by Josh Rimmer, Assistant to the Head Editor, INALJ Connecticut
Bridging the Digital Educational Divide:
Make the Most of Your Distance Learning Experience. (Part One of Two)
Okay, Graduate ISchools, student preparedness, and the amount of graduates pouring into the job market is a hot topic, especially among librarians in the profession. Check Twitter, blogs and LJ (Library Journal) and you will see. For the sake of everyone here, this is one topical cauldron I will not bring to a boil. As for what I hope, you, the reader, will gain from my hopefully insightful remarks that regardless of what educational form you elect to pursue. In relating my experiences to library students, as well as future students, I hope this advice will lead you toward your ideal job –thanks Tony Robbins. I will, however, treat my alma mater nameless, a la Lord Voldemort; “Institution-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”, to avoid potential plugs to the school. I am sure the Institution-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named admissions office and admission advisors will be able to survive.
INSERT TRENDY DISTANCE EDUCATIONAL BUZZWORD HERE
Regardless of how you may feel about distance education, well, it is here people. As someone, who threw in the towel on becoming an academic. The lure of a self-directed mode of study (asynchronous) and quite simply, not having my butt in a classroom was appealing over the physical classroom. With a little self-directed motivation, a beverage of your choice –Coffee; http://bit.ly/1i0dfeF – and your favorite attire, you will be ready for distance learning greatness.
Ever write an email or make a post on an internet? Write a reflection paper, or start/run a blog? Do you have experience on Blackboard, Moodle, or some Internet based course system? Then you already have the technology skillset for online learning. Most of the ISchools will offer online orientation that may introduce you to some of your classmates. At least, orientation will familiarize students with the instructional technology utilized at the school. At Institution-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, there were multiple “orientation” sessions run to acclimate students to the digital learning environment. So fear not, assimilation into your ISchool’s collective is imminent.
However, ISchools are not all about asynchronous studying, coffee, and random pop cultural references. Wait a second, that thing called time is a pivotal factor in the experience. To be frank, distance education requires an exceptional amount of discipline. I would argue that more attention and discipline is required of students in distance learning experiences than in the physical classroom. Being a virtual student by no means makes the experience, less of an “active” activity. Avatars and photos of yourself aside, you need to be actively engaged in the conservation.
Check your posts daily; respond, reply, and do not be afraid to ask questions. I found at the Institution-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named there was a mixture of students with varying levels of experience in the library field. READ EVERYONES POSTS, YOU WILL LEARN SOMETHING. Your peers offer a wealth of practical knowledge and experience implementing ideas and theories discussed in class. Some may even argue against material taught or suggested in class, and these opportunities create an invaluable learning experience.
Success in distance education I found is driven by your own attitude. Yes, you have enrolled, but as clichéd as this may sound. You get out of “distance education”, what you put in. As with the physical classroom setting, you can slide by, but “coasting” in the online environment will be a disservice to your self. Yeah, you can post the required amount of times in discussion and just hand in your papers. However, while the interactions may be digital and can be viewed as impersonal. These information exchanges still constitute a much larger whole. The almighty task of exchanging information and indirectly networking; finding out about library trends in different fields, as well as job trends in different geographical areas. For those of you interested in moving for a new job, classmates “in the know” will be a terrific barometer of what to expect in different job markets, and can provide advice on different areas to live. This segues nicely into the next topic; building a rapport with your professors.
DIGITAL OFFICE HOURS ARE ALWAYS OPEN
I am not quite sure what is, nor suggesting to conduct pixelated brown nosing. At the Institution-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, I had the privilege of learning from adjunct professors who truly care about disseminating “learned” knowledge. There is no waiting during a professor’s office hours, or reaching a professor’s office to find out office hours are cancelled for a killer game of squash. Trust me, when your professor or teacher tells you they are available through email, please take advantage of this opportunity.
To illustrate an example about how valuable these relationships can be. Last year I had an opportunity to work at an “Institution-That-Will-Be-Not-Be-Named” for practicum experience. As a Collection Development Intern, I walked into a situation where there was no librarian with the duty of monitoring the collection –well, minus the Director of course. A weeding activity at the institution had not been undertaken in a considerable amount of time. Let alone were there a set of principles, or a collection development policy in place. Like a Mike Tyson right hand punch -80’s Mike Tyson mind you- I quickly realized that I was in over my head.
Where did I turn? That’s right, to my professor who taught Collection Development. Now granted I was spoiled and had this individual for a few courses that paved the way to developing a rapport. However, a simple email asking how the professor was doing, explaining what I was doing, the situation at the institution, and asking for suggestions on where to start. It cannot be overstated enough how TK’s –entirely grateful, thank you- detailed response and by relating his experiences, helped me get over the psychological hurdle of feeling overwhelmed. I now had a plan of action and a person willing to help me if I had additional questions along the way. Not too shabby for a distance education student.
Take full advantage of your professors during your distance education experience. It is your professor’s specialized knowledge of their subject areas and experience that is well worth the price per credit hour. Ask them anything, within reason. What did he/she like about their job? What practices and techniques work in the field, and conversely what did not? What technologies, skillsets, knowledge, and practices, are crucial to enter the field? What do I need to know to stay ahead of the curve? Let me reiterate again, be engaged in the conversation. Be open, ask questions, acquire information and prepare yourself. The more work you put in now, well, you can surmise the rest.
Stay tuned for Part Two. Student Loans at the End of Graduate School, and So Long and Thanks for Closing the Digital Educational Divide.