Working Together – It’s Good For You

March 15, 2007

On Monday evening, I put together (with lots of help of several of my wonderful colleagues from school) all of the concerns and suggestions that students from SCSU put together last weekend on a wiki that I specifically created for this purpose. I added a cover sheet and sent the email off to the ILS department chair. On Tuesday, the chair sent an email acknowledging receipt of documents that I had sent and explaining that she did intend to share the information with the ILS faculty at the meeting that afternoon. She also mentioned some suggested times that might work to get local students to meet with the faculty. One of the other faculty sent me an email on Wednesday with some positive feedback about the document. Given that I had an immediate feeling of “Oh-my-goodness-what-did-I-just-do?” once I emailed the document, this feedback calmed me down considerably.

After a bit of rest from the whole subject, I regrouped a bit. I sent an email to the student listserv today asking students if they were interested in a meeting with the faculty and if so, if one of the suggested meetings times that the chairperson suggested would work. This definitely sparked some serious debate. Distance students feel a bit left out (which I entirely understand and agree with). Others think that meeting with the faculty in late May or over the summer is too late – and that this will let too much time pass between now and then. I’m not entirely sure where all this will go, but I’m trying to give students the opportunity to speak out.

I’m still amazed at how many students have banded together to work together in this project. I’ve been in contact with more SCSU students over the past week than ever before. It has been exhausting in the extreme – and a tad bit stressful. Currently, I’m in the process of cleaning up the wiki that I created so that I can publish the URL to the student listserv. Hopefully, this will encourage continued participation. I’ve also created a new blog that I can use to keep everyone in the MLS program at SCSU informed. Boy, no wonder I’m exhausted!


It Is All Coming Together

March 12, 2007

I’m in the final stages of putting together the document that contains student concerns about online classes at SCSU for the department chair. It has been a rather time consuming task that has had some ups and downs. Some students have expressed concerns about anonymity – not wanting it to be known that they were involved in the process, others thought some of this might have been prompted by one event and others weren’t exactly sure what we were doing. I have been extremely anxious about student reactions to the wiki and incredibly careful to try and not make people uncomfortable (hopefully, I succeeded). Overall, everyone who contacted me with questions, however, was extremely polite and positive – even if they wanted out. But in the end, I worked with about 30 people – 28 of whom are current students and 2 that are recent graduates of the program.

Since I started in the program, I have keenly felt the lack of community for the students. To combat this feeling, I’ve been doing quite a bit to find some way to help students find a sense of camaraderie amidst the impersonal communication that can permeate the online world. Ironically, this entire discussion about these concerns has been a massive exercise in helping to build a sense of community among many of us in the program. I’ve been working more closely with a handful of students – those who took time to edit the wiki that I created, proof read the document that I wrote and took lots of time to say thank you. I would love to say thank you back to them.

Ultimately, whatever the outcome of our attempt to get our voices heard, I would have to say that this effort has been successful. We are working as a community to try and accomplish something positive. We have bonded. And, I have never felt more a part of SCSU than I do today.

I’m So Far Out Of My Comfort Zone

March 10, 2007

Life has been crazy, crazy, crazy. Without quite knowing how this happened, I got myself involved with many MLS students at SCSU who have serious issues and complaints about some of the online classes. Last week, there was a rash of emails on the student listserv with various complaints – most of which were well thought out emails rather than diatribes. I participated in the discussion and tried to promote the group that I created on Facebook in order to find some way for students to openly discuss these issues in a forum without faculty or administrators. Several people joined the group. We had all sorts of issues with people who couldn’t join the group, and it became apparent that this isn’t the best avenue for such an online community.

A bit later, one of my current professors mentioned (in both a class discussion and on the student listserv) that there would be an ILS department faculty meeting coming up – and that the issues raised on the listserv by the students were on the agenda. She suggested that someone might want to email the department chair to ask about avenues for student participation. So, I felt compelled to do something. Without a doubt, the online classes need some improvement (not so much in terms of academic rigor, in my opinion). Complaining about this is easy. Taking a step forward to try and effect change in a positive and constructive manner isn’t so easy. However, this seemed to be an opportunity to get our voices heard – one that shouldn’t be passed up.

So, I stepped forward and emailed the department chair. The chair responded quite quickly and asked for a list of concerns and suggestions that she could distribute to the faculty. I was pleasantly surprised by the email – and really thought that this was something that I could easily do. Of course, I think that the document that I send to the faculty should come from as many students as possible. In the spirit of trying to get input and cooperation from other interested parties, I set up a wiki. I added the list of issues that students had emailed both to the listserv and to me personally. I then emailed the student listserv inviting students to participate. I sent the wiki url and password to students individually who expressed interest. Some students were concerned about faculty and administrators having access. Of course, the wiki is publicly available, but I figured if I didn’t advertise the url access would be somewhat limited.

