Category Archives: Community

Community refers to the members of the community as well as their interactions with each other – an ecosystem of people, places, positions, and perspectives – but learning in an online environment does not automatically create interaction, shared meaning, or critical reflection.

Collaborating Online –

No Need to Dread Working in a Group!

Listen Here:  Collaborating Online


Collaboration among online learners requires time, flexibility, a positive attitude, and a commitment to getting the job done. Here are a couple of tips to help manage group projects.

Put group work first. Try to remember that the other team members are your partners and that the success of the group depends upon each member meeting established expectations and deadlines. Therefore, when you have a group project, try to make it a priority.

Follow the Golden Rule and treat others how you want to be treated. As one part of a larger – and mostly unseen – group, it is easy to imagine that your partners are very similar to you, but that is an unrealistic and unfair expectation.

Establish clear roles and responsibilities. Even with a plan in place, each group member needs to understand exactly what they are expected to contribute and when they need to deliver it. To facilitate ongoing communication, try setting up a team in ANGEL and be sure to email replies to all group members so that no one falls behind, gets lost, or feels isolated.

For more tips on collaborating online, visit my blog posts (part 1 & part 2) at The Corner of College & Allen.

Become a Member? In Search Of…

Adult learner? I bet you are over-scheduled; your time stretched pretty thin. I know that mine is. Still, I want to continue to grow by finding new ways to learn and to share and to broaden my perspectives. In trying to balance a few full plates with my desire for personal development, I have become more selective when seeking out opportunities in which to contribute my time and talents.

Why? That’s easy! I want to make an impact…

I need to be where not only my voice will be heard, but where every voice will be heard. I am in search of a community where members are treated with tolerance and dignity. If there is no time to listen to questions and concerns – whether positive or negative – then how can members be expected to feel a part of the community? A focus on community-building and valuing every community member is critical. Without it, there is little chance for engagement and sustainability.

I want to be where I am needed, where time and effort are expected, respected,  and appreciated. I cannot be planted in a bureaucracy where all I am is another vote to approve the minutes from the last meeting. I need to invest, to believe in the cause, to have input on the agenda. I am in search of a community working toward a shared vision. Let’s solve problems, make progress, and effect change. We can accomplish great things together!

I need open doors and shared resources, a place where communication, cooperation, and collaboration are favored over sole authority and grandstanding. I am in search of creative exchanges and brainstorming sessions, where community members are encouraged to share their ideas and experiences. Life is a learning experience and every one in it a teacher.

I expect effective leadership keen on reciprocal dialog, a group of individuals who model the values expected from others. I am in search of a leadership team focused on fulfilling the objectives outlined in the mission through the creation of a supportive culture, rather than the singling out of any one individual or agenda.

I want to contribute to a flexible, proactive community. There is almost always more than one possible approach or solution. I am in search of an organization where roadblocks are challenges and where mistakes are learning experiences.

Am I being idealistic or unrealistic? I just want a good fit. I just want to do good things. Am I asking too much?

UPDATED: Blogging is Personal, but Audience Matters


I try to keep my blog accessible and relevant and open for public consumption, but I have no doubts about my limited reach. In other words, I try to write things that I think someone else might find value in – over just keeping a personal online diary – even though I know there are not that many people reading my blog. I mean my highest traffic day was a mere 27 views. Today, to anyone reading this, I am asking you to indulge me.

Back Story:

Always on the lookout for new opportunities to be an active participant in this great life, I remember the day that I saw the announcement. Penn State – and specifically World Campus – was looking for student bloggers. This is important, because as a World Campus student, I have learned from experience to always read the fine print which typically shows  disqualifying requirements for full-time students, residential students, and the like.

Finding nothing to prohibit my participation, I completed the forms and sent them off into cyberspace. Then I forgot about it, but only because I never count on these things to work out. It’s not a lack of self-esteem or self-efficacy, not anymore. Being an adult online student pretty much cured me of that! I guess it is just the realist in me. Plus, the news of acceptance always becomes a glorious celebration!

Sometime later, there was just such a celebration when I received notification of my acceptance as a World Campus student blogger. You mean somebody is going to pay me for this, I asked? That doesn’t seem quite right. I was going to do it for free. At the time, I had no idea that this new opportunity would provide me with an outlet to send a message about the loss of Joe Paterno.

The 2010 Nittany Lion Football Team

Fast Forward to the Present…

It’s been a tough week for the Penn State family as we cope with the passing of Joe Paterno. After swearing that I was never going to write about the events of the past few months, there I was crying and typing out a very emotional blog post about Joe Paterno and World Campus students in mourning and being part of the global Penn State community and finding a silver lining in the bright night haze above Beaver Stadium. This blog, my blog, could have never done it justice…

So, today I am grateful.

