College of Liberal and Professional Studies expands online course offerings
The live classroom may soon be eclipsed by a virtual one.
Since its launch in 2009, the Arts and Sciences Learning Commons, run by the College of Liberal and Professional Studies, has rapidly expanded its online course offerings.
This platform for online courses allows students and professors to interact virtually. It also supports “Communities” that allow LPS students to post job openings, chat and network online.
This fall, the Commons launched two new online forums for LPS students — the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health Community and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Community.
The Virtual Classroom
Through the Commons, students and professors can log onto a class page and interact with each other. Using Adobe Connect, students can live stream the professors’ lectures and slides. The platform also offers a virtual whiteboard, where professors can illustrate course materials.
Professors may also post notes, assignments and video clips, while students can participate in live chat sessions during class.
The Commons hosted 11 online classes for both undergraduates and graduate students this summer, and is offering three this fall. This semester marks an expansion from the eight classes offered last summer and one last fall and spring.
Outside of class, students — who have social profiles — can connect with each other and participate in discussion forums.
Online Learning Manager Jacqueline Candido said the Commons developmental team hopes to increase the number of online course offerings for the upcoming semesters.
“We want to expand Penn’s reach to the global community and offer more flexibility for current students,” Candido said.
Lauren Goulet, a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication, taught a communications course over the summer.
She said the LPS staff was very helpful in helping her transpose the course, which is regularly taught in a live classroom, to an online platform by integrating different types of technology.
Goulet assigned her students to write blog posts and utilized a “Twitter-like feed,” where students could post links and comments.
This type of participation was beneficial to shyer students who may be hesitant to participate in a live classroom, she added.
However, Goulet said it was difficult to assess whether her students were actually engaged or “falling asleep” during class due to the lack of eye contact in the virtual space.
Wharton sophomore David Sawyers, who took Math 114 online this summer, said he did not enjoy the experience, especially since there were many technical glitches.
“The professor also seemed really distant,” he added. “I didn’t think that he was actually there to help or answer my questions.”
Sawyers believes that a math class needs to be taught in a real classroom. “You can’t do math online successfully,” he said.
The Virtual Campus
The cyber Communities differ from classrooms in that they are private spaces where students can discuss coursework, network and post job listings — creating a “virtual campus society,” said Online Communities Coordinator Jake Landis, who joined the Commons developmental team in June to help launch the two new Communities.
While the students may attend class on campus, this interface allows them to discuss coursework, network and post job listings outside of class time.
“LPS students aren’t on campus all the time. They can now talk to each other, access resources and go to workshops all from home,” Landis said.
Although the Commons was designed specifically for the School of Arts and Sciences, the developmental team is working to make connections with other schools on campus.
Master of Environmental Science student Cornelia Colijn, who is also the graduate school coordinator for LPS, said the newly-created Earth and Environmental Science community both encourages and facilitates conversations among students.
“It’s not intended to disengage students from face-to-face [interaction], but to facilitate more engagement,” she said, adding that since it is a closed community, students are able to talk freely.
The only downside of the new system is its young age, she said. “There are some issues as we navigate our way through it, but it has made our community much better.”
The Future of a New Community
Music professor Carol Muller — who prefers online instruction to traditional classroom learning — said online learning should not be imposed on everyone. Her two-week online class, “South Africa: Contemporary Performances”, culminated with a class trip to Grahamstown, South Africa, for a music festival.
Even though online classes are still a new trend at Penn, it may be time for the University to make improvements in learning management software.
“Blackboard was a good platform for its time, but we need to transition to having [course material] on the front page, where you don’t have to dig deep for it,” Muller explained.
“Commons is highly interactive and educationally sound,” said Muller, who hopes to see all schools at Penn adopt a singular, interactive learning platform.