My Library School Experience: The Bad

 

The Distance Education Infrastructure

After having completed a program online, my thoughts about distance education are rather jumbled. Online classes are highly convenient – and I will be the first to admit that this fact can overshadow the many problems that I think plague distance programs. I have to say that I would not have gotten my MLS if it had not been for the availability of an entirely online program. I do not live close enough to Simmons College or the University of Rhode Island to attend face-to-face classes on either campus. (For reference, I live roughly half way between Boston and Providence. Plenty of people that I know do travel to Boston for school. However, it is not something that I was ever willing to do.) As such, I only considered programs that I could complete online without any type of residency requirement.

While I do not regret having attended SCSU, I do consider the distance education component of the program to be one of the bad parts of my experience. I do not think this is solely an issue at SCSU. I have come to suspect that the types of problems that I had may be inherent to the way that most online programs are conducted.

I plan to dissect the issues that I had with the distance education part of the program in a separate post.

Online Information Systems for Students

One critical issue for distance students is finding out what they need to know when they need to know it. I will be the first to admit that I did take my first class before I was accepted into the program. When I made that choice, I did not expect that I would receive any type of orientation or welcome packet. However, I did have some expectation of this once I was formally accepted into the program. Instead, I received a letter of acceptance, information about filling out my planned program and the contact information for my advisor (which was hands down the most valuable piece of information).

Throughout the course of the program, I was often confused about the graduation requirements, the capstone portfolio, the special project and the planned program. It was never clear where to go to get my questions answered. While I was in the program, the graduation requirements changed. I was unaware to this change for quite some time. Fortunately, the change simplified the course requirements which made following the new guidelines desirable. However, these changes were not publicized. If not for the fact that I made and and effort to keep in touch with my advisor, I would not have known about the changes.

It is important to mention that there was some talk from the ILS department chairperson about trying to institute an orientation for new students. I believe that at the time, it was only for people who could come to campus. I hope that somebody is able to push that idea. I could not continue to discuss with the chairperson because of my frustration with the ILS administration (more on this in the ugly post).

Another major issue when I began the program was the Information and Library Science website. The website was difficult to use; it had broken links; and it did not have a section for the distance students. It was not a good resource for students. I expected that the ILS website would be my primary contact point for all school-related concerns – and that I would be able to use it as a resource to answer the majority of the questions that I would have. This was not the case.

Again, I want to note that the ILS website was redesigned during my time at SCSU. The new site was a definite improvment, and it even included a section dedicated to distance learning. There was an effort made to survey students for input – including distance students – for this redesign. This new site was a definite improvement. It had much more information – and I think it would have made a more positive impact on my educational experience had it been implemented sooner.

Lack of Community Feeling

To this day, I don’t feel any sense of belonging to SCSU. There was never any opportunity to bond with the school in any substantial way. Given that this is my only full experience in a graduate program, I don’t really know whether graduate students develop a sense of loyalty to their school. My intuition tells me that they probably do to some degree. However, I feel a large disconnect to SCSU, the ILS department and its community. I often felt as if the school as a whole did not really care about their distance students (certainly there were individuals who cared, but not the school in general). Sometimes, it seemed that online classes were primarily a way to increase revenue rather than extend the educational mission. The bottom line is that I do not feel any sense of loyalty to SCSU like I do my undergraduate institution. I do not know if the Alumni Relations Department cares or not, but I am highly unlikely to make any monetary contributions.

I doubt that it is easy to work at developing a way for all students to develop some sense of community in the virutal world for a large university. However, in this day in age of social software, social networking sites and Web 2.0, it certainly isn’t a unknown concept. I felt as if the program definitely suffered because there was no way for distance students to interact with those at the physical campus except through email. There was something missing from the overall experience. I attended classes; I did my homework; I interacted with a couple faculty and a couple students; and that is about it. I would have liked to have gotten more from my time at SCSU.

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3 Responses to My Library School Experience: The Bad

  1. […] my educational experience. The first part is broken down into four sections: the great, the good, the bad and the ugly. I can be specific because these posts are mostly written – or at the very least […]

  2. hoo boy. This sounds a lot like my experience:

    http://www.nirak.net/2008/09/12/distance-education-the-bad/

    Like you, I’ve foind that things are changing. My school got a new website, and a new accounting system that is way easier to use than the old one (though students were charged $35 for the privilage).

    Many of the improvements, however, have been student driven. One of my fellow students started a wiki as part of the student association, and the association is reaching out to distance students in other ways as well.

    Like you, I feel little to no loyalty to my school. I too feel there’s something missing from my grad school experience. All this has led me to seriously think about pursuing a career helping distance students.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I have read the post that you linked to – and I do have some more to say about distance education as a whole. I’m glad you made the point about the changes being student driven. I do know that the inclusion of the section for distance learning on SCSU’s ILS page was at the behest of students. The difficulty is finding a way to get a critical mass of students together. I imagine that some people have better luck at doing this than others.

    I definitely gained a better perspective about the expectations of users/students/patrons who are using services – be they library services or college/university services from a distance. There is some serious need for advocates for the distance learning community.

    And, really $35? Yikes!!!

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