A new Penn State University program has taken the college classroom, blended it with online learning, added a mix of students from across the state in a virtual environment, and put live professors at the front of the class to create a hybrid college experience called the Penn State Video Learning Network (VLN).
The courses—which could become a model for how state universities can reach adult students who have nontraditional needs—are taught by professors at one of 20 participating Penn State campuses across the state.
Participating campuses are located in Altoona, Berks, Brandywine, DuBois, Erie, Fayette, Great Valley (two VLN classrooms), Greater Allegheny, Hazleton, Harrisburg, Lehigh Valley, Mont Alto, New Kensington, Schuylkill, Shenango, University Park, and York, Pa., and the Lewistown and Williamsport learning centers.
Students taking the course sit at their local Penn State campus one night each week in a special classroom outfitted with video conferencing equipment that delivers live courses from one Penn State campus to up to three other campuses.
In the classroom, there’s also a special audio button in front of each student that, when the student pushes the button, an in-room camera zooms in on the student, giving them a live connection with the instructor on the other campus.
“It’s as close to being in the classroom with the students as you can be,” said faculty member Michelle Kline in a promotional video prepared by the university.
“At the same time, they are seeing what is going on the other classrooms. They’re seeing their classmates, even though those classmates might be 200 miles apart. They’re seeing them and they’re interacting with them. They’re forming a relationship with these other classmates.”
The professor and every student at every campus can hear the questions each student asks, as well as the professor’s answers. Questions and comments get an instant response. There is no time lapse between the student asking the question and the professor’s answer. The system provides for interactive discussions in real time among students spread across that state at various campuses.