I am so thankful that World Campus allowed me to interject that post into their blog, and at basically a moment’s notice, so that the message could reach a larger audience.

I am also very thankful to the photographers of the image that inspired me to write; since like most World Campus students, I have had to view the events on campus through the eyes of others. Thank you for allowing me to share your meaningful image. Thank you both for responding to online pleas from some student that you never met. And when I talk about Penn State and Joe Paterno and what it means to belong to their family, this attention and kindness and willingness to help is what I am talking about…

The blog post and image can be found here:

UPDATE – 1/31/12

The photographers of the image in my original World Campus blog post, who I mentioned above, have donated it for the benefit of THON 2012!

Visit the site below to purchase a variety of reasonably priced items that include this image in high-resolution:


100% of the proceeds from the sale of this image will be donated to THON

You can choose to include the powerful statement: “WE ARE…BECAUSE YOU WERE” over the top third. Cherish this moment captured in time and share it with your Penn State family. All proceeds will be donated to THON 2012. FTK!

My Answer (sort of) to the Learning is Social & Distance Education is Asocial Argument

Steve Jobs’ passing yesterday has cyberspace in mass memorial mode. Thanks to Dean Christopher Long for posting this quote from Mr. Jobs and may it ring louder with the passing of time…

“Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.” — Steve Jobs, March 2, 2011

Most of this post is from my response to Johann N. Neem’s article “Online Higher Education’s Individualist Fallacy” from Inside Higher Ed. This argument is one I encounter and counter frequently and my answer is worth remembering – even if only for moi.

On great teachers…

We do not have enough great teachers; teachers who are not only content experts, but who continue to learn and contribute and develop personally and who willingly share themselves with their students and their communities.

In four years (125+ credits) of higher education at my local community college and pursuing an undergraduate degree and graduate degree from State U, I can think of six such qualified teachers who I have had the good fortune to learn from, but I was a student in class with only four of them. Three of those four classes had sessions with the same instructor both on campus and online.

On the college experience and shared responsibility…

The “college experience” is no longer experienced by the majority of college students. The traditional full-time residential student is now the minority. For that minority, I hope that the “college experience” will always remain an available option. For students who work, attend in the evening, have families, commute, or attend part-time, the “college experience” is often not a positive experience, which makes sense since it was originally designed around a full-time residential student.

Additionally, the “college experience” follows a spectrum and a broad one at that. To accept one reality of socially energized and collaborative learning and creating, we must accept the opposite end of apathy, partying, and plagiarism. This is a shared responsibility, as I see it, between that great teacher and a great student.

On culture – and I am not just referring to the physical campus…

The culture matters. I don’t care where the learning is taking place. The culture matters. The question then beckons as to whether or not culture can be established and communicated across a distance and, if it can, will culture be valued highly enough to warrant such an effort. This is an excellent question. Is distance education just a doorway to a degree or is it more? I just posed that question yesterday.

On learning as a social endeavor…

I firmly believe that learning should be a social endeavor. It doesn’t have to be, but I recommend it. Technology is a tool and context does matter, but just because online is a different method of delivery does not mean that the end of the spectrum where the reality of socially energized and collaborative learning and creating can’t or doesn’t exist there. It can and it does; how often depends on a number of factors quite similar to those that predict the quality of the learning experience on campus.

Are you surprised? Then I bet you have had few online learning experiences.

No Significant Difference for Knowledge, but Is There More? THERE SHOULD BE MORE!

It is not difficult to counter the challenges that distance education lacks equivalency to more traditional face-to-face methods in the area of academics, a.k.a. student learning. Distance education is nothing new and there is plenty of published empirical literature on No Significant Difference. Still, when I tell people that I attend Penn State online, I usually get one of a few different looks – confusion, surprise, skepticism. I never considered an online program before Penn State, to be honest, because (at the time) I considered Penn State the only name big enough to cause that pause. I can just see the wheels turning as they work to reconcile their attitudes towards a Penn State education with their attitudes towards an online education. What can I say; there is still much work to be done. For those already working in their chosen field, such precaution may be unwarranted. Those of us looking ahead to graduate programs and mid-life career changes need to work every angle into its most favorable light. That is why I am a defender of distance education. The challenge is not in the providing of proof, it is in the convincing.

