Penn opens up

Penn LPS

Social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn allow users to reconnect with long-lost friends, find like-minded individuals or expand their network of experienced professionals and trusted contacts.

Now, Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies’ (LPS) new Open Learning Commons is using the power of social networking to create an interactive online learning platform that offers courses to audiences around the world.

Marni Baker Stein, director of program development at LPS, says the Commons came about as a way to reach out to those who otherwise would not have the opportunity to engage in the Penn learning experience. Anyone can participate in Commons courses, regardless of enrollment status, education or location.

The first course offered, the Global Environmental Sustainability Commons, is a multi-continent discussion of issues about global environmental policy and sustainability led by Don Kettl, a Penn political science professor, along with colleagues at Kyung Hee University in South Korea and Ritsumeikan University in Japan.

There are three levels to the course: A private area where only students and faculty from participating universities can meet and discuss; a membership level in which members can view video content and participate in blogs and discussion forums; and an open level in which any site visitor can view course lectures and read blogs and forums.

Lectures will be available online through the Commons site (, iTunes U and the LPS YouTube channel. Each lecture is accompanied by readings and discussion forums.
For the membership level, which is free, potential members must fill out a profile similar to one they would fill out when signing up for Facebook or LinkedIn.

Stein says in developing the Commons, LPS first reached out to Masters level students interested in environmental policy and then looked to recruit new members through Facebook and LinkedIn interest groups associated with global environmental policy.

“With just a few hints of what we were up to in the first few days that we made that effort, we had over a hundred professionals from the environmental field express interest in becoming members and in joining the conversation,” she says. The Commons site itself, which launched in January, has already welcomed 700 unique visitors from 38 different countries.

In the spring, Stein says the Commons will introduce an online noncredit positive psychology program and they are looking forward to putting for-credit courses on the site in the future.

They had planned to send undergraduate students enrolled in the course to the United Nations World Civic Forum in Seoul, South Korea, in May, but because it occurs during finals week, students will instead give a virtual presentation to conference attendees.

Although the Commons is not applicable to every program, Stein says the conversations initiated are of utmost importance.

“Whether they’re Penn staff, Penn faculty, parents of students, alumni and beyond, we just think that this is a great way for us to take our content and sort of break open the ways of the classroom so that these wider audiences can have a voice and take part,” she says.

Originally published Feb. 19, 2009

Originally published on February 19, 2009