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Programs and Curriculum Policies

Fulfilling the Essential Elements of Residency in Off-Campus Graduate Degree Programs - Procedure


GCAC-213 Residency and Related Policies for Off-Campus Degree Programs


The intent of this document is to encourage creative ways of addressing student and community needs in off-campus graduate degree programs, while ensuring that such graduate degree programs maintain academic standards parallel to those of more traditional programs. For the seven essential elements of residency, alternative techniques and technologies are suggested as ways of providing in off-campus graduate degree programs benefits comparable to traditional residency.

Element 1: Interaction between faculty members and students above and beyond direct instruction

The objectives of out-of-class interaction include socializing students to their professional fields, providing a broad exposure to developments in the disciplines, supporting the students in their academic programs and career and professional development, and building a community of scholars and professionals. On campus, these objectives are typically met through advising sessions with faculty members and through participation in a variety of informal and formal events in which students and faculty can share ideas and experiences.

Techniques for achieving interaction include

Mentoring, academic counseling, and career counseling. Faculty members can offer one-to-one advice and counsel on a range of academic and professional issues beyond the scope of a specific course. Advisers can provide academic and career-related counseling.

Off-campus example: Mentoring and counseling can be conducted via a variety of means assisted by technology, including email, audioconference, or videoconference. If a course uses interactive video, the faculty member can arrange for the video connection to remain open after class to permit video-based office hours.

Open discussions. Faculty members can arrange for open discussion of ideas and issues related to the professional field but not limited to specific course content. Discussions can be moderated or unmoderated.

Off-campus example: Open discussions can be conducted in real-time chat areas online or as threaded (topic-specific) discussions using online conferencing applications or social media. They can also be conducted via audioconference or structured as additions to videoconferences, for example.

Non-class lectures and seminars. Lectures and departmental or interdepartmental seminars presented by other faculty members or visiting scholars offer students opportunities to interact with faculty representing a range of knowledge and perspectives.

Off-campus example: Technology-assisted conferencing via a variety of means (e.g., audiconference, videoconference, podcast) allows faculty members to provide off-campus students opportunities to interact with specialists from either the campus or around the world. The guest speaker can provide an advance set of readings for discussion or make an online presentation, then be available to answer questions or participate in online discussions over a period of several days.

Element 2: Interaction between peers (i.e., among students in a given program)

The primary objective of interaction among students in a given program is to permit students to share and benefit from the diverse social and educational experiences other students bring into the program. In a resident program the students are able to benefit socially and educationally from interaction and shared experiences in classes as well as other activities, including student- and campus-sponsored events and organizations. Resident students also have the advantage of exposure to interaction with students in other disciplines on campus through classes and campus events.

Techniques for achieving this type of interaction include

Collaborative work groups. Group or team projects allow students to pool their varied knowledge, skills, and experiences in solving a content-based problem or in developing a course-specific project. Collaborative groups can be monitored or facilitated by a faculty member or graduate teaching assistant.

Off-campus example: Technology can be used to connect and support synchronous or asynchronous group collaboration on case-study preparation, project development, class presentations, etc. Audioconferencing, for example, can connect students at different sites for real-time development and presentation of a variety of collaborative projects including debates and panel presentations.

Peer counseling. Senior graduate students can provide advice on academic issues such as preparation for exams and administrative procedures. They can also provide important support for less-experienced students by offering encouragement and advice relating to the challenges of juggling multiple roles and responsibilities.

Off-campus example: A variety of technology-assisted media can provide students in a program with synchronous or asynchronous opportunities to interact with other students who have successfully coped with a variety of graduate student experiences. Interactions can also be scheduled via telephone conversations.

Discipline-based student clubs and inter-disciplinary social organizations. Student clubs give graduate students in a particular field of study an opportunity to meet and mix with peers who share similar academic interests and goals. Organizations that include graduate students from a range of disciplines offer a chance to socialize or otherwise interact with peers representing a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

Off-campus example: Students can use technology to form discussion groups based on mutual interests, whether academic or social. Social media sites can support the exchange of information among students interested in a particular area of study or in a particular hobby or pastime.

