Online learners build a sense of community at IST

As the words “college classroom” often evoke a scene of a professor lecturing while students sit in rows of desks, taking notes, working on group projects together and perhaps making plans to meet outside of class, the notion of “online learning” often gives the sense of someone studying remotely, attending classes in solitude and perhaps never interacting with their classmates and instructor in real time.

The reality, however, is that for an increasing number of students enrolled through Penn State’s World Campus, online learning encapsulates their entire college experience. There is no physical classroom and no desk, but the possibilities for engagement with professors and fellow students are robust, and there is a real sense of “community” for online learners.

In the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State, exciting new opportunities for engagement among online learners are being developed, led by the students themselves and supported at every level, from academic advisers, to professors. One such development is the Penn State World Campus Technology Club.

Penn State sophomore Ray Vasquez founded the World Campus Technology Club in the spring of 2014 to serve as a networking platform for students with interests relating to the World Campus IST and security and risk analysis (SRA) programs. Serving on the leadership board along with Vasquez is faculty adviser Gary Heberling of Penn State New Kensington. Heberling teaches an online course, IST 210, which is a core requirement of the degree. “I see almost every IST student,” Heberling said, which gives him a unique perspective from which to advise the club.

Not only can students now join the World Campus Technology Club, there also are great opportunities for involvement in the college experience through participation in the student blog The Corner of College & Allen, and membership in the Blue & White Society, the student chapter to the Pennsylvania State University Alumni Association, is the largest organization at Penn State, with more than 10,000 members.

In addition to taking part in extracurricular activities, online students can interact with one another through platforms such as Google Hangout, Blackboard, Angel and Facebook. Group work, an essential part of the IST and SRA degrees, helps students to form bonds with one another, creating a need to work together to solve problems and implement their knowledge.

Students, noted World Campus Academic Adviser Cliff Holmes, befriend other students based on shared life experiences and interests. Because the array of student experiences is so vast in online education, a student does not walk into a room with 40 other 18-year-old freshmen just like him or herself on the first day of class. Students find others who, like themselves, may work a full-time job, or have a family or serve in the military overseas.

Regarding his decision to pursue an online education, Vasquez observed, “Right out of high school, I didn’t feel I had the maturity to go to college. My standardized test scores were outstanding, but my schoolwork was poor.” College, he said, was expensive, and he was unsure about what he wanted to do. He waited a few years, got a job, matured, and began looking into online education. “Penn State seemed like the best for both an academic and social experience,” Vasquez said. “It’s been an excellent experience.”

Last Updated August 07, 2014