Initial Publication Date: November 30, 2016

Advice for Future Implementations

Part of the InTeGrate Penn State University Program Model

Consideration of context

Penn State University has a well-established World Campus which operates its online programs. This includes administration and marketing. The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences is home to the Dutton e-Education Institute with learning designers with significant expertise in developing online courses and modules. Penn State University is a state-wide network of 26 campuses with a common curriculum. Students are often resident at one of the campuses for their first two years before transferring to the University Park campus as Juniors. Because the campuses have the same needs and the University Park campus wishes students to arrive ready for upper division courses, there is a strong common interest in streamlining and improving course offerings.

Things that worked well that we would do again

The teams that were established to develop courses brought together faculty from diverse backgrounds. Faculty benefited tremendously from working in these teams. Instructors have also learned a lot from developing the materials. The interdisciplinary nature of the courses is a big plus for all involved.

The webinars among faculty across the system were well-attended and lively. I sensed some burnout in the third or fourth webinar and would only recommend trying to reach consensus as quickly as possible.

Strategies for overcoming challenges

The initial offerings of most of the courses were too challenging for the general education level. We tried to have detailed formative and summative assessments in every module. We quickly realized that our expectations needed to be scaled back significantly and have largely removed formative assessments and varied the level of the summative assessments. In developing the e-learning cooperative, there is only so much that can be achieved electronically. A face-to-face meeting would be enormously helpful. Unfortunately this year, the State budget impasse did not allow the annual meeting of Earth science faculty, but hopefully this will happen next year. We finally submitted the proposal for the online and face to face minor in Earth and Sustainability. It took a lot of perseverance.

Things to think about before you start this type of project

Developing online courses takes an enormous amount of time and energy. The other issue is that the topics we chose are areas that are very important societally, receiving a great deal of research, and changing very rapidly. This is great from a student interest point of view. However for the instructor, the materials become out of date in a short period of time and require constant revision.

Your administration must be on board. Developing courses takes a lot of time and there must be a reward. Moreover teaching the courses also is time consuming, thus the courses cannot be taught as an overload. The other critical element is having technical support. It has been essential to have the learning designers involved from the outset to help with all elements of developing and running the courses.