PennAdvance: A Virtual Approach to Learning

Penn faculty and staff who wish to take a course or two and use their tuition benefit but do not have time to take traditional classes on campus, now have a new option--PennAdvance.

This program of online learning was initiated in the fall of 1998 when it was aimed primarily at bringing full-credit liberal arts courses to qualified high school juniors and seniors. It was then offered the following year to CGS students of all ages--ranging from traditional college students to adult students including alumni, who could take the courses on a non-credit basis. This year there are also some Penn students participating in this distance learning option.

PennAdvance features a selection of mostly first-year courses in subjects ranging from anthropology and economics to mathematics and psychology. Future offerings may include more graduate level courses and non-credit short courses, workshops and conferences.

The courses are completely Internet-based, with lectures, live faculty office hours, threaded discussions, academic resources, all available on the course website. The activities for PennAdvance courses are divided into two categories:

Synchronous or live activities: class activity in real time, via live video and/or live chat in the online classroom. The professor delivers course content and moderates discussions; in addition, the professor and the TA are available for informal office hours each week in the online classroom.

Asynchronous activities: participate in discussion groups using threaded discussion and e-mail; review course content by watching media clips or viewing classnotes, turn in homework and exams using the exam manager and review progress via the class gradebook.

To participate in PennAdvance courses, students must have an account with an ISP; a computer with Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer and RealPlayer software as well as a 56 K or faster modem using either a Mac or PC.

Technical support is available 24-hours a day by e-mail or by phone.

This semester's PennAdvance undergraduate courses are:

  • Immunobiology (Mondays, January 22-April 23)
  • Major British Poets: Romantics & Victorians (Thursdays, January 18-April 26)
  • Ideas in Mathematics (Saturdays, January 20-April 21)

And there is one graduate-level course:

  • From Bartram to Janzen: Thinking About Nature in America (Mondays, January 22-April 23).

This summer there will be six offerings:

  • Problems of Interpretation: Visual Art;
  • Introductory Economics: Micro;
  • Rocky Mountain Field Geology & Ecology;
  • Physics-Mechanics for the Health Sciences;
  • Personality; and
  • American Musical Theatre.

The University offers full-time faculty, regular full-time staff and limited service employees the opportunity to pursue knowledge and to advance their personal and professional development by providing tuition assistance for credit courses at Penn. The tuition assistance program for Penn faculty and staff is outlined in the Human Resources Policy #406 which is online at The policy states, "All full-time faculty, regular full-time staff and limited service employees, are eligible for tuition assistance benefits in any school of the University of Pennsylvania to which they have been admitted."

Additional information on courses, faculty and technical requirements is provided at, where online application and registration forms are also available. PennAdvance coordinator Colleen Gasiorowski can be reached at (215) 898-1684 or by e-mail at

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 18, January 16, 2001