellows
28 September 2020

Randy McEntaffer, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, physics, and of materials science and engineering, and Jan Reimann, associate professor of mathematics, have been named Faculty Fellows for the 2020-21 academic year by Penn State’s Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT). They join six other instructors in this year's cohort, each of whom, in their unique ways, will focus on student engagement.

"The current state of higher education has placed a bright spotlight on the need to keep students involved with and participating in their coursework," said Bart Pursel, director of innovation with TLT. “We’re thrilled to welcome this year’s TLT Faculty Fellows whose projects are dedicated to student engagement and how technology can help take it to new heights.”

Throughout the 2020-21 academic year, the fellows will work with a dedicated team of TLT staff to realize the goals set forth by their projects. They cover an array of topics that are strongly influenced by each fellow’s discipline and background.

Randy McEntaffer — "Exploring the Universe through Virtual Reality"

McEntaffer and his team will embark on a project with the potential to impact thousands of Penn State undergraduate students who take introductory astronomy courses each year. Their goal is to overcome the physical limitations of engaging with astronomy course materials by utilizing a virtual reality (VR) application called "Titans of Space.”

“We want this project to provide students with physically engaging content that conveys complex astronomical concepts through self-led demonstration,” said McEntaffer. “By augmenting traditional lecture-based content with virtual reality-based lessons, we believe we can then assess student interest and engagement as well as their understanding of the material."

McEntaffer’s team will divide its work over this academic year into three phases, initially working with a small group of students and assessing their individual experiences with VR-based astronomy coursework. In spring 2021, the final stage will use assessment results from the first two for the creation of VR content that will be incorporated into an ASTRO 001 lecture on the solar system. The students' answers to the questions regarding their experience with VR-enabled learning could provide valuable insight toward gauging the difference between traditional learning and learning with immersive technology.

Jan Reimann — "Learning Math with Jupyter Notebooks"

Associate Professor

Reimann and his team aim to take advantage of Jupyter Notebooks' open-source platform and their built-in interactivity to create affordable, engaging course content for undergraduate math students at Penn State. 

“Instead of relying on static data in a traditional calculus textbook, a Jupyter-based course can pull data in real-time from various sources like financial markets or sports statistic databases," said Reimann. "This gives instructors, and students access to much more current and relevant content, which can help improve engagement. For example, in March 2020, I demonstrated a Jupyter Notebook to my Math 110 course and explained the basic features of logistic functions by modeling the latest COVID-19 data.”

Reimann and his team will work toward creating a content library and collecting data sources that will allow for the creation of interactive notebooks within Penn State's math department long after the fellowship project has concluded. Additionally, they recognize their project's potential to increase the overall accessibility to Project Jupyter at Penn State and help organize the University’s existing Jupyter community.

To learn more about the TLT Faculty Fellows program, email fellows@psu.edu.