An LIS student’s letter to the editor of LJ gave me pause. Krystal Taylor, studying at IUPUI (Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis), detailed the move her program is making from classroom-based instruction to almost 100 percent online delivery. A big-picture concern is evident: “What cost will this be to the library and information science field?” Her word for those completing an online MLS: lackluster.
I have more than a passing interest in this change. Yes, it’s indicative of a major shift in LIS education, but my interest is also a personal one. I teach via the San José State University online program, and I graduated from Indiana University (IU) SLIS in 1995. Back then I took classes on the IU South Bend campus one or two nights a week with adjuncts or via closed-circuit TV and a phone system that linked my fellow students and me to the classroom. One summer, I drove 200-plus miles each way for three weekends to take “Fiscal Responsibility in Libraries” at the Bloomington campus. Many, I’m sure, have a similar experience.
Turning the tide
Taylor writes, “Having taken both types of courses, I am convinced that face-to-face [F2F] courses are the better option.” I might argue the tide is turning on that sentiment. In 2011, I wrote “Online LIS Education or Not”on the choices between F2F and online programs. In just a few short months we’ve seen the announcement of a new online library management degree at the University of Southern California and now the evolution of the IU program to mostly online classes. Frankly, a brick-and-mortar LIS school without a fully online option may become a quaint reminder of days gone by in the next decade. With this shift comes a few important considerations for the various stakeholders: students, faculty, hiring librarians, and accrediting bodies.
Students will have more choices of schools, but those will most probably be online. I appreciate Taylor’s candor in her letter as she worries about the loss of passion in the field. F2F discussions and debates in the classroom can be truly exhilarating. Those with a similar concern might explore some of the newer methods of online learning to see what’s possible with emerging technologies. Attend a free webinar, try out a MOOC, or explore the bleeding edge of library communities by participating on Twitter #libchats or the thriving “Library Related People” group on Facebook, 1,300-plus global library folk strong. I promise: passion is present there.
Faculty moving from F2F to online should seek out best practices in online learning. Remember: text-based lectures and text-based discussion forums are not a 21st-century model. I’ve learned that my students respond positively when they see and hear me via short presentations recorded with Panopto. That they can respond via their blogs, video, audio, or in our weekly chats as part of class discussion adds to the interaction.
Revamp assignments and rubrics. I would suggest assignments that allow for a broad range of creativity and exploration. What might have been “Write an eight-page paper on new types of literacies for young people” might become “Create a synthesis of recent research and thinking about new literacies for young people via the delivery channel of your choice: video, audio, etc.” Assessment would include a statute that addresses mode of presentation and synthesis of the topic.
Hiring librarians may find with more LIS programs online they have choices of candidates from all sorts of programs across the United States and beyond. A new hire in youth service may come from a highly regarded children’s program far away, while a user experience job may go to someone from a thriving technology-focused program nearby. The negative view of staffing a local library from the local library school fades when local hires are globally educated.
Keeping pace with change
Our accrediting bodies must consider these changes as well. Paul LeBlanc’s recent piece at EDUCAUSE Review, “Thinking About Accreditation in a Rapidly Changing World,” includes this response to the question of classroom learning versus online: “We now ask, ‘How can we make traditionally delivered learning the equal of the best-designed online learning?’ This is because disruptive innovations always start as inferior to incumbent models.” LeBlanc explores some important ideas about accreditation in a time of great change within higher education. Can we evaluate online programs the same way we’ve evaluated traditional F2F delivery? He urges, “Accreditors need to think about their relationship to innovation. If the standards are built largely to assess incumbent models and are enforced by incumbents, they must be—by their very nature—conservative and in service to the status quo.”
As more LIS schools move online, the opportunities for library education to emerge as dynamic, thought-provoking, and innovative multiply with every new option, while the modality isn’t as important as the students and professors giving it their all.