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Online courses are becoming more popular than ever nationwide — and Penn is no exception to the trend.

Published Feb. 4, Sloan Consortium’s seventh annual survey of online learning found that online course enrollment at the university level has increased 17 percent in the fall 2008 semester. The survey also noted that “more than one in four higher education students now take at least one course online.”

According to College of Liberal and Professional Studies Curriculum Design and Assessment Specialist Lisa Minetti, during her three years of managing online courses at Penn, enrollment has continually increased. From summer 2009 to spring 2010, 1,300 students have enrolled in the 27 courses offered.

In response, LPS — which hosts most of Penn’s online courses — is “scaling up tremendously” and offering 10 courses this summer, Minetti said. These courses, both for credit and not for credit, are designed primarily for Penn students hoping to fulfill requirements, but also for University employees and high school students seeking a college experience.

Online courses offered for credit are available for Penn students and visiting students, while not-for-credit courses are open to anyone who registers. Most for-credit courses are offered during the summer, when the majority of students are not on campus.

The program was “designed to recreate the Penn experience online,” according to Director of Program Development Marni Baker-Stein.

She added that Commons, the program used to facilitate all LPS online courses, is built around the idea that “communities of learners are one of the most important things about the class.”

The program provides numerous interactive features including live lectures, discussion forums, student profiles and course readings.

LPS partnered with Going On Networks, a company that helps institutions develop online learning environments, to “co-develop the platform from scratch,” Baker-Stein said. Other universities, including Columbia and Duke Universities, are now adopting the program.

Minetti explained that in-class polls, questions posted during lectures and teaching assistants monitoring in-class chats all contribute to the interactive environment of online courses.

Additionally, students have the options to raise their hand, agree or disagree with the professor, laugh, applaud and ask the professor to speak louder, softer, faster or slower.

“If people are engaged in the lecture, they’re not going to toggle over to Facebook or something else, and pretend they’re attending class,” Minetti said.

College senior Julia Howard is taking an online class entitled “Romanticism” in order to fulfill her final general requirement before graduating. Because she currently lives near Washington, D.C., Howard finds the course to be convenient, as she doesn’t “have to drive to Philadelphia multiple times a week.”

College sophomore Adam Ortega liked that he can “learn in [his] pajamas.”

Ortega added that blogs serve as “a really good outlet” to joke, disagree and share perspectives among classmates, even more so than being face-to-face. He said in person, people are more inclined to conform than to voice their own opinions.

Howard agreed that LPS’ online course system provides for effective student interaction.

“You don’t associate people with a specific face, but rather their beliefs and the way they view texts,” she said.

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