Before I started my job, there were no instructional materials provided to online students on how to use the library resources (there also was no distance learning librarian to create instructional materials). Not surprisingly, there were lots of students e-mailing the library every week with access problems and research questions. Students in certain programs — those that really require a lot of research — lambasted the library in their end of semester surveys. We got complaints from students who said they could never figure out how to access the databases, they had no idea which databases to use, and once they found a database for their subject, they didn’t know how to find what they were looking for. Many of the students in these online graduate programs have been out of school a while, so they are not familiar with doing research in online databases. And online databases seem anything but intutitive for someone who has never used them (heck, they don’t seem intuitive to me!).
The first thing I did was design a portal for distance learners to access library resources. This contains information about how to access the library resources and subject pages with links to the best library resources for each subject in which we offer an online degree. There is a link to the portal on the left menu in every WebCT classroom. This is the only way they can access the library resources.
Once I finished the portal I started pushing the idea of integrating library instruction into the curriculum. This was a tough sell. Initially, only one program director really went for the idea so I worked with him for a significant amount of time on creating a comprehensive research guide for his program. Once the other program administrators saw what I’d created, some of them began asking me if I would create things like that for their programs. So I did. I first met with each one of them to discuss their curriculum and where they thought a library tutorial would best fit in. I stressed the importance of tying the tutorial to an assignment. For each program (well, I still have 2 to go) I created guides for the first seminar that students have to take. I designed all but one of them to be tied to an assignment. The administrators all said that they were happy with what I’d created and that it would be helpful for their students.
Strangely, in one program I continued to get questions that were answered in the tutorials. Over and over again. I spoke to a few patrons in one program and asked them “have you gone through the library tutorial?” And all of them told me that they had no idea that there was a tutorial. So I went into their classroom and looked for it. And it took me a long time to find it. Not only was it not required; it wasn’t even easy to find! Even the instructors didn’t seem know about the tutorial, which means that they couldn’t market it to their students. Not surprisingly, when I looked at my Web stats, I found that almost no one was using the tutorial for that program.
Looking at my Web stats, I found the same situation with two of the other tutorials I’d created. No one was using them. And they were equally buried in the courseware. However, there were two tutorials that had quite impressive statistics. The first one was the program I had worked with initially. They decided not to make the tutorial a required reading, but the program administrator enthusiastically pushes the tutorial — and the library — to all of his instructors and students. The second program made the tutorial a required reading for week 1 of the first class and for their discussion question that week, students are required to use the databases.
So I am basically creating tutorials tutorials that sit on a shelf collecting dust. The burden is on the instructors to get the students to actually read the tutorial and to use the databases. There is only so much I can do when I cannot communicate directly with the students or the instructors (only the random ones who contact me with problems). The majority of the instructors in our distance learning programs are not located at the University; they’re all over the world. Some instructors do not have much experience using databases. Even those who do have experience with the databases do not necessarily use our databases if they work at another university so they don’t know what we have here. If the instructors don’t know about our library resouces, how can they encourage their students to use them? If the instructors don’t know that the tutorials exist, how can they market them? If the tutorials are neither marketed nor required, how many students will really use them?
It finally hit me over the past few weeks that it is more imporant right now for me to provide marketing and instruction to the instructors than it is for me to provide instruction to the students. They are the people who will guide the students through the programs. If they value the library and know what we have to offer, they will promote the library to their students. Obviously it’s important to provide instruction for the students, but don’t think that’s the right place to start. If I don’t focus on the instructors, I will end up creating more tutorials that no one looks at.
