How Do You Want to Drive Your Education? Increasing Student Engagement in Online Courses

How do you want to drive your education — in the slow lane doing 20 mph or in a sports car cruising in the passing lane? This is essentially what Penn State President Barron said when he addressed the Board of Trustees for the first time last year, and one of his key points was that he wanted to push for the strengthening of student engagement. When I read this interview and thought about it, I quickly realized that I have a hard time driving at only 55 mph. So, when I was introduced to the World Campus Psychology Club (WCPC) through an online psychology class, I quickly joined. A few months later, a vacancy opened for an officer position as secretary. I ran and was voted into the position for the spring 2015 semester.

Then, I applied to the World Campus chapter of Psi Chi, (Psychology Honor Society), was accepted, ran for vice president, and was elected recently for the 2015–16 academic year. Psi Chi WC and the WCPC provide the vehicle that allows me to drive my education and get the one component that critics of online education always bring up — a lack of socialization. But in the Psychology Department at Penn State, thanks in a large part to Deborah Mynar’s forward thinking and Dr. Brian F. Redmond’s dedication and guidance, the WCPC and Psi Chi are now strong student entities enriching education for all psychology students. I am sharing my history and experience with the club to motivate you to join and become part of the Penn State family who can be found all around the globe.

The WCPC and Psi Chi chapter provides opportunities for students taking online psychology courses to interact on a personal and an academic level. Both have monthly general meetings, daily social media interaction opportunities, and occasional interactions on their blog. The WCPC also provides its members with a virtual meeting space where they can host events. For example, in July I held a roundtable on bullying and invited Penn State lecturers, staff, and WCPC members to discuss bullying from each guest’s psychological perspective. This gave members of WCPC and invited Psi Chi members the insight to better understand this form of aggression, including how to do deal with it in a work or school setting, ways to identify it, and ways to mitigate the behavior. This upcoming semester I have three more roundtables planned, with the topics being chosen from the WCPC members, and will be forming committees with WCPC members to bring these into reality. And Psi Chi is a unique sports car too. Under the leadership of Evonne Rivera, our current president, an upcoming workshop will help to assist students with the process of applying, correctly choosing, and getting accepted to graduate school. Another notable activity is the research opportunities provided by Dr. Redmond for members to work on faculty research projects.
This leads into my passion of the necessity for student engagement. It empowers emotional growth and helps break the stereotypes we form when our only introduction to those different from us is from the media. However, when we engage with each other in meaningful ways, we quickly learn that at our core we are all very similar. Plus, Psi Chi WC and WCPC help with building our professional social skills in the most popular space for socialization these days — virtual space. But we — at the World Campus psych clubs and organizations — already know this. This is why we joined the WCPC and Psi Chi — to interact with each other in practical class-orientated ways, to find professional opportunities, and to make friends. I really feel that I have made connections in the nine months I have been a member of WCPC that will last a lifetime, and I know one day we will meet in the brick and mortar world.

This is why the World Campus Psychology Club and Psi Chi are so important. They provide students around the globe with the opportunity to have that Penn State family feeling of camaraderie. And, we can measure the success and effectiveness of both of these organizations by looking at the collaboration, creativity, controllability, and competitiveness (Cameron and Quinn, 2006, as cited in Muchinsky, 2012, p. 249) that happen within their virtual education space. And above all, because we are Penn State WC’s Psychology Club and Psi Chi, we are proving President Barron to be absolutely correct when he said, “…engaged students are healthier, happier, get better grades, have strong résumés, and higher-quality career opportunities … and … committing to engagement will promote recruitment, retention, and graduation at Penn State.” Speaking for myself, both the psych club and Psi Chi are strong reasons for my continued attendance at the World Campus. Plus, I am genuinely proud to say … WE ARE …!

Cynthia Roebuck is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree with a Life Science option from Penn State World Campus. She is a member of Psi Chi,  Blue & White Society, the American Association of University Women, and the International Blind Tennis Association.

Muchinsky, P.M. (2012). Psychology applied to work: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology. Summerfield, NC: Hypergraphic Press. ISBN # 978-0-578-07692-8.