I’m Ready To Throw In The Towel

I’ve spent a bit of time detailing some efforts that I have made in order to get some type of discussion started at between the ILS department and online students at SCSU – hoping to address some issues that exist with the distance program. This effort began in mid-March with a letter that I wrote to the ILS department chair accompanied by a list of concerns that I compiled with the help of about 50-60 students (and alums, I believe). While the department chair was responsive and open to input, my efforts have seriously led to naught. Ok, that isn’t totally true, I think I ticked some people off along the way despite the fact that this wasn’t my goal at all. I also think that I may have inadvertantly started a schism between online students and the faculty/administration. Anyway, after I emailed the department chair and was disappointed to not get a formal response from the ILS department, I sent an email with my concerns to the dean of the ILS school. I sent the first email on May 24th. After waiting way too long, I followed up with my advisor and decided to send another email to the dean. I sent this second email on July 17th. There has been no response from the dean – NOTHING. Throughout all of this, I have been in contact with various students in the program who wanted to know if there had been any reaction. A couple of students are extremely close to leaving the program due to the lack of response.

At this point, I am extremely frustrated and even a bit angry over the relative lack of response or interest from the school as a whole. The sad part is that this situation now overshadows almost everything else from my educational experience at Southern. Honestly, I will not remember my time at Southern fondly. There will be some fond memories – some people that I will feel honored to have met and a few professors with whom I will have been very fortunate to study. However, I will for the most part remember that there were serious problems with the distance program and a deep reluctance on the part of the school to deal with them. I don’t know why there is such reluctance – maybe I approached this all wrong – maybe the school just isn’t ready – maybe there is too much else going on – maybe there are many overlapping reasons. It doesn’t really matter what the reason, there are some serious problems with the distance MLS program from the student viewpoint – and I think that the unwillingness to even discuss it is THE ultimate example of how problematic things are.

Having said that, I must say that the program is not unfixable nor is it inherently bad. When I graduate, I will have received a decent library school education – one for which I did not go into debt. This is a highly important to me. My experience will have been successful, just lacking something that could have made it fulfilling. My point in writing this post is not necessarily to discourage people from going to Southern. Obviously, there is a contingent of unhappy students. However, I can understand there are valid reasons for people to go to Southern – and I wouldn’t argue about the validity of the program. The issues are predominately about support services for distance/online students and procedures for these classes.

I’m not sure where to go or what to do next. The next person to go to logically is the dean of the graduate school – and I’m not sure that I want to do this. I’ve also thought about emailing the list of students that I worked with initially to develop the list of concerns that we sent to the ILS department chair to see if there is still interest in pursuing this topic. However, a part of me just wants to melt away into the background, finish my last two classes and graduate with minimum fuss. I admit that this option feels wrong, but I may have pushed as far I can.

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13 Responses to I’m Ready To Throw In The Towel

  1. Mark says:

    Jennifer, keep your head up! You have done important work on this; work that needed doing.

    “I don’t know why there is such reluctance – maybe I approached this all wrong – maybe the school just isn’t ready – maybe there is too much else going on – maybe there are many overlapping reasons.”

    First off, please remove yourself from that 2nd clause. There may have been other ways to approach it, but it seems from this distance that “they” just prefer that it isn’t approached at all, and it isn’t like you did something completely crazy. You followed what seems to be the natural protocol.

    And I in no way mean to disparage your program–I have no doubt they do many things right and that there are good people there, but … regarding that business of maybe not being ready, or even too much going on, too freaking bad!! They have a distance program and they are accepting money from students on the pretense that they will provide a decent education for that money and some effort on the students’ parts.

    A large number of the students in said distance program have issues with the way it is working. For that reason alone they need to be ready and to make time!

    Maybe it is time for you to bow out. Perhaps more of the students need to band together and present more of a united front; leaving this sort of work to one spokesperson is often not a good idea. Perhaps the school really isn’t ready to deal with it–shame on them if that’s the case–and it is time to let it ripen some more. I only hope that if students do leave over this that they make it extremely explicit as to why they are leaving. Slinking off quietly will not help anyone else.

    I know this has been tough for you. Only you can decide what the next step is for yourself. Whatever happens–and I hope the program wakes up and that more students actively speak up–I want to say that I am proud of you for what you have done. I realize that probably doesn’t mean a hill of beans, nor should it, but I am.

  2. diane says:

    Jennifer,

    You did more that most people would have done in trying to solve a problem. Kudos to you!

    As far as change goes, unfortunately what you’ve encountered happens with alarming frequency in education: top down management with administrators pursuing their own agendas and disregarding their “audience”, whether it be students or faculty members.

    Keep this in mind as you leave grad school and enter the “real” world.

  3. It’s sad that this seems to be standard protocol in many distance programs. It reminds me that school is a business, and unless the business suffers (i.e. people aren’t enrolling) they don’t have much incentive to improve.

    Have you ever read Dorothea Salo’s experiences with grad school? (http://yarinareth.net/Dorothea/gradsch/) The tales of administrative ineptitude astound me. It’s not just distance programs that have problems, but it’s harder for the student in a distance program, because they can’t march into an office and demand to talk to someone.

    It’s good that you’re almost done. You’ve done what you can- I think Mark is right that more students will need to step forward if progress is to be made.

  4. Meredith says:

    I feel just awful that the Dean never responded to your concerns. Honestly, how do they expect their students to go out and provide good user-centered service if they don’t model that behavior themselves? I spoke to a colleague who just graduated from the LEEP program at UIUC and he said that their Associate Dean was their go-to person for distance learning issues and she was notorious for answering e-mails within 5 minutes ON A SUNDAY! What you’re describing is not ok. And there is no explanation that makes it ok.