Response has been great – better than I expected. I have about 25 students who are interested in being a part of this (some anonymously). Several have already edited the wiki and added to the list of concerns, commented, etc. Meanwhile, I’m continuing to monitor the site, add concerns and make other changes. I’ve found some good web sites about support services for distance students and some good historical information about SCSU’s online program that I have added. I’m not entirely sure that I wanted to unofficially head this mission. However, here I am doing it – and ultimately, it is important that distance student (and any taking online classes) feel like they are connected to program and that they have a voice. I hope that this is a good first start in that direction. But, I’m exhausted and I still have lots of work to do to actually put together a coherent and well-worded document.

 How did I become the point person on all of this?????

Some Thoughts On Online Education At The Halfway Point

January 10, 2007

Now that I am half way done with my MLS program at SCSU, I am starting to think about and assess my online-education experiences, I have taken 6 online classes over the past 16 months. To be honest, I have conflicting emotions about the efficacy of online education. Overall, it is incredibly convenient. I have said before that I have no wish to enter into a traditional graduate program. Online classes afford one an extreme amount of freedom in terms of doing work, participating in class, taking finals, etc. Since I work full time and have personal commitments, this is essential – and will make it worth it to put up the problems that exist in the realm of distance education.

In reading general discussions and articles about online education, one of the primary concerns that people express is that students may be able to get away with doing less work. There seem to be concerns about how to assess student work and participation accurately. These concerns make sense. It stands to reason that professors must find new methods of evaluating student performance. After all, class attendance and participation are not nearly as clear cut as in a traditional classroom setting. However, what really bothers me is that I haven’t read anything about concerns about faculty performance in the online setting. The professor can make or break a class. And an online class has no chance to succeed if a faculty member conducts a class as if it were no different from a traditional one and without significant preparation time. Sadly, I feel as if several of my MLS classes have suffered from this problem.

Another big problem with choosing a distance program is the lack of community. Sure there are online discussions for some classes. However, there is no real sense of bonding with fellow students – or no real ability to develop a deep student/advisor relationship. There is no meeting with other students to work on projects, no chance meetings where spontaneous discussions about classroom lectures occur, no face-to-face sessions with one’s advisor, etc. There are very few opportunities to bounce ideas off of people and learn from fellow students. Ironically, I have found that this blog has helped to fill the gap and helped to make me feel a part of a community – maybe not a school community, but a library community. With this sentiment in mind, combined with all of the library 2.0 and social software discussions, I’m convinced that distance students need vibrant and comprehensive online communities that allow for widespread participation.

The bottom line is that based upon my limited experience with distance education, it is still a work in progress – and one that needs a great deal of work. I admit that in my current program, I feel very disconnected from the school, the ILS department and my fellow students – and I’ve discovered that this is really the biggest problem. I am not sure what to do with this, how to approach it or even how to make my voice heard. Who do you talk to? How do you find out the information that you need to know? How do you develop relationships? My recent experiences with one professor in particular have really highlighted how bad the online experience can really be. and how much work really needs to be done. The problem is that when one is so disconnected from the school and its policies and procedures, it is almost impossible to believe that one can effect positive change. Since I’m half way through the program (and will be 3/4 done at the end of this semester), I don’t necessarily have lots of time to try and figure this out.

A caveat:In my opinion, there are some serious problems with the online MLS program at SCSU. I do believe the problems are somewhat inherent to distance education in general. I’m still happy that I choose to attend SCSU – and have had some wonderful experiences that make the awful ones easier to cope with.

How To Deal With Online Finals

December 4, 2006

Online education is extremely interesting and quite challenging. Getting used to taking classes online can be a real transition. Self-discipline is critical to success because one cannot rely upon the professor to provide the motivation to do the work, complete the assignments and do the readings. Sometimes, it is easy to let things go a bit longer than one should – and yes, this definitely happened to me this semester. Getting into this situation requires that one play a great deal of catch up – something that can snowball into an unmanageable mass of work quite quickly. Despite these challenges, I have gotten used to the online environment – and am pretty sure that I really don’t want to go back to traditional classroom education.

One of the most challenging hurdles in an online class is taking a final. Granted, different professors will handle exams differently. In my case, my professor sent an email with the final through the online class management tool. Once we opened the file, we had 75 minutes to complete it and email the file back to him. This is a very nerve-wracking process – and it requires a great deal of preparation. First, one has to tell those that they live with that they need 75 uninterrupted minutes – all together. This sounds like an easy task to complete, but I can tell you it isn’t. While it can be very difficult to force oneself to put the required time in for an online class, it is even more difficult to get those that you live with to understand that you need to spend time studying. I find it easiest to make sure that I have the house to myself in order to take finals.