When our soon-to-be Head of Public Services was interviewing for the job, I asked her how she engages students who aren’t interested in information literacy instruction. She basically said that it “isn’t our job,” which surprised me at the time, but is beginning to make more sense. She said that there was only so much we can do as librarians to engage the students and tie what they’re learning to their class. The burden really rests on their instructor. If they instructor doesn’t push the value of information literacy and of using the library, we can talk ourselves blue in the face and it really won’t make much of a difference. We get them for a hour; the professor gets them for a semester. We can teach the resources and try to make it as interesting as possible, but their instructor really needs to show them how what they’re learning from us has value and is connected to the course. I’m sure we’ve all had professors who bring their students in for an hour without any learning objectives and no upcomming assignment. What do these instructors think we can do in that hour and why would the students bother listening when it isn’t tied to what they’re doing in their class?
I know this is all probably obvious to those of you who have been providing instruction for a while, but I was rather clueless about how to build up an instruction program in the online medium. I was building a house on a foundation of sand, and what I need now is to go back and create a really good foundation by working on the instructors.
Post Script: For those of you who will probably suggest that I provide instruction to students synchronously online or at their residency, those are options that will not work. Our students only have one residency and its when they graduate, so that wouldn’t be particularly useful (though I plan to crash every event that involves the instructors that whole week so I can talk to them). I’ve floated the idea of doing synchronous instruction sessions online, but the administrators aren’t really buying into that idea yet (we have a lot of students in the military and right now there are no synchronous aspects of the programs other than residency). Also the school doesn’t yet have any Web conferencing software. I’m going to keep pushing the issue, but I think it’ll take a long time before I can get anyone to agree to let me provide any sort of synchronous online instruction.
Like you say, it may be obvious to those of us who have been doing this kind of work a while, but I think the main point is what you learned and discovered. And even to someone who has experience in instruction, I found the way you wrote this up clear and neat. Working on the instructors is something that pretty much every librarian in academia has to go through at one point or another. OK, maybe not the technical folk as much depending on the setting. For me, working on those teachers is crucial. Initially I was a bit miffed about that new Public Services person and saying it is not our job to engage them, but to be honest, I have always known what she knows: that we can only do so much. I learned that the hard way in my days as a school teacher (teachers will always face the one or two students one cannot reach no matter what. In a way, the principle is the same for libraries). Having said that, I still aim to engage students any way I can. Saying it is not our job is not really acceptable to me at least, ideally anyways.
You keep working at it. Best, and keep on blogging.
She definitely didn’t say that it’s not our job to engage the students, only that there is so much we can do in our role and that the instructor also need to express a committment to information literacy to his students. There are definitely limits to what we can do as supports (as opposed to instructors), no matter how hard that is to swallow.
When you’re dealing with on-campus faculty, it’s a bit easier to provide outreach because at least you can meet with them and talk to them. We are in the situation where not only are the instructors physically located all over the place but we don’t know who they are and some of them only teach for one semseter and move on.
I would add that it’s not just about librarians and faculty – the institutional administration (on the academic side) is the third critical leg of the stool that supports IL on campus. If the provost (or VPAA) and Deans don’t know about information literacy – if there is no place for discussions about IL in the governance structure – then why would most faculty pay more attention. We would like to think because there is a WIIFM factor for faculty – which is better student research – writing – and literacy. But with faculty having many pressures, IL is not considered essential. That why the administration needs to make it an institutional priority. That’s why the real responsibility isn’t with the librarians or the faculty (as the candidate suggested) but it is the responsibility of the library director. He or she is the one who has access to the provost and deans and must get them on board. The library director is the catalyst for campus change when it comes to IL. Then the provost and deans can communicate to faculty (and even make participation part of the reward structure) that IL needs to be happening. That opens up the door for the librarians to the type of real collaboration that needs to happen at the librarian-faculty level. So if your library director isn’t aggressively pursuing this at the administrative level, your efforts to get faculty on board (excepting the few who are truly dedicated to improving the quality of student research) for IL are likely doomed to failure. The case of the tutorials makes this all too obvious. If faculty don’t make viewing the tutorials a part of the assignment why would any student bother to watch it. Three suggestions. (1) Try to get hold of a copy of the May 2005 issue of Library Issues (Mountainside Press) which covers the topic of “Faculty-Led Information Literacy Instruction”. (2)For some ideas on what you can accomplish when information literacy is truly integrated into the curriculum – and the governance structure – see http://www.philau.edu/infolit. I’m sure you can find other good examples at other IHEs. (3) Find out when your next faculty development day is (probably in the fall). See if your library director will push for a program on IL – not one where you talk about it though. Rather, identify a campus near yours that has a successful IL program – and then invite faculty who are actively involved to come and talk to your faculty about IL. They may not listen to you, but they may listen to their peers from another institution – and make sure the Deans are there. One last comment. You have sometimes questioned what is the value of ALA membership. Have you considered joining the Instruction Section? This may be the real value (and why many ALA members don’t identify with ALA but their sections). That connects you to a network of IL librarians who can provide you with the benefit of their accumulated knowledge in working to create IL on your campus. That way, while you certainly made some discoveries on your own, you may have found some workable strategies that would have prevented wasted time and energy. Good luck on bringing IL to your campus. With your enthusiasm I am sure you can make it happen.
Great, great post (applauds). This is almost exactly what I found to be true at my campus. We were providing stuff to our distant students but without the faculty saying, “hey, check this out” we were getting nowhere. Probably about 80-90% of my outreach efforts are now to distant faculty rather than students. They’re easier to reach at my institution than distant students are, at least at this point.
I definitely have to agree with Mr. Bell on that one: it takes the administration as well to make things work. Changing that culture when they either have no clue or are just too sceptical can make for an uphill battle, one worth fighting I think. Then again, I am new to the profession (not to teaching), so maybe I am bit idealistic? Who knows? I will have to see if I can get a hold of that issue he mentions (as if I did not have enough to read over already). Some good advice there.
I am several months into a new position as Distance Ed Librarian at a liberal-arts school, and realized about two days into the job that I had stepped into a sales position. For me to be successful, I need to be selling library services to the faculty. (Scary, for someone who went into librarianship because she loved to read, but also a good ‘stretch’ role!)
“It finally hit me over the past few weeks that it is more imporant right now for me to provide marketing and instruction to the instructors than it is for me to provide instruction to the students. They are the people who will guide the students through the programs.” Yes! Also love Ludovico’s point: you are marketing the L Word. Agree also with Steven that the library director has to be the one to set this as a priority. How do you get to that person?
We deal with similar issues where I work. I would bet quite a bit that this is endemic to higher ed. Please continue to share your insights on this process. What do you use to build and deliver your tutorials? Blackboard, HTML, PowerPoint, screencasting? Are any of your instruction sessions classroom based or is it all web based?
A colleague and I are working on a pilot this summer. We’re asking writing instructors to add a library RSS feed to their WebCT courses. We’ll do a weekly blog on library services for DL, keyed at least somewhat to course syllabi — first week, welcome and get your barcode by e-mail; second week, using library resources to help select paper topics, down to the last two weeks when we’ll look at citing sources and a brief evaluation.
In past quarters, many of our DL course templates have included links to TILT. Students have only used it when instructors insist, and it’s not really customized to the resources our institution offers. We think a weekly update with a human “voice” will get students’ attention and help utilize the (asynchronous) teachable moment.
I am finding this discussion very interesting. We do indeed need to do a sales job to faculty and administration. NEASC just handed us a peach, by requiring information literacy in both the standard for instruction and the standard for libraries. Everyone needs to be on board, administration, faculty and librarians. I just got an information literacy component included to the UNE Core Curriculum–the faculty voted it in, we developed it in collaboration. I have been after this for years, but the change in the NEASC standard got the job done.
I never meant to suggest that librarians not engage the students, we must. But if they are not getting the message loud and clear from every direction that information literacy skills are critical to their education, they won’t take it seriously.
Looking forward to learning from you about using technology for the common good. cheers, Janice