Academic community service courses adapt to the virtual learning year
With the shift to e-learning, academic community service courses have adapted their format in order to continue engaging with the local community in the midst of the pandemic.
ABCS Classes, which are run by the Netter Center, typically interact with local West Philadelphia public schools, faith communities, and community organizations – providing Penn students and faculty with an opportunity to learn by interacting with students locals on various projects based on the theme of the class they are taking.
Before the pandemic, members of the local community came to campus or Penn’s students and faculty visited community centers as part of the ABCS portion of their class. But in fall 2020 and spring 2021, all aspects of the ABCS courses went live.
“We have been successful with most of our ABCS courses in keeping the same partners, so the relationships and partnerships have remained the same, but the nature of the projects has changed; all engagement is virtual, ”said Faustine Sun, deputy director of the Netter Center and former coordinator of the ABCS.
Sun said staff and faculty at the Netter Center have found that community partners face issues.
Many ABCS courses have an educational component in which Penn students lead students at Robeson High School in West Philadelphia, including courses such as WRIT 138: Community Engaged Writing Theory and Practice which brought the students to Robeson on campus. On the other hand, courses like BIBB 160: ABCs of Everyday Neuroscience would inspire Penn’s students to go to high school.
“Pre-COVID[-19] It was fantastic, it was a great experience on campus for them to spend time in a classroom with Penn students and have lunch together, ”said Valerie Ross, Founding Director of the Critical Writing Program. Penn on WRIT 138, which she currently teaches virtually. Ross acknowledged, however, that the move to the online format has led high school students to struggle with virtual interactions.
In WRIT 138’s new format, Penn students lead Zoom sessions in which high school students are given a text to analyze, discuss, and then produce their own writing sample, which Penn students then provide feedback on. .
“High school students are online all day, morning to night, at the same times as if you were in high school and they don’t get any breaks in this online world,” Ross said, adding that students are also faced many interruptions during these lessons. time due to home studies. “It’s remarkable that they are taking this extra course with us. But many of them no longer have their screens; they say they just can’t stand to see their face, to see themselves or to see other people. ”
Likewise, associate professor of psychology Loretta Flanagan-Cato said her experience teaching BIBB 160, which before the pandemic had led students from Penn to visit Robeson High School once a week to teach neuroscience to the students. students through hands-on biology laboratory activities. fight.
“Starting in September, it was logistically difficult to get all kinds of supplies to high school students, so we were able to innovate and come up with things they could do at home without necessarily having any supplies,” he said. said Flanagan-Cato. “It turns out that some things that we normally do, we might just find a way to do it again, even if we were virtual.”
Flanagan-Cato said that after the virtual change, Penn students offered a wide range of activities for Robeson students, ranging from using online software to artistic renderings of organelles and from cell biology, to teaching children how to test their own knee. jerk reflexes. However, some students still felt the drawbacks.
Natalie Doppelt, a college junior enrolled in BIBB 160 this semester, found the online format disappointing as it prevented it from meeting the needs of her students. She added that the students in the course were less involved in the hour-long Zoom calls, which made it more difficult for Penn students to develop interpersonal relationships with the students at Robeson.
But the online format has also had its benefits, Doppelt said, because she believes he taught Penn students to be more flexible.
“Because we’re virtual, we were forced to learn how to be creative and adapt and really started exploring some cool online programs,” Doppelt said. “So I think labs are actually more unique than they usually are. are, and [they] open up horizons to creative and flexible teaching methods according to the needs of our students. ”
Sun added that she believed the biggest benefit of virtualization was the added ease of planning for Penn students, who she said typically spend a lot of time getting to the site with SEPTA traffic and schedules. variables.
“Now it’s so much easier for ABCS Penn students to connect and immediately start engaging,” Sun said, adding that it was also more convenient for teachers and partners., and guest speakers to engage with Penn students as their travel time and effort has also been reduced.
Looking forward to the fall semester of 2021, Sun said ABCS courses expect a return to in-person engagement with the community, especially with Penn’s expectation to return to in-person teaching. and the vaccination requirement. for all students. Sun added in an email to the Daily Pennsylvanian that the Netter Center is consulting with partners in the ABCS community to consider their comfort level and expectations regarding potential in-person engagement.
Sun also predicted that Zoom will continue to be incorporated into the format of these courses in two crucial ways: by making the clearance verification process easier for Penn students, and by making it easier for guest speakers to come to class.
In order for Penn students to work with these underage high school students, the state of Pennsylvania requires them to go through three clearance checks: the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance, the Pennsylvania Police Criminal Background Check. Pennsylvania and the FBI’s criminal background fingerprint check. While the Netter Center offers these clearance checks free of charge to students taking these ABCS courses, Sun said the process is smoother online because students were able to clear customs in larger batches than before.
“I think we’ll definitely keep some of the benefits that came out of the more creative ways of doing things that were effective during the pandemic,” Sun said.