    Being the agitator I am, I personally would take this up the chain to the Dean of the Graduate school, but I understand why you might feel reluctant to do that. It is absolutely not acceptable to not respond to a tuition-paying student who has concerns about the program. They should know that this is how the ILS program is treating their students. If it’s gotten to the point where students are thinking of leaving the program, they REALLY should know.

    Good luck, Jennifer. I feel awful that you will have to remember your graduate school experience like this. At the very least, you can feel good about the fact that you tried to make a difference, to make the voices of distance learners heard.

  5. Joe says:

    As someone considering a degree in library science via an online program, I would like you to perhaps post on what problems exist and how they relate in a larger sense to the problem of educating librarians in cyberspace. I’m very familiar with online courses and have taken many over the years. I always feel the instructor makes the course. I’m just wondering about the problems of library education in online environments.

  6. [...] Check out the assertive (and admirable) way that Jennifer tried to confront the issues she and other students had with the distance learning program at the Information and Library Science Department at Southern Connecticut State University. I remember encouraging her to take a leadership position in helping to give voice to the dissatisfaction of her classmates and herself. And I was dismayed to hear how it all turned out: This effort began in mid-March with a letter that I wrote to the ILS department chair accompanied by a list of concerns that I compiled with the help of about 50-60 students (and alums, I believe). While the department chair was responsive and open to input, my efforts have seriously led to naught. Ok, that isn’t totally true, I think I ticked some people off along the way despite the fact that this wasn’t my goal at all. I also think that I may have inadvertantly started a schism between online students and the faculty/administration. Anyway, after I emailed the department chair and was disappointed to not get a formal response from the ILS department, I sent an email with my concerns to the dean of the ILS school. I sent the first email on May 24th. After waiting way too long, I followed up with my advisor and decided to send another email to the dean. I sent this second email on July 17th. There has been no response from the dean – NOTHING. Throughout all of this, I have been in contact with various students in the program who wanted to know if there had been any reaction. A couple of students are extremely close to leaving the program due to the lack of response. [...]

  7. I am really shocked, too, at the behavior here. Meredith has it right — take it on up. You have a right to be answered. Period. And if worse comes to worse, the University of Alabama has a kick butt online program. The director and professors are nice, genuine folks who care. And they actually email people back! Good luck. Keep your chin up. –Rhonda

  8. Jennifer says:

    Mark, thanks so much for your encouraging words. Believe me your words of encouragement do help!

    Diane, I have definitely experienced this type of thing at other educational institutions. I know how difficult it can be to try and affect change – very frustrating!!!!!

    Karin, I have indeed read about Dorothea Salo’s experiences in grad school. I actually was in PhD program in history many years ago – and had similar type experiences. I, walked away fairly early on, since it became apparent pretty quickly that I wasn’t cut out for it. Fortunately, graduate school this time around is much more pleasant – despite the problems.

    The whole school as business thing needs more exploration. I’ve read that distance programs need to be run more like businesses than tranditional programs – it is far easier for students to choose different online programs if they aren’t happy or don’t get the service they need. Yet, I was given a slight reprimand at one point during this process because education isn’t really a business and students can’t expect it to be so – i.e. students can’t demand things because they pay tuition. I’ve tried to forget this one because it has so little foundation.

    Thanks Meredith!! I am utterly amazed at the lack of response also. I can’t comprehend it.

    Joe, I’m trying to put together a post addressing your questions. The short answer is that I don’t necessarily think that needs in an online library program would be much different than those in other programs. I have only taken online classes in library science – so this is the only foundation on which my comments are built.

    Hi Rhonda! Thanks for the information. I really enjoy hearing about other programs – and experiences of others.

  9. [...] Education In The Online Environment In a comment on my I’m Ready To Throw In The Towel post, Joe wrote: As someone considering a degree in library science via an online program, I would [...]

  10. Toni says:

    There are a few stellar professors in the MLS program at Southern who made my distance learning experience worth the frustration of other professors’ lack of communication. I was pleased to see you take the lead and create the wiki in which our classmates could organize and express our shared concerns to the administration.

    Online learning requires self-direction and self-discipline, but no distance learning program should expect their students to be entirely self-sufficient and independent. Online students require different support. Some Southern faculty members recognize that and (like Meredith’s colleague) will respond within minutes to email messages (some seemingly at any hour of the day). Online students log into class and email several times a day, but some professors don’t seem to even sign in once a week. I’d like those professors to take a mandatory class with their colleagues who are responsive, communicative, and make online learning a rich and rewarding experience, not just an online repository of lecture notes where instructors do not participate in discussions.

    What a great capstone project this would be: to compare student satisfaction in distance learning programs.

  11. Re: Library school as business- I find it frustrating that you can’t just pick up and transfer to another school if you’re dissatisfied. At my school, I can only transfer in six credits. Some schools allow as many as twelve, but that still means that by the time you’ve figured out a program sucks, your choices are limited as to where else you can take your credits. I really lucked out in finding a good school (mostly due to the amazing local coordinator/teacher we have).

  12. Jennifer says:

    I definitely agree. One of the most frustrating things about going to school is the application process. I do understand it, but would love to see it easier and more flexible!

    Toni, you are so right about such a study for a capstone experience. Sadly, I’m too close to this whole thing to be willing to do it. Hopefully, some one will.

  13. [...] by comments on the web, my husband’s experiences are not unique- distance education is truly bad a lot of [...]

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