The dividing line…

November 14, 2007

I started to respond to Lauren’s post on teaching technologies and her question of “Where is the dividing line between distance and traditional learning?” My response got so long, though, I thought I’d add it up here to see about continuing this conversation.

I don’t think there is much of a difference anymore. In my experiences, the main differences came from the library itself–my last job would let me ship materials to distance students, but not “local” ones, and when my position was created that meant that the students had a name–a personal connection to someone in the library who could help. That turned out to often mean I would be helping them with things beyond just the library, i.e., letting them know who to reach for other university needs. But is that really outside our “domain”? Do we stop just at library topics? I think, in some ways, I became an ambassador of sorts for the university as a whole, someone they felt they could just pick up the phone or send an IM/e-mail and get help.

Of course, the other main difference is with those students who study at off-campus locations, or in a distance program that never meets on campus. They often, in my experience, felt disconnected from the university and unaware of the amount of support they could get. Often, I found that until I did an on-site visit with them at their location (when possible), they didn’t really work with any thought to the library or the university. After that, though, I’d hear from them regularly.

I found that it was key to get the faculty aware of our support to be able to share that early on, particularly for those times I wouldn’t be able to meet students in person. I had several departments who invited me to come and present on our services at orientations for online programs that began with a one-week stay on campus before the program began. And others who made sure to include my contact info in their online courses, often referring their students to me.

Probably one of the biggest issues, though, was that after I began, many of our library staff stopped helping distance students and would just refer them to me. So even if the divide is getting blurred, at least for our users, do our non-distance-librarian colleagues feel that same way? Or by naming it, do we become more divisive with our support?

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