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Professional Development

Penn State Course Helps Online Instructors Understand Needs of Military Students

A faculty development team at Pennsylvania State University has introduced a short training course specifically to help instructors learn how to support military students in their online courses. OL 1700, "Serving Those Who Serve," was introduced as the institution's Penn State World Campus distance program has seen a dramatic increase in the number of military and veteran students, which currently totals 3,000, up 58 percent over the last four years.

The course, which is online itself, takes about three to four hours to complete and leads faculty through scenarios intended to show them the unique conditions military students face in their lives — such as being deployed to locations with poor Internet bandwidth, having to pack up their homes and families for unexpected change-of-assignment orders and similar situations.

"We're taking Penn State faculty on a mission to learn more about military students," said Andrew Tatusko, assistant director of Penn State World Campus faculty development and manager of the course, in a prepared statement. "When a student has been deployed, there is no Internet access inside the tank. The student won't be able to finish the term paper by the deadline or communicate with the professor at all. We want to make sure our university's faculty understand what students face when they're also serving our country."

The course was created by designer Kristin Bittner, who has experience as an officer in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Bittner organized it as a military mission; each chapter is called a "briefing station."

"It's such a needed course for faculty awareness," she noted in the same statement. "I thought about the most common situations my military members face as students. I tried to pick those that would be most applicable to staff and faculty."

For example, one video features student Brian Dougherty, an Air Force crew chief, who talks about being called for a mission and missing a quiz. "I get a phone call, and they say, ‘You have 30 minutes to an hour to show up,'" he said in the video. "You have to be shaved, in uniform, and sometimes they don't even tell you where you're going."

One faculty member who has finished the course is mathematics instructor Joan Smeltzer. Recently, two students in one of her online courses said they were being deployed. To accommodate them, she extended assignment deadlines. "In past semesters, if I had received similar emails from active military students, I would not have completely understood what they were going through," she said. "The course encouraged me to be as supportive as possible of their circumstance."

The faculty development organization reported that a hundred faculty and staff at the university have registered for the course; almost two dozen have earned a certificate of completion.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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