Distance Learning and Information Competency
Earlier this year, California community college libraries shared ideas for integrating information competency programs into the curriculum. One way is through distance learning.
For many years, Taft College, a small college located in western Kern County, has required a Library Skills course for graduation. This one-credit course focuses on basic reference tools and on writing a research paper. At any time, a student may take one of several sessions offered each semester. Even so, the requirement is difficult for many students to fulfill, especially for our Dental Hygiene students because of their closely scheduled curriculum.
I was offered a 1997 summer stipend to design a Distance Learning course for these types of students. The course could be accessed over the World Wide Web but would still be comparable to the classroom version.
The research and writing of the course was the most difficult yet exhilarating experience of my library career! I alternately blessed and cursed this new technology which required learning an entire language (web-editing programs were in their infancy at the time). Although I found many online tutorials geared to using a particular institutions OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) or to searching the Internet, few mentioned traditional print sources. I had to keep reminding myself the goal of the project was to teach students to use a physical, rather than a virtual library. However, I did not want to just write an online textbook; I wanted to exploit the capabilities of the Web, incorporating as many hypertext links as appropriate (to appease the "mad clickers").
The final format is in six modules which follow the units taught in the regular course. I planned to give the students great leeway in submitting assignments, but a veteran distance leaning colleague assured me that students need deadlines. The final exam is administered in the library, and is identical to the classroom version.
Out of 31 who enrolled, fifteen students have completed the course. Although we specified familiarity with email and with the World Wide Web as a prerequisite, we did not put anyone to an actual test. Many of the students who dropped simply could not interact with the computer, even after a personal orientation session and a lot of hand-holding.
Here are some comments on exit questionnaires from the fifteen students who did pass:
"It wasn't too difficult, but I wouldn't say it was too easy either."
"Before this class I had no idea how to use most reference sources."
"I had a great time doing modules for the experience of research (fun!).
"I would like to see more exercises to get me comfortable with the use of the library "
"I liked using the Internet. Some of the sites werent found or took too long to come up, but it didnt hinder the course."
The course can be found here.
I will be revising the course this summer and would welcome any feedback. I know I will be editing History of Libraries; it is my favorite module, but it's probably less important to information competency" than is the hands-on practice with research tools.
There are now so many excellent examples of online Bibliographic Instruction (BI) courses (see Cal Poly's Information Competence Project at http://www.lib calpoly.edu/infocomp/related.html for a list). The more we share our ideas for BI, the easier it will be to design courses which promote information competency among our students and which show them how vital the library can be now and in the years beyond college.