Element 3: Access to information and instructional resources (such as libraries, laboratories, and research facilities)

The objective of providing access to information and instructional resources is to expand the educational experiences afforded to the students beyond what can be provided by instructors. For most resident students, this provision can be assumed because graduate programs are generally structured around information resources available on the campus on which the program originates.

Techniques for achieving this access include

Providing access to content experts other than the program's instructors. Inviting guest lecturers to a class or outside experts to campus to offer seminars or workshops enriches the learning experience by providing other perspectives on or extended knowledge of topics or subject areas.

Off-campus example: A variety of means assisted by technology, such as videoconferencing, for example, offer ways to connect students directly to extra-institutional content experts. Online seminars and workshops with experts around the world, structured and facilitated by the instructor, greatly expand the geographic range from which these experts can be drawn.

Providing access to a broad range of discipline-specific and interdisciplinary resources. Libraries and other repositories of information complement the information and knowledge provided in the classroom. From these and other sources students gather the raw materials they need to develop a personal knowledge base and a coherent approach to their field of study.

Off-campus example: DVDs, online searches, and electronic connections to library and other data collections offer access to vast collections of data and information. Course Home Pages can offer course-specific resources or direct students to related sources of information. Students can combine these resources with others available onsite and with course content to enhance learning and expand their knowledge base.

Providing access to research facilities. Research projects introduce students to the ways in which knowledge in their fields is constructed and validated. The research process gives students a way to participate in the discovery of new knowledge and opportunities to integrate what is learned in the classroom with what is learned empirically.

Off-campus example: Often students in off-campus programs are pursuing professional master’s degrees in a field in which they are currently employed. In such cases, their work environment offers opportunities both for conducting original research and for putting the results of that research into practice. Such "situated" research and practice provides an excellent way for students to integrate classroom knowledge with new knowledge gained from research and practice.

Element 4: Exposure to and socialization in the field of study

The objective of exposure to and socialization in the field of study is to provide students with a range of educational experiences that introduce them to the language and issues of their disciplines. Seminar series, workshops, research exhibitions, discussions with professional peers, informal departmental activities, and other shared experiences serve this purpose for resident students.

Techniques for achieving this socialization include

Seminars. Seminars can introduce students to current issues of research and/or practice and provide a forum for interaction with colleagues within the student's field.

Off-campus example: Groups of peers can use a variety of means assisted by technology to discuss a seminar topic introduced by an outside expert or a member of the group. Discussion can be synchronous or, carried out over a period of days.

Skill-enhancement workshops. Workshops on specific aspects of professional practice, such as writing for publication or designing effective conference presentations, offer students opportunities to build skills necessary to actively contribute to their fields.

Off-campus example: Faculty or practicing professionals can present skills workshops via a variety of means assisted by technology, including audioconference, videoconference, or podcasts, for example. Depending on the requirements of the content, both presentation and interaction can be either synchronous or asynchronous.

Research displays. Exhibitions or displays of in-process or completed research allow students to get an overview of the types and areas of investigation being conducted in their fields. These activities can facilitate networking with those who share students' research interests or suggest possible directions for personal research.

Off-campus example: Students can develop multi-media "poster-sessions" of their research for display in cyberspace. They can also view the results of others' research and react to/discuss the displays over a period of days or weeks via a variety of means assisted by technology.

Discussions with professional peers. Discussion with peers at conferences or other meetings of discipline-related professional groups allows students to exchange ideas and network with practicing professionals in their fields.

Off-campus example: Off-campus students can be encouraged to participate in regional and/or national conferences and professional society meetings in their geographic areas. Additionally, faculty members can structure and facilitate student participation in the online pre- and post-conference discussions that are associated with many academic conferences.

Element 5: Ready access to suitable academic advising and support services

The objective of ready access to suitable academic advising and support services is to ensure that students are receiving the guidance and personal support required to complete their programs in a successful and timely manner. Resident students can take advantage of their presence on campus to schedule meetings with program advisers or career counselors, if necessary.

Techniques for achieving this support include

Meetings with an academic adviser or student support staff. Academic advisers offer guidance in establishing and completing a course of study that reflects a student's academic goals. Faculty members or student support staff can notify students of and explain departmental and institutional policies that govern advanced academic programs.

