Recently, I’ve joined a small project at my place of work that is considering our online instructional goals and our ability to meet them. The project isn’t large or groundbreaking: it’s an inward-looking analysis of our library’s use of online learning projects and the manner in which they meet the needs of our users, and it’s the sort of analysis that many of us have taken part in over the years. And while the project could more appropriately be considered a “task force” since we’re only a small group and our considerations (I hesitate to call them recommendations) will be written to stimulate debate instead of making transformational change, we’re still taking on the task knowing that our efforts today might facilitate new decisions and perspectives tomorrow.
At issue for me are three things in general: the nature of online instruction, our recent goals in this area, and governance. Our readings and discussion have helped us realize that for too long now, tech-savvy librarians (at libraries in the developed world, generally) have focused too much on the development of online instructional tools at the expense of figuring out how these tools can best work alongside “regular” instructional programming. And perhaps more important, we don’t give enough thought to where online instruction sits within our internal governance structures. In short, for the most part, we’ve built our own online instruction silo.
The academic literature and the blogs show this loud and clear: too much of our scholarships and too many of our conversations are based on “how to” make the greatest tutorial, “how to” use X, Y, or Z software, or “how to” attract our students’ attention by using a particular social tool. There is literature that moves beyond these topics, of course, but I’m not sure if there has been enough. I’d like us to think and debate more about the nature of online instruction and its tools, what it actually means for our users, and what online instruction’s long-term implications (positive and negative) are for libraries. (A good example of what I think we ought to be discussing can be found in this text, which Dean Giustini recent contributed to and mentioned in his blog.)
In the mean time, I’m putting forward 3 contentions about online instruction in academic libraries. They aren’t profound, but they are assertions, nonetheless. Answer them in response to this post or on your own blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Plus streams. Let’s get a discussion going.
Steeleworthy’s Online Instruction Contentions for 2012:
1. There is no Online Instruction. There is only Instruction.
- Online instruction’s tools, aims and media differ drastically from “traditional” instructional methods, but it is instruction nonetheless, and it should be afforded as much importance as all other kinds. It is fair to consider the differences between online instruction and classroom one-shots or integrated term-long coursework, but the time came long ago to normalize it and make it an equal partner in our information literacy programmes. No more adjectives and qualifiers: online instruction is instruction, plain and simple. It can’t only be a special project that is taken on by our adventurous colleagues or offered to our interns and junior librarians to explore. Instead, we must find efficient ways to reduce its learning curve, help train our colleauges, and make it a core part of our IL programming.
2. There can only one instructional group or committee.
- This group develops instructional programmes and policies at the library, whether they are online or in print, in the classroom or in a virtual chat room. Let there be task forces devoted to online or classroom initiatives, but keep them part of the same governance structure. Let’s keep our focus on the means we have at our disposal to improve information literacy levels and critical thinking skills on campus by fully integrating online instruction into our existing instructional framework.
3. There must be an online instruction coordinator.
- I may have just declared an end to adjectives and qualifiers in Contention No. 1, but on this point, I stand firm: an online instruction coordinator is needed in order for libraries stay ahead of the technological curve. So much about online work requires specific, technical knowledge and skill sets. Each library should have a coordinator who manages instructional content on the website, promotes web-based instructional tools, liases with university online learning services, and leads training programmes for new technology-based instructional tools. Let this person sit on instructional committees and web committees, and let this person work in concert with the web publisher to seamlessly integrate instructional content with the website’s directional and informational content.
Above all else, online instruction can no longer be the purview of only a few individuals in academic libraries. I speak these words to like-minded librarians who are already tech-savvy and willing to try new projects and ideas: it’s time that we shift our focus from integrating online instructional tools into our individual practice to blending them into the library ethos. We can do this by concentrating not on programmes and apps but on the people we work with and the people we serve. We must find the means to make online instruction accessible not only to our users, but to our fellow librarians and content producers. What is a technological challenge must have a people-driven solution.