Peer-led learning: IST course enriches academic experience

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After positive experiences as learning assistants in the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, Erica Mi and Carrigan Morabito knew they wanted to continue to help their peers through the learning process. Thanks to the University’s Students Teaching Students (STS) program, Mi and Morabito found a unique way to enrich the academic experience for other students. The two co-taught IST 297H: Conversations with Interactive Media this spring.

“STS is a student-run organization in which students who have an idea or a topic they want to teach other peers about and can propose it to be up to a three-credit course,” said Mi, a Schreyer Honors Scholar who just completed her third year in the undergraduate information sciences and technology program.

A registered student-organization at the University, STS equips and enables undergraduate students to teach an official elective course under the supervision of a faculty member. The courses are designed to prioritize student engagement and foster peer-to-peer collaboration, while focusing on niche or trending topics not otherwise found in the Penn State curriculum.

“The purpose of STS is to allow students who have these cool topics to be able to teach them and offer a new perspective in current curriculum that's not already there,” said Mi.

Added Morabito, who earned a bachelor’s degree in human-centered design and development in May, “I wanted to do this because I have a love for teaching. Both of my parents are teachers, so I joke that teaching is in my blood.”

IST 297H is an exploration of how interactive media, specifically video games, computer games and augmented reality can be used to facilitate difficult discussions about technology.

“I had heard a student mention a video gaming classroom (during a discussion) about artificial intelligence,” said Morabito. “I thought, ‘You know what, I could hold an office hour about this, I could do something with this.’ Erica then helped me narrow it down and make it into something that we could actually teach."

Through the help of Fred Fonseca, associate professor of IST, Mi and Morabito brought the course to life. With a full syllabus, which provided students with weekly opportunities to delve into different topics with examples of their respective media representations, the two student instructors were able to lead their peers in a unique learning experience.

“The most rewarding part is knowing that students registered for the course because they thought it would be an interesting topic,” said Mi. “It's not a required course and it's not for major anything; it's really solely just a course that you take for the fun of it.”

Peer-led learning: IST course enriches academic experience

The course includes an introduction to Heidegger’s theory that will serve as the instructors’ basis to explore why and how certain technologies are used as tools for conversation around the application of technology. At the end of the semester, students will demonstrate their application of the theory by selecting a piece of interactive media and exploring how it can be used as a resource for conversations related to technology.

“Having student teachers is great because they can relate to your workload and want to help us actually understand the material while also be interested in the class,” said Jack Lutfy, a second-year student studying human centered design and development who is enrolled in IST 297H this spring. “The level of communication in our class is superior because of Erica and Carrigan. It’s easy for us to talk to them so our class discussions feel much more open and welcoming.”

Morabito said that lessons were picked based on her and Mi’s prior knowledge and interest in learning new topics. Most of their ideas were formulated through other ideas and narrowing them down to topics they thought their students would enjoy.

“A lot of the concepts are overlapping with other IST classes, but they've never heard about it before,” said Mi. “We are still bringing something new to students outside of IST as well, which is pretty cool.”

According to the syllabus, discussion topics are focused on both relevant ideas in the field of technology, as well as potential areas that students may encounter in the workforce. Students will participate in discussions in class, online, and develop their own examples to further these discussions.

“The class sizes for STS are very small and it's very intimate so I think we are able to make our course be very discussion based,” said Mi. “We ended up with 12 enrollments, which is on the higher end of what we were expecting.”

In January, Mi and Morabito took the class on a field trip to the Dreamery, a Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology initiative that gives members of the University community hands-on experience with emerging technology that can positively impact teaching and learning.

“Other students should get involved with STS,” said Morabito “I wish I was in school longer so I could see what other people would come up with because I feel like there's a ton of other courses you could make that would be so much fun.”

During the class at the Dreamery, students broke off into groups based on whether they wanted to try augmented reality or virtual reality. VR headsets allowed students to enter another world and play various games while iPads were used to look at modules that were created on Adobe Aero for an AR.

“As AR/VR technology becomes more and more accessible, it will begin to be used in more and more places,” said Eugene Ryoo, who earned his degree in cybersecurity analytics and operations in May and was enrolled in the course this spring. “This class is almost like a look into the future and how AR/VR will become as normal as smartphones, computers and more have become today. Imagine being able to see how a piece of clothing looks on you without ever having to step into a store, or photorealistic virtual reality experiences.”

With the semester behind them, Morabito and Mi look back at how their past involvement in IST Diplomats and honor societies, as well as their own experiences as learning assistants, gave them insight to how other instructors teach courses, and they applied that knowledge to IST 297H. They encourage other IST students to get involved with STS classes — either as instructors or enrolled students — to benefit from peer-led instruction.

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