Penn State partners with littleBits to connect students to 'Internet of Things'

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- To foster student creativity, inventiveness, and the “maker mindset,” Penn State is opening a new exploration lab in partnership with littleBits, a New York-based startup that empowers everyone to create inventions, large and small, with its easy-to-use electronic building blocks. Using these building blocks that connect with magnets to create circuits, students can learn, prototype, and tinker. The inventions they create can solve real-world problems and allow creators to connect objects to the “Internet of Things,” a network of physical smart devices that collect and exchange data.

"The goal of this new space is to inspire students to develop research, invoke entrepreneurship, and explore new ideas through creative coursework," said Kyle Bowen, director of Education Technology Services within Penn State Information Technology Services. “The exploration lab will enable faculty from many areas to include creative design problems within their courses. It’s an opportunity to assign invention as homework.”

The new “Invention Studio” will be housed within the Penn State Knowledge Commons in the University Libraries’ Pattee Library and is available to all Penn State students, faculty and staff.

“Penn State understands that to be successful in the 21st century, education must encompass not just book learning but also environments that facilitate hands-on experiences and foster curiosity and creative confidence,” said Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of littleBits. “We are honored that such a prestigious institution recognizes the ways in which littleBits can provide all of those things, and has chosen to make our platform of electronic building blocks an integral part of their efforts.”

For faculty, using the littleBits technology available in the exploration lab has the power to transform teaching by using technology within the curriculum. Researchers can be inspired to become entrepreneurs, and to implement new methods, develop products, and explore new ideas.

Scott McDonald, associate professor of education and director of the Krause Innovation Studio at Penn State, explained several ways in which the use of a technology like littleBits could impact teaching and learning.

“It brings me back to tinkering when I was a kid,” McDonald said. “Taking things apart as much as putting them together was so much fun, and also helps you better understand your world. I think tools like littleBits can help students see that a lot of the world around them is design and can be understood, and one of the ways to understand it is to take it apart. I also think we need more opportunities for people to tinker and build things, as building is a natural human need and it also leads to better understanding the world around us.”

McDonald noted, “Since I teach science teachers, I mostly think about how to help them think about using tools like littleBits in their own practice with K-12 students. I could see asking my students to design lessons which help engage students with an engineering design problem where they need to use littleBits as part of the solution and also have to be able to explain the underlying science.”

 “I think we are just scratching the surface on what learning opportunities can be created by setting problems for students and then giving them tools to design and build solutions to those problems,” McDonald added.

This partnership of Penn State Information Technology Services with littleBits is the first of several; additional collaborations are in the works, furthering the quest to discover and advance technologies that engage learners.

For more information, contact Bowen at 

Last Updated September 25, 2015