The Learning Technologies Media Lab (LTML) on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus was a quiet place when I walked in a summers afternoon last Wednesday.
This hub for technology oriented sustainability and educational experiments is nestled within one of the nation’s largest colleges and there are a number of groundbreaking projects quietly underway. When the school year commences this fall, it will once again become a playground of progressive tech activity.
The space, located a stone’s throw from the state fairgrounds on the second floor of the Learning and Environmental Sciences Building, has an ultra-modern look and feel. It’s only been there for about a little over a year; the Learning Technologies Dept. moved over to their lush new digs last March after spending the past 10 years on the East Bank, and co-director Aaron Doering speaks excitedly about the amenities they’ve implemented as they seek to establish a world-class, cutting edge tech lab.
Doering notes that the expansive facilities give his crew the freedom to experiment and innovate in a variety of ways, with the ability to execute all aspects of research and development in-house. “We have control over all iterations of the learning environment,” he says.
Indeed, walking through the space, you’ll find plenty of resources for work – from the many wall-mounted flat screen televisions broadcasting computer displays, to the spacious and comfortable study areas, to the numerous offices and labs packed with high-end hardware. You’ll also find some resources for play; venture down one hallway and you’ll come across a TV with a PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii all hooked up.
Fun seems to be a pre-eminent theme for this group. While they take their work very seriously, there’s inherent joy to be found in shaping young minds and spreading technology across the globe. The department’s ambitious projects span many countries and continents. “We’re constantly trying to figure out the best ways to use technology in totally new ways,” says Doering. “We try things that have never been done before anywhere.”
For someone with a background like Doering (left) – Mastered in Geography, taught social studies at a K-12 and worked at National Geographic prior to coming aboard – it’s a fitting gig. Co director Charles Miller brings extensive design and media experience while Cassie Scharber knows digital literacy and technology integration inside and out.
Throughout it all, there is an obvious passion in the air when they discuss the mission:
“To inspire and create opportunities for global collaboration in addressing humanity’s most pressing educational, social, and environmental issues by designing and evaluating innovative technology-mediated solutions for learners, educators, researchers, and organizations around the world.”
We’ll be exploring some of the LTML initiatives and their societal impact over the coming weeks; related, they are hiring for a lead software engineer.