Philly high school students get a taste of the Penn experience

Penn’s Open Learning programs expanded this summer with the Blended Learning Initiative, a pilot program that gives some Philadelphia area high school students a chance to take a college-level course and experience life on campus.

Through the “Greek and Roman Mythology” course offered by the Blended Learning Initiative, 24 students attended class in Williams Hall for three weeks in July to study Homer’s “The Odyssey.” 

Megan Donnelly and Kathy Cohen, teachers in the School District of Philadelphia, taught the class using massive open online courses (MOOC) material from Peter Struck’s Coursera course.

“It was a way for the students to engage in a really dense and difficult assignment of reading,” says Struck, an associate professor of classical studies in Penn Arts & Sciences. “It was appropriate and manageable for kids in high school—with the lectures as kind of supplementary help and guidance, and then with further conversation in the classroom from the teachers to help them understand the meaning and the content.”

The initiative is a partnership between Penn and Steppingstone Scholars, an organization that provides underserved students with educational opportunities that lead to college success.

“One of the reasons we’ve done open learning at Penn is to think about different models for student learning and different ways of thinking for using content,” says Deirdre Woods, executive director of Penn’s Open Learning Initiatives.

The partnership between Penn and Steppingstone Scholars was initiated by the organization’s president, Sean Vereen, a Penn alumnus and a former associate dean at the University.  

“We want to expose kids to a high-level rigor program in a new kind of way,” he says.

During the course, the students learned about the etiquette of posting on an open online forum and how to conduct research on a college level.

“For us, [the partnership] allows us to use this content, but to also bring it to the hands of the students,” says Vereen.

For Penn, the program creates opportunities for future partnerships with Steppingstone Scholars, as well as with other organizations.

“In some ways, massive open online courses have really had faculty, administrators, and institutions like Penn thinking about the value for technologically enhanced teaching and learning,” says Woods.

Steppingstone Penn