Today I read Bill Keller’s OP-ED piece from the October 2 issue of The New York Times, “The University of Wherever.” This was not my first encounter with the news that Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig will take their popular Stanford University “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online and make it open access. Thrun, Norvig, Stanford Engineering – these are big names – and there has been quite a bit of open discussion and backchannel dialog on this and other up-and-coming open access learning opportunities in #change11, an open learning experience known as a MOOC (massive open online course) on change at the epicenter of education, learning, and technology. So what is the Stanford name going to do for open access education and what happens when the exchange of tuition $ for credits earned is removed from the higher education equation? Does it matter? Does anybody care? Higher education as a whole ought to be paying attention, but will they? There may be no formal credit for the majority of participants in this course, but what it is not lacking is interest, with well over 100,000 learners worldwide. You can bet that open access advocates will be watching this experiment closely.

So why does a major player like Thrun take on this challenge? Thrun’s motivation is clear; “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost.” Agreed, and in today’s economy, many (most?) can’t afford the romanticized vision of fountains and bell towers and grass-filled quads. Denial is no longer an option. Change is a given. Change, however, does not equate to removal or replacement. Like Thrun, I am not against the traditional residential experience, nor do I imagine a future without the college campus. I have no interest in replacing ivy halls and ivory towers with cinder block warehouses full of server racks. What I am interested in is the creation of distance education that offers the learner a fuller, more robust experience – an experience with built-in opportunities beyond academic achievement. Not the same college experience, not a mirror image of the classroom, but a community experience just the same. A community of learners for social and academic interaction. This is where Thrun and I part ways. John Hennessy, Stanford’s president, goes so far as to say that “there is nothing quite like the give and take of a live community to hone critical thinking, writing and public speaking skills. And it’s not at all clear that online students learn the most important lesson of all: how to keep learning.” Apparently, Hennessy isn’t familiar with No Significant Difference. Both men portray distance learning as a second-rate option and that message only serves to reinforce the stereotype and stigma that advocates (as well as graduates, students, and instructors) are already working to overcome. Regarding Thrun, he believes that the traditional campus experience has many things which cannot be provided online. I whole-heartedly disagree, Sir. It’s not that they CAN’T be provided; it’s that they AREN’T being provided. The difference ought to astound you. If you’re a distance learner, it ought to enrage you.

The question is what to do about it…

Is distance education just a doorway to a degree?

A New Semester a.k.a. The Value of Reflection

I don’t care who you are or where you are, the life of the adult student is packed solid with kids and spouses and jobs and family and friends and pets and community and anything and everything else, but somehow we find a way to get it done. Granted, it doesn’t all always get done all the time. There are sacrifices. For me, one of those sacrifices is pausing for reflection and reevaluation – contemplating things like where I have been; how I got here; where I want to be; and how to get there from here. These are critical questions; don’t get me wrong, but when you are juggling seven rings on fire, taking your eye off the movement for even a split second can equal disaster. Instead, I find myself relying on the good decisions that I hope I have previously made. Then, at the start of every new semester, I welcome a gift of sorts.

The start of every new semester undoubtedly brings about enthusiasm, anxiety, and a flurry of activity to get organized and oriented. For online learners like me, getting acclimated to a new set of courses brings with it challenges that the student in the classroom probably never faces.  When our classes open up, locating all of the materials, instructions, programs, and resources can be somewhat like assembling a puzzle after you have misplaced the box with the picture – you sort of remember what it is supposed to look like and you hope it indeed looks like that after all the pieces have been found and put together. Fortunately for me and the other learners studying through Penn State’s World Campus, significant efforts are made to facilitate learner orientation by adequately preparing students and effectively organizing their learning spaces.

That is why, at the start of every semester for the preceding three years or so, I have found myself running through a similar set of orientation activities for each and every new course. On my C drive, I have saved a generic document labeled “practice” which I submit to every instructor. I used to have a template for a personal webpage that I simply reposted for every new class, but we stopped using them. I have read and agreed to the same academic integrity statement many times over, as it should be. Then I get to the place where I am supposed to introduce myself in a discussion post and I pause.  Hey, I am on a roll here, I think to myself, let me just put whatever I put last semester. Then I look back on my previous introduction and I never end up reusing it.

You see, when I read that prior introduction – which may be from as few as five months earlier – it just doesn’t really sound like me…not anymore. It is in revisiting that old introduction and writing a new version that I gain the invaluable opportunity to reflect on past successes and challenges, on current perspectives, and on dreams of the future. It was in an introductory discussion post that I first admitted my deep desire to pursue a graduate degree to myself and to my classmates. My introductions seem to get longer (and more personal) as the semesters pass by and I discover new insights about myself; as I use what I have learned to continually redefine my focus and refine my areas of interest. My classmates may be stuck reading a few paragraphs, but they get a view of the authentic me. With our goal of building a community of learners, I can only hope that we are both the better for it.

Thanks for reading :-)


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: