Response: Thoughts on Online Library and Information Studies Degree Programs

I totally stole this from FSU - but since they get my tuition money, we'll call it even, deal?

About a month ago my colleague-in-internets, Britt Foster, wrote a intriguing piece outlining her thoughts on the state of online Library Science programs as compared to on-campus programs. After reading her article, which you can and should read here, I knew I must respond. You see, I have had the best of both worlds: This spring will be my final semester as a Master’s student in Florida State University’s School of Library and Information Studies and I spent half of my degree “on-campus” and half “online.” The program itself is entirely online, but since I was living in Tallahassee for the first half of my degree, I was able to meet other students, interface with professors occasionally, and be active as a graduate student on a college campus. So I have a unique perspective that I’d like to bring into discussion with Britt’s excellent piece. Here goes…

Britt digs right in with the proposal that, based on her experience and research, on-campus programs have the potential to produce a higher level student.

She states, “I think that being at an on-campus program can raise the quality of their work, just through being around a range of students… This way to be in the information professions– how to speak, how to phrase, what language to use in talking rather than typing– this conveys a lot about the professional exchange of ideas, and at what level that exchange is superior.”

Assuredly, peer interaction is invaluable, and on this point I would tend to agree with Britt. However, this doesn’t take into account those of us onliners who adapt very easily to any environment, and create our own peer networks (online and off) for conversation and sharing of ideas in virtual spaces outside of the classroom. For instance, in one of my first classes I met Natalie Binder. We had similar interests in the web 2.0 space, and had some good chat conversations during class. Natalie works at a small rural library about 30 miles outside of Tallahassee, and since I had never been to a rural library I hopped on my motorcycle and went and volunteered there for a day. Since then Natalie and I have kept up communication through Twitter and commenting on blogs back and forth, and I really value her opinions and ideas on professional librarianship.

Two other points Britt mentioned that are right on – the convenience and cost of an online program is a deciding factor for many. I have found that many of my peers in FSU’s program are working librarians who are finally able to complete the degree because of the online option. All of our classes are in the evenings, and its great to be able to eat dinner (plus wine!) while learning about intellectual freedom. We also have the option for guest speakers piped in via the web that really enhance the literature and coursework. While convenience and cost might convince many to go online, I ended up there because a professor from my previous MA in American Studies suggested it to me as an option before committing to a PhD program. And I am so glad he did, because through my studies I have found a profession that I really enjoy and can see myself working diligently in.

I think that what Britt might have been getting at, and a thought I have had more than once, is that perhaps on-campus programs are more apt to produce Scholar/Librarians, who are more immersed in the physical and mental work of theoretical discourse simply because a classroom setting allows for that, whereas a chatroom (no matter how sophisticated) does not. It is telling that FSU’s PhD track in LIS is an on-campus option only. It would be interesting to compare the ratio of researching/publishing between online and on-campus LIS students. I don’t mean to devalue the caliber of education that is the online program – it has certainly worked for me – but I also came to it from a very small MA program where I learned and shared in scholarship with peers in a face to face environment.  So what am I trying to say? Is the online MLIS watering down the value of the degree? Will a UCLA grad have a better chance at a job than a FSU grad?

One last example: in my current work, which grew out of an internship at Brooklyn Public Library, I have the pleasure to work closely with two capable, interesting and smart MLIS grads. One did an MLIS degree as a hybrid online/on-campus at San Jose State, the other on-campus at Pratt SILS here in New York, and myself, online through Florida State. We all work very well together, have similar interests and really great, difficult, theoretical conversations about the place of cultural heritage, digitization standards, metadata, inter-institutional projects, real-life librarianship and more. I am working at Brooklyn Public, one colleague at Brooklyn Museum and the other at Brooklyn Historical Society. In this case it seems to me that how and where we did our degrees matters very little, and that what does matter is that we are enthusiastic about the work.

I think we could say that overall the cream always rises to the top. And right now, I would think that being visible, engaging and asking hard questions in an online format is a great way to prove ones value to the field. Cheers to you, Britt. 😉

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Advising 2.0

Never in my life did I think I would be writing (or caring!) so much about utilizing technology in my professional life. But, as I wrote a few weeks ago, you never know where you’ll end up, and once you’re there you just have to take the opportunity and make the most of the experience. Taking my own advice, I have charged myself with bringing a new aspect of student services to FSU. I call it Advising 2.0.

Image from NACADA TECH

My concept is simple – meet the students where they are. This is a student services mantra at universities all around, but how many actually follow through? Better yet, how many actually know “where the students are”? This is my first hurdle. Luckily I am enrolled in a course for my MLIS (Master’s in Library and Information Science) on Assessing Information Needs, and one of our projects is to identify the information behaviors of a group. So, like a good little social scientist or cultural anthropologist, I will need to gather some data. What percent of FSU students are online? How often? What sites?

Once I have an idea of a baseline, it will become a matter of targeting specific needs in the student population and getting creative with meeting those needs. My first experiment will be to develop the “Advising First” brand in a small variety of Social Media sites. I’d like to see how utilizing these technologies can affect the value students place on their advising. From there, it will only be a matter of continuing to build our presence and interact with students in a new medium. Obviously, all personal advising will have to stay face to face, but I hope that establishing a presence online will give Advising First an informal and inviting face, encouraging students that advising at FSU is more than scheduling classes.

I am excited about this process and will continue to write about it here. Please feel free to let me know what you think. Do you, or would you, interact with professional development organizations (like advising at your university) through social media? What would make this process worthwhile to you? Should university offices stay out of the business of social media?

Please read over my proposal, and visit Advising First on Facebook, Twitter and Delicious. We are just getting started.

Assessing Info Needs at FSU

As a grad student in Library and Information Studies here at FSU I am currently enrolled in a course titled “Assessing Information Needs.” I will admit, I chose it solely because it is a required course. But now, two weeks in, I have become intrigued by the concept of an “information need.”

In addition to being a student, I work at FSU as an academic advisor. Part of my job is to effectively communicate to students the requirements of their degree, and what the university expects of them in order to graduate. Based on some early readings for my class, I started to wonder, “What are the information needs of a student at FSU, and how can I effectively communicate with them if I am not privy to those needs?” Walking through Strozier Library this afternoon, I “took inventory” (spied) on the screens the students were using. As expected, 7/10 were on Facebook and at least 2 were using some sort of chat client. Therefore, based on my highly scientific methods, it would seem that students are gathering information from sites like Facebook, and sharing it via instant messaging. (I made no immediate judgments about the type or content of said information). Going further, it would also make sense that in order to accurately fulfill my position and duties, the students would be best served by at least having access to me via their preferred communication channel. Right?

Maybe. This is where it gets sticky. There are more than a few universities  that are currently adopting social media strategies to “meet the students where they are at,” as the catchphrase goes. UT Dallas for example supports a Twitter feed and multiple Facebook Pages. The complications come in dealing with Information Policy, privacy issues and sometimes unwillingness at the administrative level to put in efforts to accomplish such goals. Here at FSU, as far as I know, there are little to no official policies or motions toward addressing the information gap between students and advisors, for example. (or any policies discussing faculty/staff blogging practices… yikes!)

In becoming interested in this topic and through some asking around, I have been invited to join an official FSU Social Media Committee. I hope that this opportunity will allow me to propose that the school quickly introduce a policy that allows, or better encourages staff and faculty to get creative with their communication. Because, lets face it, kids just don’t care about websites anymore. And if we are to interact with them, it is going to have to involve some social and immediate point of access.

If you were/are a student right now, would you appreciate your university being available on some of the communication channels you use regularly?

How do you prefer to get information from your school/job?

