Penn State Intercom......February 15, 2001

Virtual University Milestone:

World Campus students
log on to learning

By Celena E. Kusch
Outreach Communications worldcampus

T hree years ago, the University launched its World Campus, an online learning initiative that delivers signature University academic programs to students worldwide. Recent reports about the estimated 6.3 million adults expected to enroll in online courses in the next year have led to a rash of new for-profit initiatives and visions of huge virtual "classes." By contrast, Penn State's approach has been to use the Internet to create online learning communities in courses that emphasize student interaction and active learning.

In order to maintain high-quality instruction and student support, the World Campus has focused on a dozen or so targeted programs that match University expertise with students who have a demonstrated need for flexible education offerings. Faculty have added a new group of programs and courses each semester for measured, strategic growth. And it has worked. Thus far, the World Campus has launched 20 certificate and degree programs.

"Penn State was an early leader in seizing the tools of the digital age to serve students who, by virtue of their location, work commitments or personal circumstances have limited flexibility to pursue their education," explained James H. Ryan, vice president for Outreach and Cooperative Extension.

"The World Campus extends the very best of our traditions into the Digital Age. Rich content, a high level of interaction between students and faculty, and student learner support services are key characteristics that distinguish our venture," he added.

Overwhelmingly, World Campus students agree.

KayLynn Hamilton of Hyner already has completed a World Campus certificate in educational technology integration and is now enrolled in the online master's degree in adult education program.

"Because of where I live and my job, without the World Campus I would not have been able to continue my education. I couldn't do it if it wasn't online," she said.

Hamilton works full time as an adult educator for the Central Intermediate Unit in rural northeast Pennsylvania, and she serves as the coordinator of the Central-Northeast Professional Development Center, which receives funding through the Department of Education. Her job takes her throughout a 21-county area planning and delivering training to adult educators in corrections, literacy and community-based adult education programs.

Although she has considerable experience instructing other adult educators, Hamilton said that the World Campus courses have reinforced her own practices and taught her more in-depth theories.

"For example, I've used online resources in my classes for years, but our instructors have led us to great Internet resources I never knew existed. The faculty has been a guiding light for us," she said.

Hamilton also noted that there was no shortage of interaction with her fellow students.

"All of my courses so far have had classroom discussions through a bulletin board. I have received thousands of messages over the course of a class, and there were times when I would spend a few hours at night just reading through my classmates' comments," she said.

John Kopko of Flushing, Mich., praises the level of interaction his World Campus courses provided. A Leer Corp. engineer, Kopko is a student in the noise control engineering post-baccalaureate certificate program. He credits the World Campus for helping him advance ahead of schedule in his career.

"I think that working with others is really an important part of your education, not only if your education is at a university, but also where you work," he said. "The assignments that required collaboration among students certainly were an important part of the World Campus program. That part of the distance education certainly is something that needs to happen."

Gary E. Miller, associate vice president for Distance Education and executive director of the World Campus, noted that "World Campus programs are built on the idea that interaction is an essential part of a Penn State degree, especially at the upper division. We also know that learning does not take place only in the 'classroom,' even if it is a virtual classroom. Our courses emphasize active learning, in which students are actively engaged in research, problem-solving and collaboration around issues. At the same time, we want to ensure that our students -- regardless of how distant they may be from Pennsylvania -- are part of this community. This is a very real part of how the World Campus serves students."

According to Miller, two-thirds of World Campus students come from beyond Pennsylvania. They represent all 50 states and 27 nations. Most are adults over age 24.

The World Campus has reported enrollment growth of more than 300 percent in the last year alone, and 2000-2001 enrollments already are ahead of last year's pace. The five-year plan calls for 10,000 annual enrollments in 300 courses and 30 degree and certificate programs by 2002-2003.