Lector traces its roots back to the spring semester of 2011, during the New Frontiers of Reading project. The group, led by Diana Gruendler, was working with the Sony Corporation to study the potential benefits of using electronic readers in the classroom. While this semester’s class was not the first to use the e-readers, there was a new facet to the experiment: Lector.
Lector, at its core, is a platform that allows the classroom and the community to come together. Students who meet in class twice a week on Penn State’s campus can also meet virtually, online, any time of the day to discuss ideas with each other and with the larger community. As an online repository of the reactions and thoughts of students, Lector blurs the lines of the traditional classroom environment and acts as a way to continue researching the impact of modern technologies as classroom tools.
The original Lector group began with just three TAs: Mike Buonpane, Amanda Buonpane, & Danielle Gruen, now seniors. Mike and Amanda managed the creation of the web site and the integration into the classroom, promoting the growth of the platform. Danielle, on the other hand, took on a new kind of role — the virtual TA. While studying abroad in Australia and New Zealand, Danielle managed the site from overseas. Having students in different time zones allowed us to grow and manage the site quickly. Ryan Fisher and Ky Winkleblack also served as classroom TAs and provided in-classroom support to the participating classes. The varying roles and perspectives that each TA held helped to expand Lector to be a multifaceted platform, accessible to many different groups and communities.
That first semester, with the participation of an Honors English 30 class at PSU, the site received over 5,000 visits. Students were encouraged to read a particular set of books and use them as a basis to have discussions online through posts on the Lector site. The caliber of the observations and posts made by the students on this forum attracted the attention of the wider Penn State community, promoting many comments from them and from the general public. The successful first semester foreshadowed the future growth that would come next fall, when the program expanded to include members of English 15A in an attempt to broaden the Lector user base and determine how different kinds of classes would respond the the online discussion environment.
During Lector’s second semester, the TA team grew to include more members, who came from a variety of academic disciplines and different class standings. The team’s composition reflects the belief that writing is vital through all subject areas, and helps to bring different perspectives to the site. Lector also added a virtual librarian, Anne Behler, who serves as a liaison between our project and the University Libraries. She helps to facilitate the discussion and support the students by providing them with related resource material available at the Library. The growth of Lector during its second semester was reflected in traffic to the site: 15,000 visits from all over the world, including Europe, Brazil, and Australia!
The next step for Lector may truly remove the line between the classroom and the outside world. By integrating Apple’s iPad 2 and the Lector platorm, there are no boundaries between the class discussion and the online discussion. In the coming semesters, we hope to integrate Lector into online courses, as well as resident courses, and expand the other types of classes outside English 15 and 30 to demonstrate the limitless potential of a virtual classroom connecting the students through technology.