Going the Distance

September 23, 2009

The future of online learning is now, says Kenneth E. Hartman, academic director for Drexel University Online and chairman of National Distance Learning Week (November 9-13). His article in this issue makes a compelling case for online education in general and distance learning in particular.

Earlier this year, I taught a one-week summer course in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. When I arrived, SLIS Dean Louise Robbins asked me if I wanted to conduct the course in a traditional classroom or in the computer lab. After one look at the computer lab and one short conversation with the IT person staffing it, I leaped at the chance to use the lab.

While the course, on "writing for the profession," certainly didn't constitute distance education, it was definitely online learning. A class session on blogging? Up on the screen with the Free Range and the Shifted librarians. A session on writing for the web? Up on the screen with www.loc.gov.

Having never taught a library science class before, I was blown away by how well information technology serves the library school curriculum and by how adept the students were at using it. Although I loved interacting with them in person, I also realized that I could have conducted the class from Chicago. Yes, face-to-face interaction is important, but for many entering our profession, the distance ed option is the difference between getting the degree or not.
Elsewhere in this issue, two ALA Editions authors offer a sneak preview of forthcoming books: Virginia A. Walter argues for children's librarians to embrace computer and video games, along with other aspects of computer literacy, with a 21st-century interpretation of what it means to read. And Anne Behler examines the latest enhancement to e-books, and posits that their growing user-friendliness has led and will continue to lead to greater marketability and demand.

In addition, Heather Lea Moulaison tells the story of how as a Fulbright scholar in Morocco she put Facebook to work, using social networking to supplement F2F contact in class throughout an academic year. At first imagining that she would use Facebook primarily to keep in touch with friends, she found instead that it was a valuable tool for cultivating connections with future information professionals during her time abroad. Distance education of another sort.
Also in this issue, a report on the IFLA conference in Milan; a tribute to legendary librarian Al Trezza; and an introduction to the new and growing @ your library website for the general public, with suggestions for how to use it to raise public awareness of library services, especially during this time of increasing demand and decreasing funds. Lastly, go to the job listings on page 77 and then check out the new face of JobLIST at joblist.ala.org.