Stuart Selber’s profound impact on teaching and learning at Penn State

In 1998, professor Stuart Selber created Penn State’s first online English class, and in 2021 he received the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) Impact Award. These achievements bookend over 20 years at the University in which Selber has leveraged technology to help engage students and transform education. 

A scholar in the field of rhetoric, with a specialty in technical communication, Selber has recognized the ever-growing presence of technology in education and understands the need to marry it with sound pedagogy, saying, “Digital technology is the new English studies. It allows us to reinvigorate how we think about things.” 

Selber’s technical innovation is prominent in his English 202C course, where he has implemented littleBits to facilitate technical communication. The lesson requires students to use littleBits, electronic components that snap together, to construct an invention and write instructions for how to do so. Later, classmates share the instructions with their peers who recreate the inventions.

The goal of the lesson, according to Selber, is to teach students to write in a clear, succinct language that considers their audience; communication skills that can serve students well in their professional lives.

“Students bring a lot of expertise with them. I want students to pursue their interests, have a stake in their learning, and express all of that by teaching others how to do things. That’s what littleBits is really about─ that level of engagement,” Selber said.

Engaged learning is a foundational element of the University’s strategic plan and a principle that Selber shares and incorporates into his pedagogy.

“Digital writing has created so many interesting questions, both about teaching and learning. What is the best way for students to learn? To take a course? To integrate technology? It just seems like the sky’s the limit when you work in this area.” 

Selber’s role as professor of English only scratches the surface of his leadership in technological innovation. As director of Penn State’s Digital English Studio, Selber played an integral role in the University’s transition to online learning following the onset of COVID-19. 

Before the pandemic, Selber assumed responsibility for the online World Campus portfolio, streamlining the online class design and implementation process. With the infrastructure of his online English 15 and English 202C classes at his disposal, coupled with the online teaching tutorials created through the Digital English Studio, Selber could share his design and expertise with all Penn State faculty. 

“It was an emergency situation for everybody. But we were helped out a lot by the fact that we already had online versions of courses that the Studio developed, that we were able to roll out basically over a weekend.” 

As years pass and new tools become available, education has no option but to evolve and transform. However, it takes creativity, strategic thinking, and leadership skills to make those transformations successful and meaningful. Selber has been a steady source of positive transformation in his time at Penn State. Over his 23 years at the University, Selber has seen tech advances like mobile devices and high-speed wireless internet profoundly impact teaching and learning.

Under his direction, the Digital English Studio provides tech expertise to both faculty and students in pedagogy, usability, and strategy. The Studio offers undergraduate and graduate students internship opportunities, giving them hands-on experience running the English department’s social media, designing online courses and more. The Studio also oversees the Teaching with Technology certificate program, which Selber coordinates. The program helps graduate students and lecturers in English develop teaching with technology philosophy statements, integrate technology into their courses and design digital teaching portfolios. 

In addition to Selber’s commitment to advancing the fields of rhetoric and technical communication, he has a passion for learning and developing his peers and students. He sees his work as endlessly fascinating and remains humble about his accomplishments. 

“My secret has been to show up every day. I see my success as the product of small, daily efforts.”

Selber sees himself as a part of a Penn State faculty and staff community committed to transforming knowledge and engaging students. The TLT Impact Award annually celebrates and recognizes those like Selber who marry pedagogy with technology to help develop digitally fluent students. Penn Staters across the Commonwealth can learn more about the award and submit nominations through the TLT website. 

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