Soc 119 & World In Conversation Leading Examples In Remote Learning

The SOC 119 YouTube channel has been up and running for nine years now, and what originally featured just short, 15-second clips, now has close to 50,000 subscribers and more than eight million views total on all of the videos.

The channel connects people all over the world, especially every Tuesday and Thursday when the class is live-streamed, but this past Tuesday, it did all that and more when it was actually used for students enrolled in the course to “attend” class. The class, which usually takes place in Thomas 100, instead featured professor Sam Richards standing in his home office. The students were dispersed, with no telling how many miles or countries stood between them during this time.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, SOC 119 and World In Conversation (WinC) were already both pillars in remote learning at Penn State. Now, they’re serving as guides for other professors during this challenging time, as they benefit from somewhat of a sense of normalcy and fluency in technology.

The transition to moving the class online was fairly simple, since it’s already streamed online in the first place (and has been for many years). In a time where so much is changing around the world, viewers of the stream will have some of the most unique experiences due to the class’s already fluent proficiency in technology, streaming, and bringing in outside guests.

“The class is actually going to be better,” Richards said. “We have the unique opportunity to talk to people from all over the world. The whole class is actually going to be better I think. I mean we don’t get to meet in Thomas, but it will be engaging.”

So while students enrolled in other classes may be making huge shifts to their coursework and schedules this week, SOC 119 is going to continue on as normally as possible, a blessing of normalcy in a time of uncertainty.

“A lot of people are really unsettled by what’s happening. There’s a lot of panic, there’s a lot of distress, and for students, it’s best if they have as much normalcy as they can possibly have,” Richards said. “That’s just kind of basic sociology. I think the university is smart in saying, ‘Hey you should hold your class time at the same exact time and day as you normally do.'”

And while so many classes are resorting to synchronous instruction via Zoom, Penn State’s World In Conversation, which is used not only in SOC 119, but in dozens of other classes at the university, is going to continue as scheduled through Zoom as well. The history behind how Zoom got to partner with Penn State is something Richards actually had a hand in himself.

“World In Conversation was instrumental in Penn State adopting an enterprise-level VTC platform, and Zoom is the one they chose,” Richards said. “We initially asked Penn State to be thinking about that and then the whole thing started and it just kicked off, and that was about four or five years ago.”

At World In Conversation, the task of being able to carry out these dialogues digitally is a huge undertaking. Nonetheless, they still are going on as scheduled, and this week alone are having more than 60 facilitated virtual dialogues.

“At World In Conversation, we do more video conferencing than any unit at Penn State University, other than at Hershey Medical Center. We’re a global leader in that already, but, we’re used to two or three sites joining a single dialogue from different locations, not 10 to 14 separate individuals,” Richards said. “Even our global partners in Afghanistan, Iraq, Columbia, and other locations around the world are stuck inside their homes. We’re used to students in a room in Pond Lab, and students in a room in Iraq for example, just talking. This is a very different challenge.”

WinC Educational Program Assistant and SOC 119 live stream producer, Jeff Hamill, said another difficulty for WinC during this time is grading properly and accurately.

“Grading is already difficult to do in person. It’s interesting working in education now versus when I was in school because when I was in school teachers were just like ‘Alright this exam is worth 40 points you get a question wrong minus a point’,” Hamill said. “As a teacher now it’s like, well I understand how they wouldn’t get this question right or get this thing. On top of that, you’re now physically distanced between people and it’s hard to make sure people are focusing.”

While this remote learning period continues, the SOC 119 and WinC teams are using this opportunity to expand upon their use of technology and bring people together more than ever from all over the world.

“As this virus continues, right now Penn State is closed. Most businesses that aren’t essential are closed, but there are still people out and about. I’m interested to see how life is going to change in different parts of the country.” Hamill said. “If there’s a student from Washington, I’d love if we could talk to them because Washington state has been hit the hardest. I think talking to them would be really interesting.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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