[Guest post] School in the Digital Doldrums – What I’ve Learned in Library School, Part 1

Following up on my previous post, I decided to open up the theme “What I learned in Library School” to some of my peers for some guest posts. Natalie Binder, a colleague and fellow student here at Florida State, offered this post on her experience with Digital Learning. Natalie will be following up on this topic on her own blog, and you can catch her on Twitter or Tumblr.  Enjoy!

The communications revolution promises to transform education as thoroughly as it’s transformed newspapers and magazines.  In some universities, it already has. At Florida State University’s nationally ranked College of Communication and Information (CCI), ninety percent of the courses are online-only.  And these are not your mother’s correspondence courses.  CCI students attend courses through a web-based software platform called Elluminate.  Lectures are conducted through live chat, students collaborate on blogs and wikis, and whole libraries—including professional reference services—are available on our smartphones.

Digital learning benefits the university in many ways.  Any graduate of FSU’s communication, information technology and library science programs knows online instruction from the inside out, a huge benefit to potential employers.  It allows working and non-traditional students to pursue degrees on a flexible schedule.  Furthermore, it allows a cash-strapped university to provide classes at a fraction of the cost (if not a fraction of the tuition) of traditional education.

However, a chat room is not a classroom, any more than a picture of a pipe is a pipe.  Speaking as a distance student, a nontraditional student, a teacher and  a technophile, there is a profound loss when classes are moved into the cloud.  The social, professional, cultural and intellectual relationships that develop in a real classroom cannot be duplicated through distance education.

The digital classroom abandons different types of learners.  The primary sensory input for a digital lecture is sound.  The visual aspect is usually very weak—a chat box or a PowerPoint.  The kinesthetic (hands-on) aspect is nonexistent.  For students that learn best by listening, this environment may prove rewarding.  But for the great number of us who need to see and interact with our teachers and classmates, it’s an unqualified disaster.   The situation is even grimmer for students who have auditory or cognitive disabilities.  As schools move to audio-only, these students are locked out and—it sometimes seems—forgotten.  This in a world where a whole generation of “mainstreamed” students with autism, attention deficits and hearing disorders are coming of age.

The real classroom is full immersion reality:  there are things to see, hear and feel.  You catch a professor’s quiet scoff when he doubts your conclusion.  You see the class perk up and take an interest on a certain subject—maybe you should delve deeper.  You recognize the blank look on a student’s face when he misses the point, the light dawn when he finally understands.  Teachers, individual students, classmates and the class as a whole all benefit from these subtle social processes.  The architectural and social structure of a classroom is made to enhance these rich and valuable experiences.

The information revolution is about the expansion of options.  The goal of the educational Web was never to leave students blind and disconnected, with no real alternatives to a chat room.  When universities use technology as a way to enhance the real classroom—and offer cost-effective options to those who can’t make it—then they are using educational technology to its full potential.  Until then, the move from real learning to digital learning is, sadly, a step down.


3 thoughts on “[Guest post] School in the Digital Doldrums – What I’ve Learned in Library School, Part 1

  1. Pingback: {Guest Post} A Bespectacled Look at the MLIS. « The Infornado

  2. There’s something to defend, though – the futurepresent virtual classroom–which we might be able to get a glimpse at through Elluminate with a clever, tech-savvy instructor–will tailor custom learning to an individual, unlike any real-world classroom could. I am not saying the next generation of virtual learning will be dissimilar, but you already know that a laptop can amplify one’s social sphere and absolutely blow-up an individual’s world in terms of efficiency and resources. Since the Microsoft Kinect will SciFi-ify televisions in the fall, is it a stretch to imagine that sort of interaction in virtual classrooms in only a few years? Touch-screens and remote desktops and video chat are already common place – yeah?

    I’m pretty stoked.


  3. There are certainly exciting opportunities. I’m no Luddite–as a public library technology specialist, I work in educational IT. And in some cases the online option has been an advantage. For example, my web design and media classes are much more efficient when everyone in the class has access to a computer. I don’t think we’re far from having face-to-face video classes; in fact, I think Elluminate already has this capability.

    However, even if my classes went all video, I think I would still be frustrated with the lack of options. A live TV concert can be pretty cool, but it’s not the same as being there. And a TV class might be pretty great too, but still not as good as the real thing.

    I’m happy to embrace online and computer-based classes as a component of a good education. And it’s possible that students will find other ways to get together–regional gatherings or something. My problem is when universities treat these classes as the same as real classes in a real classroom. There needs to be a balance.

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