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TLT 2019: A Peek into the Future of Learning.

by on March 19, 2019 5:00 AM

What were you doing at 7:30 a.m. this past Saturday? Was it a time to get in a work out? Did you catch upon some reading for pleasure? Did you start working on your taxes? I’ll bet many of you may have used it to get back that hour of sleep you lost last weekend, or at least that’s how you might be rationalizing it.

I actually joined my wife, Heidi, and several of her co-workers, and attended the Penn State Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) held at the Penn Stater. According to their website TLT’s mission “is to innovate with technologies that transform teaching and learning in positive and enduring ways.”  

They did not disappoint. In fact, it far exceeded my expectations and raised my curiosity about the future of education. Think major paradigm shifts integrating technology in most aspects of learning. That may sound obvious, but I was incredibly impressed by the presentations and demonstrations and am in awe of what the future may bring.

Our morning got off to a great start with an outstanding breakfast. It included an introduction to sociology professor Mike Polgar at our table and a pleasant discussion. I learned a lot in a short period of time about what Michael does at the Hazelton campus and got to look over his book titled, “Holocaust and Human Rights Education.”

Michael, who had numerous family members who were holocaust survivors, gave me the abbreviated version of life during that horrible time. It is still on my bucket list to visit Europe for a World War II tour of cities and museums to satisfy my own lifelong curiosity about the history of the world conflict.

Soon we were joined by friend Marjie Nye, one of Heidi’ co-workers in the College of Agricultural Sciences Digital Education Unit, as well as some of Michael’s colleagues at the Hazelton campus. It was a great way to kick-off the symposium.

In full disclosure, my main purpose in attending the event was to hear the keynote talk from best-selling author and speaker Dan Heath. Dan, who along with his brother Chip, wrote the books "Made to Stick," and “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact,” is a faculty member at Duke. I read “The Power of Moments” while doing research for my own book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion,” and even used a quote from Dan’s book in my own.

His speech was sensational. Dan’s talk covered everything from myths such as “we only use 10 percent of our brains” to “the only man-made site that you can see from outer space is the Great Wall of China,” to information about the importance of creating sticky ideas that are understood, remembered, and that change something.

Perhaps the most important message that I took away from Dan‘s talk was when he said we need to throw away how we currently teach in K-12. He emphatically stated that we should be focusing on our decision-making skills, data and data analytics, and our communication skills to best set our students up for success in the future.

I had the opportunity to meet Dan afterwards and get his book signed and had a brief conversation about “The Power of Moments.”

When I read “The Power of Moments,” I found a particularly profound section in the chapter called “Create Shared Meaning,” which discussed research from Cal Berkeley professor Morten Hansen, who surveyed 5,000 employees and managers looking for the attributes that made up star performers. He found that 17 percent of employees that were considered star performers believe that what they did at work made a strong contribution to society, beyond making money. He also discussed the distinction between purpose and passion which was especially pertinent to my research for my book. In it he showed that workers who had high passion AND a high purpose, scored in the 80th percentile of star performers. In his research he concluded, however, that purpose trumps passion. This was right in line with my beliefs in “Pragmatic Passion.” In essence, passion alone is not enough. Hansen’s research showed that people who are passionate about their jobs could still be poor performers when they lack a sense of purpose. 

In addition to attending the keynote address, I also attended breakout sessions including the post-keynote question-and-answer session with Dan Heath; Digital Fluency and The Future of Learning at Penn State, Learning Through The Art of Storytelling; Digital Storytelling to Spark Your Imagination; and Serious Games and Gamification: What Research Has Shown Since 2014.

The symposium ended with a series of discovery sessions and, of course, Creamery ice cream. I made my way throughout Presidents Hall at the Penn Stater with an open mind and the curiosity to see what is coming in the future. Some of the topics included “We Put Starfish in Our Canvas” (led by my new friend Michael Polgar); “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for…Creativity;” “A. I. in Education;” and “Step into Virtual Reality.”

One of the most intriguing sessions was getting to test drive the Telepresence Robot. Zach Lonsinger, a learning experiences designer, allowed individuals to get an opportunity to guide the robot in a small area inside the hall. It was a cool glimpse into the future. There was also a live demonstration of 3D Printing that was beyond cool.


An annual part of the symposium that everybody looks forward to is the Open Innovation Challenge that is held just after lunch. Five innovators were given the opportunity to showcase their ideas in a set of fast-paced, five-minute presentations for which the audience votes for a winner. All five ideas were remarkable in their ingenuity and genuine goal of helping the masses. This year’s winner was Rodney Allen Trice, professor of practice in the College of Arts and Architecture’s graphic design department at University Park, with his “Walk a Mile” program.

What did Heidi take away from the symposium? “How rapidly technology is changing and being applied to our everyday lives,” she said. “It requires everyone to continue learning and to overcome any fears. You just need to immerse yourself in it and try things out.”

Heidi described TLT as “the old audio-visual unit on steroids,” and much more. The folks who work in this realm are indispensable. At the rate technology is changing, it requires new equipment and new software pretty regularly and the training staff is a big piece of it. I hope that university leaders share this vision of the future of education.

A huge thanks to the organizers who made the Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology a big success. It was truly an opportunity to peek into the future of learning at Penn State.



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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