Off-campus example: Faculty or staff advisers can conduct individual academic counseling sessions via a variety of means assisted by technology (audioconference, videoconference, social media, etc.). General policies and procedures should be posted on program websites for access at the students’ convenience, and support related to administrative functions (registration, payments, grades, etc.) should be available online as well as by telephone or email. The faculty member with general responsibility for the off-campus program should be available by telephone or email during specified “office hours” to answer questions or direct students to the right source of information about broader issues relating to a student's program.

Meetings with a career counselor. Career counselors provide advice relating to entry into or advancement in fields related to the student's course of study.

Off-campus example: Students at remote sites can meet with career counselors in a variety of ways assisted by technology, including telephone, email, or videoconferencing sessions. General information such as position listings, information for developing resumes, tips for job interviews, etc., should be posted on program websites for access at the students’ convenience.

Element 6: Contribution of graduate students to the degree program, the college, and the University

The objective of contributions from graduate students of diverse backgrounds is to share the social and educational experiences students bring into the program, the college, and the University to the benefit of other students, faculty, and the University overall. In a resident program this is made possible through interactions of students, faculty, and other University personnel in classes and other formal and informal events.

Techniques for facilitating student contributions include

Introduction of new students. Programs use a variety of methods to introduce new students to returning students and to faculty members. "Veteran" students can interview new students in order to identify perspectives and contributions that these students bring to the program or to the University as a whole. This personal and professional information can then be disseminated via the program’s informational materials.

Off-campus example: Program or departmental newsletters with new-student information can be disseminated to students and faculty via a variety of technology-assisted means. Programs also may develop web pages that include information about the professional interests and contributions of both new and continuing students, and students can develop personal web pages or social media sites through which to share information about themselves.

Informal Seminars. Many graduate students in professional degree programs bring with them considerable knowledge and experience gained through real-world practice. Informal seminars offer opportunities to exchange knowledge and engage in peer networking around topics of mutual professional interest.

Off-campus example: Technology allows students to conduct real-time presentation and discussion of perspectives gained through previous educational experiences or in professional practice. Many conferencing services can support an asynchronous seminar format, with new students posting information and then responding to queries or facilitating related discussions.

Element 7: Identification with Penn State

The objective of identification with Penn State is to provide students with a unique educational experience that reflects the history, reputation, personnel, and resources of Penn State. In resident programs, this objective is met by students’ presence on a Penn State campus or campuses and exposure to Penn State traditions.

Techniques for achieving this identification include

Formation of connections through initial and continuing communications. Official correspondence from the program or the University can establish a sense of institutional identification through welcoming messages and communications of interest about Penn State.

Off-campus example: Like their on-campus counterparts, off-campus students receive official communications that establish their relationship with a department and with the University. Prominent display of Penn State logos and other identifying symbols on all communications, including course materials, can help establish a student's identity as a Penn Stater. Small "gifts" such as Penn State bumper stickers or folders can be useful in establishing a positive feeling toward the institution, as well as giving off-campus students a way to display their institutional affiliation. All Penn State students routinely are assigned Access Accounts, which will ensure that off-campus students are able to interact electronically with the University and its resources.

Formation and maintenance of connections through University publications. General University and department-specific publications can be used to keep students informed about people, activities, policies and procedures, etc.

Off-campus example: Off-campus students can access University publications online. Some publications, including the student-published newspaper the Daily Collegian, provide informative and entertaining ways of establishing a sense of identification with the University. Programs comprising primarily or entirely off-campus students can develop online materials specifically designed to foster a sense of inclusion in and connection to the sponsoring department and the University.

Formation and maintenance of relationships with the Penn State chapter of academic or professional societies. Membership in academic and professional groups fosters a sense of identification both with a larger community of scholars and/or practitioners and with those who have shared or are currently sharing a common academic experience.

Off-campus example: Students can be informed of and encouraged to join appropriate academic and professional societies. Off-campus students can find information about the availability and location of chapters in their geographic area online. Programs can also establish a mentoring system whereby Penn State graduates are matched up with current off-campus students in their geographic region for the purpose of helping them connect to local University

Further Information

A glossary of terms related to e-learning and distance education is available through the World Campus website.

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