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“Wharton Families: Summer Webinar Series” is geared toward Wharton parents and consists of five one-hour presentations by Wharton faculty members.

Credit: Chase Sutton

In mid-March, many students moved back in with their parents to participate in online learning for the remainder of the spring semester. Now, parents of undergraduate students in the Wharton School are experiencing some online learning of their own.

The recently launched program, entitled 'Wharton Families: Summer Webinar Series', consists of five virtual one-hour presentations that are conducted weekly by Wharton faculty members on topics including online marketing, big data, and resilience. Parents of Wharton students in the classes of 2020 through 2024 were invited to enroll in the series.  

Wharton management professor Mauro Guillen, who came up with the original idea for the program, said that over 400 people are registered for the series — about half of whom watch the presentations live. Guillen led the first webinar on July 1. 

The webinars are held live every Wednesday in July at 10 a.m. EDT, but are also recorded for registrants to view at any time. Three of the webinars have already occurred, which centered on topics such as the challenges of working remotely and the future of the big data industry. The two remaining faculty presentations will be made by Wharton Marketing professor Barbara Kahn, who will discuss retail, and Wharton Organizational Behavior professor Adam Grant, who will be giving the final presentation on the concept of resilience. 

Guillen, inspired by students’ reactions to the six-week course on the coronavirus that he taught in the spring, said he wanted to extend the educational opportunity to families after many of his students told him that their parents were also watching the material from his course last semester. This summer series is an extension of Wharton’s Lifelong Learning initiative, Guillen said, which offers free and discounted programming to Wharton alumni and “other friends of the University” to continue their education after they graduate.

“Parents are a very important constituency right now, obviously,” Guillen said. “We want them to know that we are thinking about them, and that we know they play a very important role in providing the context in which [students] are taking our online classes.” 

Each webinar is streamed through the videoconferencing platform BlueJeans, during which the presenter gives a 45-minute lecture followed by a 15-minute Q&A session when viewers are able to submit questions through a feature on the platform. Presenters also utilize live polls and other interactive methods to keep the participants engaged. 

With the fall semester quickly approaching, online learning will continue at Penn. Newly appointed Wharton dean Erika James announced that Wharton will operate under a ‘Remote Plus’ model of instruction for the fall. Wharton courses enrolling more than 48 students will be conducted online, while courses of fewer than 48 students may be offered in a hybrid format of virtual and in-person instruction. 

Guillen said he has repeatedly emphasized that while online learning is not a full replacement for in-person education, he believes that Penn should continue to pursue opportunities that use technology to provide educational experiences that would otherwise be impossible.  

“I think [the webinars] are actually important so that [parents] see that online education is not ideal if you just think about it as a substitute,” Guillen said. "But if you want to bring in a lot of people from throughout campus to a conversation about a topic in the context of a class, then technology is the way to do it right."