Once I am assured of having a time period without anyone home, there are several other steps that I take to prepare. I get both the regular phone and my cell phone – while I don’t answer either of them, I do put them next to me with the caller ID clearly visible. If the phone rings, I will be distracted so it is easiest to quickly look to see who is calling. Today, I lucked out and no phones rang. I turn the tv on to a show that I enjoy and that I have seen. I need to have the tv on, but I don’t want the show to be something to which I am inclined to pay attention. I turn the volume down low, mostly so I won’t be distracted by the loud commercials. While I took my final a couple of hours ago, I put an episode of Seinfeld on – a show that I generally know well enough not to have to pay attention to. With those items in place, I get my laptop ready – and plug in the power cord. Using up the power and having to find the cord would cut into my allotted time. It is important to use the facilities – even getting up to go to the bathroom would cause a serious interruption in concentration. I like to have a glass of water handy also. With these items in place, I sit in an upright chair with a lap desk for my laptop. I then take a deep breath and get to work. I make sure to have pen and paper handy if I need to write down notes, etc. I also use the paper to write down the actual time that I opened the test – and the time by which I must have it completed. I like to have a clock close so that I know how much time I have left. This can be tough. The first time I took a final this way, I wasted too much time looking to see what time it was. I’m happy to say that today, I was able to pace myself much better – and I only looked at the clock once every 15 minutes or so.

Before I took the test, I made it a point to tell those people that I am closest to that I was taking a final and would be unavailable for a certain time period (this included people at work). As I mentioned earlier, getting other people to respect the fact that you are taking a class online can be difficult. They don’t see you actually go to class. They see that your schedule can be flexible. Others can make it difficult to set boundaries and actually get your work done.  This morning, I told my husband that I wouldn’t be answering the phone while I was taking the exam, and then I reminded him of this several times during the day – if he had an emergency he could leave a message on our answering machine which I would be able to hear. Fortunately, this precaution wasn’t necessary.

I’m glad to have made it through today’s final exam. I’m always afraid that I won’t be able to finish in the allotted time frame – worried that something will happen to distract me (like losing internet connectivity). I guess I prefer the classes without a final – there is just a little bit less to worry about.

Thinking about the Fall Semester

August 14, 2006

Classes start again in two weeks. I am currently signed up for one class: ILS530 – Information Systems Analysis & Design. Unfortunately, there has been no instructor assigned to the class – which pretty much means there is no information about books for the class. This reinforces the issue that getting books is one of the biggest problems in online classes. I don’t care that there is no instructor set for the class yet. I don’t care that the instructor chooses the texts. Schools need to deal with these issues in a better way. Distance students need a decent time interval in order to acquire materials and have them mailed. I’m tempted to drop the class because of this issue.

I’m also thinking about adding a second class – probably ILS565 – Library Management. This class is taught by a professor that I have taken before – and really liked the way he handled the online environment. I think taking a class witha professor that I have faith in might help to get me back into a good place as far as school is concerned. And as an added bonus, the text for this is already listed. If I add a second class, I will be 1/2 way done with the program. That sounds wonderful!!!!!

My School Experience in Retrospect

August 9, 2006

The summer semester is over – all of my work is done. I am now starting to think not just about my most recent class, but my entire experience in school (now that I am officially 1/3 of the way through the program). I was rereading some of my earlier posts conerning my experiences about online classes to remind myself about where my thoughts have been. Overall, I’m still happy with my choice to attend SCSU as a distance student. But, I haven’t necessarily been getting all that I would like out of the program. Is this because of the program itself or the specific classes that I have found lacking (which isn’t all of them)? Is it because I’m not engaged enough in the process or am I not being engaged? Are online classes by nature less engaging given the physical distance that may separate the students from the campus? Can distance students expect to form some sort of bond with their classmates, their professor or with their schools? Are colleges willing to work to allow this type of community to develop? What would be the best way to allow such relationships to develop? Can online students ever be as active within the school community as traditional students? Would they even want to be (would I want to be)?

Given that I am a pretty quiet person, I didn’t really think that the lack of community or the lack of relationships with other students would bother me – or that I would miss it. But, I definitely do. This past semester, many of those of us in the class were extremely unsure about the class, the assignments, the professor, etc. In a traditional setting, I think we all would have discussed it more – and by discussing it would have felt better about things. That is fairly difficult to do online. There was some discussion. However, all discussions that take place in a course place are accessible by the professor. I think this hampers the discussions that do take place. In my opinion, this inhibits people from sharing anything or discussing anything that could be construed as critical or negative. I know I often refrain from discussing things because I feel as if it could impact my grade.

Learning online is a very different experience. It is very hard to find one’s place (well, I’m finding it hard). Despite this, it is extremely convenient. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to fit a traditional program into my life at this point. Obviously there are trade offs. However, I do think that more is possible – I’m just not sure how to go about getting more.