Monthly Archives: August 2011


Involving Online and Adult Learners in the University Community

Today I received an e-mail asking for feedback on my experience at All University Day, an opportunity that PSU generously provides each year to unite students from all campuses during half-time at a football game in Beaver Stadium. I then revisited an article that I wrote about the experience for our WCPC newsletter that semester. I enjoyed reading it so much (and I usually don’t enjoy reading my own writing), that I thought I would share it here as a wonderful example of involving online and adult learners in the University community. Sadly, I cannot get the pictures to cooperate :-(

All University Day

Every year, the PSU Commonwealth campuses receive tickets for their students to attend the football game at Beaver Stadium designated as All University Day. During a half-time presentation, representatives carry a banner from each campus onto the field to join the entire Penn State community together. It is an opportunity for all of us to show our Penn State pride, regardless of where we attend.

Many of the branch campuses use the event as a fundraiser, selling the tickets to their students on a first-come, first-served basis. Those of us attending World Campus were offered the opportunity to win a pair of tickets. What did we have to do? Students determined to win tickets (like me) did what we do best. We sat in front of our computers and patiently watched for the next contest announcement. (Think of that bathrobe-clad uncle trying to win the radio contest in One Crazy Summer with John Cusack, but before computers ;-) Using all of our social networking connections, World Campus staff gave tickets away to their students in facebook, Twitter and Second Life. Personally, I got lucky at the lion shrine in Second Life.

I am a member of a Penn State family living less than three hours away from University Park and I feel fortunate to have already had several opportunities to visit the main campus and attend a few of the football games there. After giving it some serious thought, I decided to invite my daughter, Amanda, to accompany me for a girls-only weekend. She is a senior in high school and I am all too aware of the fact that she will be embarking on her own college adventure soon. Thelma and Louise, here we come; all the glamour, but much less drama! Susan Sarandon will play me in the movie version!

World Campus staff invited all ticket winners and their guests to attend a tailgate at the Outreach Building the night before the game. What a great idea! I finally got to meet our Social Networks Advisor, Shannon Ritter, in person. Plus, I met my Spanish II instructor, Roxana Gearhart, and many other World Campus staff and faculty members. We feasted on a hearty meal of ribs and chicken with baked beans and all the accoutrements, surrounded by shiny blue and white PSU balloons and other decorations. The piece de resistance, however, were the blue and white paw print cupcakes. Amanda and I later learned that these make a great 3 am snack, too, after we packed our car with balloons and leftover food! In fact, I’m pretty sure that my kid heisted a cowbell from the festivities which may end up somewhere on my final tuition bill!

We left the tailgate, white pompoms in hand, and headed to the Rally in the Valley pep rally. The pep rally is good practice for learning all of the important game day cheers. Well, let me tell you, the pep rally is what I imagine it feels like to sit in the middle of the student section at a home game! It’s E-L-E-C-T-R-I-C! The Blue Band played and the cheerleaders got the party started. Then the football players made their way to the reserved seating, the only empty bleachers in the field house. Enter stage left, the fearless leader of our Penn State football program, Coach Joe Paterno, and the crowd went W-I-L-D! I only heard little bits and pieces of his message between deafening bursts from the crowd, though I imagine whatever he said was sincere and motivating. Exiting the field house to exuberant cheers of WE ARE and PENN STATE, we capped off our day with a trip to College Avenue before heading to The Keller House where we would be staying for the weekend. Though it was already raining lightly, we crossed our fingers for sun on game day.

For the record, that finger crossing thing is pretty unreliable. We woke up to sounds of rain on the windows and breakfast being prepared in the kitchen. At least it wasn’t all bad. Seriously, if you want to make a middle-aged mother happy, just cook her breakfast and clean up the mess. Really, we are that easy to please. So, Amanda and I were the only two bleary-eyed guests at the breakfast table. Everyone else was fresh as a daisy, chatting about his or her events for the day. It turns out that all of the other guests were season ticket holders and headed to the football game later that day. One of the things I love most about Penn Staters is that we are all family and we spent a good portion of the morning sitting around that table getting to know each other. There were a few quizzical looks, however, when Amanda and I enthusiastically headed out the door (after doing homework, of course) and into the pouring rain six hours before kickoff.

So, what is there to do in State College six hours before the game in the pouring down rain?? Hello……SHOPPING! Along the way, we discovered that we were not as prepared for the elements as we originally thought. Three sweatshirts, two pairs of socks, a few PSU temporary tattoos, ten rain ponchos, a tail and some College Avenue pizza later, (yes, I did say tail), and we were ready to make our way to the stadium. Let me tell you, we are the life of the party wherever we go!

The best thing about the game was our seats. They were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! We were in the first few rows of the end zone opposite the traditional student section. For Nittany Lion fans like us, the experience was just unbelievable. We screamed until we had no voices left. We cheered until the stadium floor was littered with strips of white plastic from our pom poms and the sleeves under our rain ponchos were soaked all the way down our sides. Unfortunately, Penn State did not walk away with a victory that day. Amanda and I watched as the players exited the field and turned around to see that we were among the few remaining Penn State fans left in the stands. I stopped to look around and take it all in. After all, I would probably never see the stadium from that perspective again.  Then I gathered up my muddy tail and we said good night to Beaver Stadium.

We were cold, sad, hungry and extremely wet, but we forged a plan. We made it back to the car, and thankfully, to some dry clothes. Thanks to a hotel restroom that shall remain nameless…*presto*…we were on our way to warm and dry again. We ended up eating at a local restaurant around 1 am and making our way back to our comfy beds. This is when we revisited our friends, the paw print cupcakes J. By the way, for some reason, blue teeth at 3 am are hysterical!

