Penn State Brandywine students adjust to remote learning

Penn State Brandywine junior Victor Ficarra is using online video conferencing for remote learning, student club meetings and keeping in touch with friends. Credit: courtesy of Victor FicarraAll Rights Reserved.

MEDIA, Pa. — Transitioning 1,300 college students from in-person classes to remote learning with only a few days’ notice is no easy feat, but in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Penn State Brandywine was able to make the switch with minimal impact on students’ coursework.

Penn State decided during spring break that all of its campuses would move to remote learning for a three-week period beginning March 16. The University later extended remote learning through the end of the spring semester, as did many other colleges.

Classes are being presented synchronously, meaning faculty remotely engage with students during their regularly scheduled class times, which provides for maximum structure and engagement. Online video conferencing programs allow faculty and students to see, speak and share presentations with each other in real time.

“Decisions have been made with the health, safety and well-being of our campus community as our top priority,” said Brandywine Chancellor Marilyn J. Wells. “I’ve been so impressed by how the campus has responded. Our students and faculty have been patient, understanding and flexible. Many have told me remote learning is going better than they expected.”

Professor of Earth Science Laura Guertin, now teaching from her dining-room-turned-home-office, said she’s never before faced the challenge of switching to remote learning so quickly.

“Fortunately, Penn State provides faculty and students access to an incredible array of software and technology training for teaching and learning,” she said.

“In all of my classes, I emphasize that we are a community of learners,” Guertin said. “We are here to work together and support each other as we address the overarching course goals and objectives. We are now continuing to see each other as a community in a virtual environment. It is so amazing to see the students come together and we are moving forward with our course topics.”

In a way, Guertin is teaching outside her home as well. The Media resident has adorned her front door with “fun science facts” — currently focused on earthquake information — that passersby in her walkable neighborhood can stop and enjoy.

Penn State Brandywine Professor of Earth Science Laura Guertin, who is now teaching her classes remotely, has added fun science facts to the front door of her Media home. Credit: Bill Tyson / Penn StateCreative Commons

Victor Ficarra, a junior business major, said students and faculty are adjusting to the changed class format.

“My professors have been very responsive to email, have acclimated well to presenting on Zoom and are modifying assignments as needed to fit the new learning environment,” he said. “While socially I have definitely had some difficulty with the transition, I am just happy that Brandywine has made the academic aspect of social distancing as stress-free as possible.”

Ficarra added that student clubs and groups of friends are also using video conferencing to stay connected with each other.

Senior communications major Diana Dopheide is adapting as well.

“It’s definitely been a challenge adjusting to the remote learning, but I feel I have the full support of my professors,” she said. “They really are doing their best to ensure that we continue to succeed.”

Karen Theveny, lecturer in communications, said remote learning has given her a chance to learn about her students in a more personal way.

“I’ve seen parents come in with Penn State updates for their students, younger siblings bursting into the room and pets making their appearances on desks and blocking the screen,” Theveny said. “We’ve had fun as a class with this and it has helped make the experience less intimidating. It's an unexpected perk of the online experience.”

Staff and faculty working remotely continue to provide support to students in areas such as academic advising, tutoring, counseling, library resources and career services. Prospective students are able to take a virtual tour of the campus.

Wells, who has served as Brandywine’s chancellor since mid-January, said she has a deep appreciation for how students, faculty and staff have worked together to make the best of a difficult situation.

“I’ve seen an extraordinary level of commitment and resilience as well as creativity. We are delivering on our mission and supporting our students,” she said. “I am fortunate to be part of this very caring community.”

'We Are' stories
The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories. 

Visit to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by the novel coronavirus. We are! 

Last Updated April 23, 2020