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The online collaboration courses incorporate five content areas with a course on Coursera for each. | Courtesy of Joi Ito/Creative Commons

Penn is partnering with the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to offer a series of online courses geared towards English language learners. 

The courses are being offered through Online Learning at the School of Arts and Sciences as well as the College of Liberal and Professional Studies. The curriculum is designed for advanced beginner and intermediate learners, and in total, 33,000 students are enrolled across 161 countries.

The collaboration focuses on five content areas: Business and Entrepreneurship, English for Journalism, Career Development, Media Literacy and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Using the predetermined content areas, LPS created five courses through the online learning platform Coursera with the same names.

“Business and Entrepreneurship” was offered in May, “English for Journalism” is currently being offered from August 15 to September 29, “Career Development” will be offered in November, and “Media Literacy” and “STEM” will be offered in 2017.

Unlike other online courses, these five courses are taught in a way that's specially designed to accommodate the non-native English learner, said instructor John Cotton, the manager of Instructional Staff Development at LPS. The "English for Journalism" course, for example, uses journalism as a method for teaching English — often so that students who are foreign journalists can widen their audiences. 

The course uses lectures presented through an easily accessible video format. Interspersed in the videos are large print bullet points as well as visuals that represent hypothetical news situations. Just like the Penn Canvas module used by all students, students can use the discussion forum to answer each other's questions and engage more deeply with the course topics. 

“The organization of the course provides learners a way to answer each other’s questions,” said Elizabeth Gillstrom, the manager of Testing and Programs of LPS.

The key aspect of the course is learner video submissions. Instructors post challenges and students respond via a video program known as ApprenNet. Students are also tasked to peer review videos posted by other students. 

Despite their diverse background, the students all politely engage in conversation. 

“It is very refreshing to see that with the democratization of the media to a common denominator that all different cultures can talk respectfully,” Cotton said.

Instructors like Cotton have learned immensely from teaching courses through Coursera and even have taken the next step to reintroduce course material from the Online Learning Initiative back to the traditional lecture halls. 

"Many [pre-recorded lectures] came back to campus as digital media as a part of the accredited courses,” said Jacqueline Candido, Senior Director of Program Design and Delivery. Faculty have highly praised the digital integration that is crucial to Coursera and the peer-to-peer encouragement involved in Coursera videos.

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