After too brief a period of sleep, it was time for breakfast, where I am certain that our appearance did not impress our fellow guests. Thankfully, they were very understanding. Plus, I am sure that the two of us seemed quite entertaining, like toddlers with a shovel and pail at the beach. With long faces, we packed up the car, but could not bear to go straight home. Instead, we headed back to campus where we spent our few final hours. We finished our trip with a bang-up three course crab lunch from the Allen Street Grille before seeing the stadium for one last time in the rearview mirror.

I would like to finish this article by thanking Penn State University for maintaining the tradition of All University Day. I will never forget that weekend and the University made it possible by recognizing the value of all PSU students and supplying the opportunity for us to come together. In addition, I would like to thank the World Campus staff for their hard work and dedication. Thank you for planning the events that enable us to connect and build relationships with the University. I am grateful for your commitment to us as students of Penn State’s World Campus.

See the full article (complete with pictures) starting on page 5 of the Fall 2009 edition of Mind Over Matters here:

Setting the Building Blocks for an Online Learning Community in the Form of a Student Organization

Now at the end of my instructional design course, I have no excuses. I really need to get serious about my blog, especially considering the full-time course load that I will be adding to my work schedule in a few weeks. *smacks forehead* Oy, what am I thinking? I currently have at least ten ideas for the next article rolling around in my head, but since I have promised speedy production on a few of them, I really need to get to it! No time like the present, eh?

I am very fortunate and grateful for the many opportunities that I have been given in my 40 years. My mom used to love to say that I have a tendency to step in sh*t and come out smelling like a rose. Now there’s a saying for you!  Then again, that could explain my tiny obsession with expensive fragrances. Perhaps a bit of self-reflection is needed.

Anyway, maybe I used to be lucky or somebody was just watching out for me, but these days I make good judgment a habit. Well, I try, anyway. Not to get too new age on you, but I believe that wonderful things can happen when we remain open to new experiences and opportunities. Just the other day, I found myself telling a friend and colleague on Google+ how things happen for a reason, IF we just let them. Letting go of control, on the other hand, can often be easier said than done. I would use my current insecurities in transitioning to a new career as an example, but that is a whole other article, I fear.

So, once upon a time or two, I got an e-mail. The first – Did I want to participate in an advisory council tasked with designing and implementing a year-long program to benefit adult learners? The second – Was I interested in developing an online psychology club for undergraduate students? These opportunities – and being open to fully immersing myself in them – changed more than just my academic direction! The rest is sort of history, which explains why I am earnestly seeking a new gig!

Those emails arrived back in 2008 and 2009, but every so often, I will receive an inquiry from another student, staff, or faculty member via email or facebook asking how they can start their own student organization/online learning community. Some inquiries have come from adults studying at a distance from their institutions, but a few of them have come from traditional residential students. A few of those students have persisted and now lead thriving communities of engaged learners (and faculty, hopefully)! Woo Hoo!!

In future articles, I will elaborate on participation in such an organization, based on my own experiences and two years of surveying members. Of course, since I am a graduate student, there will also be discussions of the published research on scholarly communities, community building, learner engagement, student support, student success factors, and the like. For now, though, let’s talk about the basic steps for setting the building blocks of your own student community, whether online or on-campus.

My guess is that student organizations of some type already exist at your institution. Maybe they are typically concentrated on campus and you want to build an online organization. Maybe the activities are all conducted during the day and you are a night student because you work during the day. Maybe you just have not located the necessary student activities resources. Maybe you are just looking for some help in anticipating and overcoming challenges. Well, you have come to the right place!

The first question is whether or not there are other students like you. Not only will you need students to populate your organization, but research shows that the most successful online learning communities unite participants by way of a common interest or goal. (To read more on this, search out Palloff and Pratt among others.) Are you reaching out to adult students, commuter students, psychology students, students interested in politics, yadda, yadda? Hopefully you see where I am going with that. Using an existing group such as undergraduates pursuing psychology degrees, for example, provides you with both a potential population and a potential mission! Two birds with one stone and all that!

If you have located a group of interested participants, it is likely that your next step will be to locate an enthusiastic and committed faculty or staff adviser. Sadly, I have seen this step become an insurmountable obstacle for several potential organizations. All I can say here is that it never hurts to ask. Seriously. In my experience, faculty members have almost always been open to involvement when asked, especially when presented with a well thought out plan. Still, being an adviser is a time commitment that many faculty members cannot afford, so please understand the sacrifices that they are already forced to make.

If you have not already procured a meeting space, whether local or virtual, you will want to do that. Find ways to connect with prospective members and get the word out, because the next step will be taking care of the formalities.

Does your institution have a Student Activities office? If so, they may have guidelines and application materials already available online. Assemble a core group of volunteers to read these materials and establish a meeting schedule. Next, create a timeline for the tasks ahead of you based on a review of the materials. Remember to work cooperatively, gather support along the way, and delegate responsibilities wherever you can. (An authentic organization, after all, ought to be a reflection of the group and not any one individual.) This may be as simple as completing an application or as complex as starting from square one, if your institution has never before had an organization like you are proposing. Be prepared to plan a strategy for assembling a constitution and electing officers.

Now you are ready to plan your first year of activities, whether you have successfully met your institution’s requirements for formally establishing a student organization or not. If you have hit some kind of red tape roadblock, articulating – and later demonstrating – that you are a cohesive group which can and will positively contribute to your institution and to your future profession may get you far. Do not wait to do great things. Do the great things in spite of the roadblock. If you keep at it steadily, you will eventually break through or find a way around it. Stay motivated and be persistent.

I seem to have been pretty wordy here, so look for another installment that covers navigating the political landscape for pioneers and innovators, as well as sustainability and the stages of an organization.

One last thought for now…

Never underestimate the value of  enthusiasm and a :)