Emerging Technologies, Students and The University

Born Digital

Born Digital

Inspired by several great articles that I have read lately (cited below), and in the spirit of the Educause conference this week, I thought it pertinent to comment on the tech trends that are sweeping the infoverse from the perspective of University as a civic institution. I’ll try to keep it short… Here goes:

There seem to be two major areas of new media/technology that academics, journalists and other folks are talking about- Social Media and media ownership (online piracy). Without going to far backwards to define the hell out of these terms, I plan to stick with Twitter and downloading music, as most people are generally familiar with these.

In an article posted this morning by Steve Kolowich at insidehighered.com, Twitter gets a real once over. In summary, the article is a review of a conversation between two Higher Ed administrators over the usefulness of twitter in the classroom. The basic argument is that it can be used as a tool to engage students in the conversation, but there becomes no way to control the flow of information once its out on the web. Personally, I see more positives there than negatives. As technology becomes part of humanity’s culture (another topic of much debate, but an unavoidable fact) the university is going to have to find ways to adapt and connect with students where they are… online.

In a similar vein, aside from the legal concerns, universities are having to consider methods for curbing or allowing downloading practices that so many students are actively engaged and well-versed in. Earlier this week, The Chronicle posted this article which exposes some new initiatives being taken by the music industry in collaboration with universities to allow students to download music freely. What it sounds like, according to the article, is that schools could choose to charge a “music tax” from students, or individual students could purchase access to the service, and therein they would have legal access to all the songs in the database. This initiative is being headed by Warner Music Group, so there is some real clout behind it.

Both of these technological “issues”, Twitter in the classroom and legalizing downloads, point to a larger trend involving students, the university and information. Howard Rheingold calls it “infotention“, a combination of attention, information and intention. Students are coming to college now with an astounding amount of media literacy, or set of literacies, a “kind of know how including a skill component and a social component.” Tweeting in class and accessing media are part of the new literacy, and at least university administrators are acknowledging this fact and beginning to consider options for capturing the infotention of the new student.

So what? Isn’t this all just hobbies and fads that will fade like a tye dye tee shirt? Not necessarily. Hypebot Associate Editor Kyle Bylin, in a recent post titled “Minds for the Future: Why Digital Immersion Matters” writes, “Like many other crucial skills, digital literacy needs to be taught and learned through constant practice.” He goes on to point to research that suggests that 15 year olds in 2016 will accumulate 1500 hours per year on digital technologies. At age 20, with continued access, they will be at 10,000 hours, making them experts at internetting. The University would be remiss to not concern itself with these sorts of facts and to make every attempt to keep at the forefront of the technological age. Wither the cyborg? Not to far in the future, say I.

Further Reading –

http://www.educause.edu/7Things – A series dedicated to “schooling” educators on new media technologies

www.nmc.org – New Media Consortium, group of “learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies.”

Lev Gonick’s Blog – Case Western’s VP for Information Services

Photo from Flickr user Dianecordell

Why blog?

Social Media Landscape

Social Media Landscape

“Why blog when you can micro blog?” I ask myself this question every day. The time and effort one puts into blogging could be spent ingesting newer information, and that quick paced influx of media and knowledge constantly excites me. But, I know it is ever more important that I take the time to digest some of this information, and form ideas and opinions on things I really care about. Although I find myself more often interested in snippets of information than entire chunks, this blog could become the point where I learn to take those bits and make them cohesive.

Thus, Micah_2.0. Primarily, this site will function as a condensation of my various social profiles around the web, but I will attempt to actually write something once in a while. It seems my life is picking up enough momentum these days that I may actually have an intelligent, original thought every once in a while. Here’s hoping.

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The inspiration for trying blogging for the 3rd time came from this post at ReadWriteWeb – 5 simple steps to make social media work for Higher Ed. As I am currently pursuing an MS in Library and Information Studies, and am proponent and user of social media, and as higher ed is something I care about, work in, and follow daily, it made sense that I take the time to give this a shot.

Photo courtesy of Ivan Walsh with a Creative Commons Attribution license.