UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With many classes shifting to remote delivery because of the pandemic, Penn State has rolled out a University-wide program to help new students assess how ready they are for remote classroom learning. 

About 7,400 incoming students across all of Penn State’s campuses took the SmarterMeasure Online Readiness Assessment before starting classes this summer and fall, according to Michelle Wiley, an assistant director of academic development services for Penn State World Campus.

Penn State World Campus has offered the program to its first-time students for nearly a decade. The assessment helps students identify strengths and opportunities for improvement in areas such as time management, reading speed, and typing skills. 

The University plans to include the assessment on the new student checklist for students entering in the spring semester, as well, Wiley said.

Learning during the pandemic is stressful for students and their families, said Lynne Johnson, director of academic development services for Penn State World Campus.

“If we can alleviate concerns by giving them an assessment that will show where they might need help, hopefully that will help students feel more confident,” she said. 

Wiley said data from past years shows that performance on the assessment is linked to retention and success in Penn State courses. In particular, having time to study and strong reading skills correlate positively with retention, and a number of attributes, including persistence and willingness to ask for help, correlate positively with academic performance. 

On the assessment, students rank statements like “I need to have someone set deadlines for me to get things done” and “I like to figure things out on my own” on a scale from “Very much like me” to “Not like me at all.” 

They answer questions about learning style, technical knowledge and competency, individual attributes such as procrastination and willingness to ask for help, life factors such as whether they have a designated time and place for studying, and their level of confidence in their academic skills. The assessment also includes quick tests that measure reading and typing skills. 

Students receive immediate results showing their strengths and weaknesses, along with tips and suggested resources on topics such as how to schedule time, how to use the library online, and where to find free tutoring. They can take part in a webinar to discuss their results and follow up with a one-on-one appointment if desired.

Giana Curcio, a first-year business student from Staten Island, New York, took the SmarterMeasure assessment over the summer and said she found it very helpful. Curcio, who is 17, is living on the University Park campus and taking all her classes through Zoom.

“It made me aware of which resources I need to be aware of and told me things I didn’t know about my learning style,” Curcio said. “It prepared me for what to expect.”

In particular, Curcio said, she learned that she needed to become more familiar with some of the programs, such as Microsoft Office, that she would be using at Penn State.

“I didn’t know that I wasn’t that good at it,” she said. “Seeing my results made me realize what I need to learn and the programs I need to be able to use.” 

Heather Carlson, a Penn State World Campus student from Bradford, Pennsylvania, who is studying recreation, parks, and tourism management, was nervous about going back to school after 17 years. The assessment and list of resources she received put her more at ease, she said. 

“Instead of me as a new student trying to sift through all of the resources that Penn State has, I have this incredible tool,” she said. 

Carlson, who is 35, said she had clicked on all the recommended links to get familiar with them. 

“I got a feel for it so when I do need to use them, I can go back to them,” she said. 

Renata Engel, Penn State’s vice provost for online education, said the expansion of the SmarterMeasure program was a good example of the University leveraging its resources.  

“Tapping into the experience and knowledge that Penn State World Campus has to put students on a strong path when they are beginning their studies at a distance was just one way that World Campus contributed to the effort,” she said.  

“The SmarterMeasure tool provides each student the opportunity to understand their strengths in online environments as well as a pathway to the support and resources to build the skills that will serve them well in their courses," added Engel.