Penn Launches Online Courses for English Language Learners This Summer

Through modern technology, the University of Pennsylvania brings the idea of “summer school” to a new level, by offering open online courses to English-language learners around the globe. 

James Riedel, executive director of Penn’s English Language Programs, and Benjamin Wiggins, director of Digital Learning Initiatives at Penn, in collaboration with a number of Online Learning and English Language Programs staff members, received a $700,000 grant from the United States Department of State to develop and administer five open, online English language courses.  

The first of the five courses, “English for Business and Entrepreneurship,” began May 15. Later in the summer, Penn English Language Programs and Online Learning will launch the “English for Journalism” class.  

Other massive open online courses, to be offered during the next two years, include “English for Career Development,” “English for Media Literacy” and “English for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”  

“Students can access these online course for free, and we expect tens of thousands of students to enroll,” Wiggins said, “with hundreds more taking them in small, facilitated groups at U.S. embassies throughout the world.”  

In cooperation with FHI 360, the Department of State’s implementing partner, the School of Arts & Sciences’ English Language Programs and Online Learning are able to offer the courses, thanks to an English Access Microscholarship Program.  

“This Department of State project aimed to provide innovative, high-quality content-based English courses on a global scale, and we were excited to use our staff’s expertise to advance such a groundbreaking effort,” Riedel said.  

Designed for a worldwide audience that includes teenagers, young adults and adults, the Online Learning team worked to make course materials accessible to students with limited internet connectivity and those who are connecting via mobile devices. 

“These classes really push the limits of what online courses do, technology-wise,” Wiggins said. “Each lecture video features animation, each module features interactive learning games and the speaking exercises offer students the chance to upload their own video and see the videos of their peers.”

“We do not know of any content-based English courses for learners at a high-beginner proficiency and on such a large scale, but we think the results are very exciting and will provide the desired learner outcomes,” Riedel said. “This grant allows Penn’s English Language Program to enhance its contribution to the Penn Compact 2020, which aims, in part, to increase access and engage locally, nationally and globally to bring the benefits of the University’s research, teaching and service to individuals and communities around the world.”

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