Strong Online Learning Foundation To Ease Penn State’s Transition To Remote Instruction

Penn State’s decision to shift an entire learning community from in-person lectures, labs, and discussions online temporarily and effectively close campus prompted plenty of questions from students. Many of those questions concerned the status of lab-based courses, how professors would calculate participation grades, and how exams would be administered in the new online format.

But Penn State officials are confident that coursework will continue, for the most part, as usual during the virtual period thanks to the university’s strong online learning and technology-based teaching foundation.

“Because we have World Campus and online learning at Penn State and because it’s been very strong for a long time now, it means that the university understands really well how to do things like this and how to use technology to help with teaching,” Associate Vice President and Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Yvonne Gaudelius said.

Gaudelius and Associate Vice Provost for Online Programs at Penn State Renata Engel added that there are numerous resources available for faculty as they transition to teaching online. More than 100 instructional designers are currently working to assist faculty members from every Penn State campus, and faculty are reportedly crowdsourcing remote teaching solutions among themselves before classes resume next week.

Institutions such as the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence and Penn State’s Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) division are also providing support for university faculty.

TLT specifically is running webinars related to online teaching for faculty, and is also working with companies such as Zoom Video Communications to ensure that Penn State’s current technological infrastructure can handle the virtual period’s added demands and that all students have internet access, according to Gaudelius.

Delivery for lab-based courses will likely differ between instructors, but Engel outlined several possibilities that have been presented for and by Eberly College of Science faculty. Students may experience an experiment through a simulation or video, be presented with set of data and asked to analyze it to test a hypothesis, or examine cast studies.

“They’re focusing on what the learning outcomes are and then looking at different ways of achieving that or having students learn that kind of information and to demonstrate that they have learned that content,” Engel said.

Despite the major disruption of students’ normal class routine, Engel and Gaudelius emphasized that they expected academic progress to continue and be completed on schedule. This is especially important for students who may be moving on to a career or another degree after graduation.

These measures were taken to maintain the health and safety of the Penn State and State College communities, Engel said, and also to continue students’ academic careers with as little disruption as possible.

“We want to do everything possible to ensure that students can complete the semester successfully,” Gaudelius said.

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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