Penn State, University of Freiburg partner to form Virtual Classroom Project

May 03, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 2020, Penn State and the University of Freiburg launched a pilot program to create collaborative, integrated virtual classroom courses by providing development and implementation money to faculty teams.

Two projects were selected. The first project focuses on declines in insect biodiversity and abundance, while the second focuses on implications, challenges, and solutions for integrating renewable energy systems into the grid. 

The projects provide opportunities for students to collaborate virtually to address important energy and environmental concerns, working towards Penn State's foundational goal of ensuring a sustainable future

The first project, “Global Perspectives in Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management (IPPM) Weekly Webinar Series,” was co-led by Natalie Boyle, assistant research professor in entomology at Penn State, and Professor Alexandra Klein at Freiburg. It ran in the fall and early spring semester 2020/21 and recently concluded.  

During the series, Freiburg and Penn State students attended and watched lectures live, then followed up with class-wide discussion moderated by the student team. In addition to collaborating with each other, the students had an opportunity to learn from a range of international experts on insect conservation and IPPM. Beyond the academic, the project leadership team plans to develop joint research projects and look for new ways for the universities to work together.  

"I have really enjoyed introducing Freiburg and Penn State students to international experts in the IPPM field,” said Boyle. “Our faculty team members are enthusiastic about cultivating new research and education partnerships as a consequence of this shared experience.” 

The second project, “Solar Energy Integration and Economics,” was conceived and organized by Mark Fedkin, assistant teaching professor in the John Dutton E-Education Institute/Energy and Mineral Engineering at Penn State, and Professor Anke Weidlich at Freiburg. The project will include 12 weekly class sessions between May and August 2021 to be co-taught by both Freiburg or Penn State faculty for all students in both countries.  

“We are very excited to see how the student collaboration will occur across the two universities. While working with our Freiburg colleagues on this project, we realized that our approaches to online teaching are quite different, so we built on our strengths to develop a synergy that will hopefully lead to a richer learning experience for everyone involved,” Fedkin said.  

“These projects have been exciting and very successful, modeling a new type of virtual student engagement that had been planned before the pandemic hit,” according to Alexandra Persiko, Strategic Partnerships Manager in Global Programs. “Furthermore, they have proven to be a very fitting mode of interaction and collaboration in times of COVID-19, providing the teams with test cases for future joint work.” 

The virtual classroom award is just one of the many partnership activities between Penn State and the University of Freiburg, who signed a joint agreement in Living Materials in late 2019. This agreement led to the creation of the Convergence Center for Living Multifunctional Material Systems, or LiMC2, at Penn State and the Cluster of Excellence for Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems, or livMatS, at Freiburg. 

For more information on virtual classroom awards or the Freiburg partnership generally, contact Alexandra Persiko at


Last Updated May 05, 2021