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The 2015 Academic Technology Expo (ATXpo)

Elizabeth Bernhardt Speaks at ATXpo

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Bernhardt, professor of German Studies and director of the Stanford Language Center. Photo by Misha Bruk.


Approximately two hundred professors, graduate students, and academic technology staff from Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, and San Jose State University gathered October 12 at the Arrillaga Alumni Center to discuss and share effective practices for teaching and learning with technology at the 2015 ATXpo (Academic Technology Expo).


Hosted by the Vice Provost for Teaching & Learning (VPTL) and building on the success of the 2014 ATXpo, this year’s event continued to foster new collaboration among participants by showcasing projects, pedagogies, and practices that have improved educational experiences in the Bay Area. The event was sponsored by the VPTL’s Year of Learning , the Graduate School of Business, and the Language Center, and was organized by VPTL staff members Paul Zenke, Director of Academic Technology, and Ken Romeo, Associate Director for the Language Center. As one of the featured events of the Autumn line-up for the Year of Learning, the ATXpo highlighted the important contributions innovations in academic technology continue to make to the teaching and learning landscape at Stanford.

Language Instruction: Teaching with Technology

The event began with an opening plenary speech by Elizabeth Bernhardt, professor of German Studies and director of the Stanford Language Center who illustrated the ways in which educational technologies have enhanced language learning at Stanford over the last twenty years. Bernhardt reflected on the important connections between the Language Center’s commitment to proficiency-based instruction and its use of technology to improve teachers’ pedagogy and students’ learning experiences.

For instance, when Bernhardt started at Stanford in the mid-1990's, she saw the need to include speaking proficiency as part of the language placement test. Given the technology at the time, the solution was to use tape recorders to administer a verbal language test to hundreds of students simultaneously. Over the years, the Center continued to innovate – moving to online language assessment, which allowed for more face-to-face speaking and listening practice in class. Digital language assessment also provides a wealth of data, allowing the Center to show concrete results of how well students are learning.

While other universities use computers to administer oral exams, none have such an expansive assessment program as the one run in VPTL’s Digital Language Lab, nor the number of teachers certified to rate the exams, as Stanford has. Bernhardt pointed out that the result is better proficiency overall: Stanford students reach in two years the level of oral proficiency of most foreign language majors in the US.

Drawing from her full breadth of experiences in implementing such solutions, Bernhardt also cautioned that technology is not without its problems and costs, however. As technologists become more reliant on apps, she encouraged the audience to make sure that these potential tools have a firm foundation in learning theory before implementing them. 

Learning Technology on Display in the Idea Lab

The keynote was followed by the Idea Lab — a showcase of promising new approaches to teaching and learning. During this open exhibition, thirty-five presenters demonstrated tools and techniques from remote online learning to flipped and blended classrooms, course projects and training programs. Co-organizer Paul Zenke explained, “One way we like to think about the ATXpo is by asking, what need is it trying to address here on campus? There are a lot of wonderful programs and events. What makes ATXpo revenant and interesting? We believe the ATXpo provides an important platform for educators and technologist to come together once a year to share practices and tools that are improving student learning in the Bay Area.”

The diverse ideas and solutions shared in the Idea Lab could be grouped into three categories: technology tools, opportunities enabled by new technology, and simple ways to use existing technology to enhance learning.

Technology Tools 

Exhibits in this area included VPTL’s Academic Skills Inventory, an online self-assessment for students to identify learning strategies; Overleaf, an online collaborative LaTeX editor; Stanford Domains, which helps students, faculty and staff set up a web presence; and Create:Space in the VPTL’s Lathrop Tech Lounge, which provides students with access to a 3D scanner and printer and other creative tools.. 

Opportunities Enabled by New Technology

Stanford's Department of Anthropology showcased how archeological artifacts can be scanned in 3D, shared around the world, and viewed interactively on a tablet.  In this way, researchers and students from around the globe can examine a single fragile artifact, which would never need to leave its country of origin.  

Stanford Graduate School of Business Senior Software Engineers Joy Hsu and Chris Sadlak demonstrated a series of online games that simulate decision-making processes in business, many of which are difficult or impossible to run in a face-to-face environment.  Students can play the games online with their classmates, and then meet in class to debrief and discuss the implications.  

Timothy Hill, Chair of the Department of Management Information Systems at San Jose State University, presented a redesigned lab sequence for a business technology course.  Both engaging and empowering for students, he explained that by building on the Salesforce platform, non-technical students are able to create mobile apps and connect them to a database in a matter of weeks. 

Enhancing Learning Through Existing Technology

Stanford English Literature Lecturer Stephen Speiss illustrated his use of QuickTime and to record and share feedback on his student’s papers.  Compared to scribbling brief notes in the margin, self-recorded videos help him to provide higher-quality feedback, and allow him to spend less time grading. 

UC Berkeley College Writing Program Lecturer Ryan Sloan discussed how his students post their drafts on the blogging platform Tumblr. He emphasized that this semi-public sharing environment encourages students to view their papers as works-in-progress and facilitates peer reviews and editing.

Panel Discussion on Tech Opportunities and Challenges 

The afternoon was devoted to a panel discussion and subsequent breakout sessions to address the opportunities, drawbacks, and challenges that technology presents in education. Director of Learning Design & Technology at the Stanford Graduate School of Education Karin Forssell moderated the panel, which featured directors of academic technology groups at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and San Jose State, as well as a Stanford undergraduate who works as a Resident Computer Consultant, providing peer technology education and support in student residences.  

Some common themes emerged throughout the discussion. Several panelists highlighted the idea that universities should approach technology in terms of the complete student experience, even including administrative processes like course registration and financial aid. As such, they encouraged educators to think beyond their own courses, and explore how technology can improve the learning experience both inside and outside the classroom.

In addition, Director of Educational Technology at UC Berkeley Jennifer Stringer reminded instructors to think carefully about their use of technology and its power to create potential disparities between users. While technology can be a great force for accessibility and the democratization of education, it can just as easily increase the gap between the technological haves and have-nots, or even between those who technically can and cannot. Referring to specific innovations, she emphasized, “Mind the gap. Is it widening the gap, or is it lessening the gap?” This observation was reminiscent of Professor Bernhardt’s concluding points during her open plenary speech, when she noted that pedagogy should be leading technology, and not the other way around. 

More information about the event is available at


2015 ATXpo: Ideas with Impact