Vol. 16 : No. 9< >
Editorís Note: Dr. Bibb shares his extensive background and experience in research and in providing complex library support to distance learning students. This model is well worth study as distance learning academic programs continue to expand, both disciplines and distance.
Distance Education: A Model for Providing Services and Bibliographic Instruction
David Darryl Bibb
The author discusses how Kent Library of Southeast Missouri State University is supporting distance education. The article includes information on how the library has responded to the needs of its students through the innovative use of technology and other services.
Distance education is hardly a new development. It has been around in one form or another for centuries, and its sources and benefits are many and varied. Early scholars wrote letters back and forth to share their discoveries and thoughts. As time progressed, these letters were organized into nascent journals - and what is a journal but a method of distance education?
Differences between current distance courses and those of the past are not only evidenced in the way students access their "classroom," but also in the way they gather the research materials they need for assignments. The advent of the full-text database has meant that students do not have to drive two hours to a university in order to spend the better part of a day finding and copying an article. They can now do much of their research through their computer and print out the text of many of the articles they need. This blessing can be a problem as well, because students who no longer drive to the university library also do not have direct contact with the university's reference librarians. It is difficult enough to get students to request help from the reference desk when they are on campus, but the situation is compounded when the student is an off-campus learner. While an off-campus student most certainly has e-mail and telephone access to the reference department one cannot physically observe that they need assistance and it is a greater challenge to get them to actually contact the library. Therefore we, as librarians, must develop support mechanisms to ensure that our latest crop of distance students learns proper research strategies. At Southeast Missouri State University, we have taken a number of steps to create such mechanisms. Our goal is to afford distance students, as much as possible, the same access to both classroom instruction and library materials as on-campus students receive.
Southeast Missouri State University is a school with approximately 9,000 students. The school has a number of cooperative programs with area community colleges, dual-credit programs in the area high schools, Web-based classes, Internet television courses and four area higher education centers across the region. Altogether the university serves 1900 dual credit and distance students.
Our journal databases are available through a proxy server (a computer that stands between the user and a vendor's computers, enabling users to be verified for access) that allows distance students to retrieve materials. Full and partially full-text databases deliver research directly to the student. Two years ago the number of databases offered by the library was approximately 30; now it numbers more than 80.
Moreover, we provide a way for distance students to determine what journals are available and whether or not they appear in a full-text database. Karl Suhr, our Electronic Resources Librarian, developed a program that enables users to determine if the library owns a hard copy of a particular journal, or if it is available on-line in a full-text format and, if so, in which database or databases it is located. (Suhr, 2001) The student need only type in a word from the title of the journal on the search form and the program generates a list of all titles containing that word. The journal's ISSN, which database(s) (if any) contain the journal, the dates of coverage, whether or not it is peer reviewed, whether it is available in PDF format, and links to the database(s) where the full text article can be found (or to the library catalog if it is not on-line) are given. A search may be carried out in one of two ways: the first only searches titles available in full-text on-line; the second searches for items owned in hard copy in the library. It must be noted that information returned with the first type of journal search is supplied by the database vendor and is sometimes either missing or incorrect. There is currently no listing for titles that are indexed but not available in a full-text version on-line.
Another feature Kent Library provides for students is an on-line interlibrary loan request form. This form can be utilized by both on-campus and off-campus students. Distance students are asked to indicate which center they are attending. For those students not attending classes on the main campus or at a center - for example, students taking Web-based courses - a box is provided permitting them to supply their address so material can be mailed directly to them.
Furthermore, all students are able to contact a reference librarian via a Web-based e-mail form. There is a similar form which allows patrons to e-mail the Distance Education Librarian.. These forms are used extensively by patrons and do not require the student's PC to have an e-mail client configured. The completed form is e-mailed through a script file on the libraryís Web server.
As Distance Education Librarian, I have designed a Web page for students offering a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list, as well as resources and information geared to the unique problems of distance students. The FAQ answers questions such as "How do I connect with the proxy server?" and "How can I get a campus e-mail account?"
Students at our distance centers have not been exposed to bibliographic instruction to the same degree as those on the main campus; therefore, I frequently travel to the four area higher education locations to provide bibliographic instruction sessions that are open to all comers. These open bibliographic instruction sessions have been attended by students, faculty, and staff of the centers and have proven useful in developing connections between the centers and the library.
I also make use of other tools to offer bibliographic instruction. I have thought of a number of ways in which technology might be used to support our distance programs. Some of my original ideas, such as streaming video created from videotapes of traditional instruction sessions, proved to be too clumsy or expensive. Development shifted toward PowerPoint presentations with voice-over. There are numerous advantages to using PowerPoint: most people already have PowerPoint on their computer systems, and, if they do not, a free presentation player is available; PowerPoint files can be converted to other formats; and changes can easily be made to slide shows whenever vendors make minor changes to their products. Student response to the PowerPoint slides has been favorable and indicates that the format does deliver effective bibliographic instruction.
The first step in using such a method is to determine what needs to be covered in the presentation. After consulting with colleagues I decided to follow a format similar to that of the "Facilitating Student On-Line Research" workshop which is discussed in more detail below. ProQuest Direct was chosen as the database to use for the presentation, and the voice-over does not, in most cases, read the contents of the slide but rather augments it. As Summers has stated, there are myriad benefits to using audio with video and, by extension, visual cues, because they can "show comparisons of information, and focus a learner's attention visually." (Summers, 2000) The initial section of the slide show emphasizes the differences between the Internet and on-line databases, and challenges viewers to ponder the essential questions a researcher must ask about any Web site: Who?, What?, When?, and Why?
The first consideration should be who made the site and is it a reputable person or group? Is the organization or person listed in the professional literature? Do they provide bibliographic citations and links to other sites, which may indicate the information is reliable?
Related to who built the site is: What is the site about? Some topics adapt to the Web better than others. Does the site effectively weave its content into a coherent form?
The accuracy of a Web page frequently depends upon the timely posting of data, so one must ask: When was the site last updated? Many sites indicate when they were last revised. A site from 1995 will probably not be helpful for information on cutting edge technology or medical issues. On the other hand, a site about the works of Edgar Allen Poe, since he has not written anything lately, is going to age more gracefully.
Finally, one must wonder: Why does the site exist? If it is supporting a political or social cause the information must be examined carefully for errors of omission and distortion. One must also consider whether or not the site is an advertisement, a site designed primarily for sharing snapshots of the kids, or a humorous spoof.
Having examined what questions to ask, the PowerPoint viewer is given a brief discussion of the various top-level domain names currently or soon to be in use. Each domain is described, along with some of the pitfalls that may be encountered. The presentation then takes the patron on a journey though a routine ProQuest search, with each step described as it is encountered. Finally, because it is the nature of these databases to change, most often without warning as ProQuest did at the beginning of the Fall 2001 semester, the PowerPoint presentation must be kept current. Such changes may require a complete rewrite of the presentation, but more often than not updates to certain screen shots and voice-overs are sufficient.
At the end of the presentation, the student is informed that a slide show on advanced search techniques will be available soon. Eventually, as the number of on-line bibliographic instruction sessions builds, the current presentation will be divided into two - one on evaluating Web sites and the other dealing with conducting a basic ProQuest search.
In addition to providing off-campus courses, library access, and other services for students, Southeast Missouri State also assists faculty members through an assortment of programs. Over the last two years Karl Suhr, the Electronic Resources Librarian, and I have conducted instructional sessions thorough the Universityís Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning (CSTL) entitled "Facilitating Student On-Line Research." The official description for the workshop reads:
Having faculty members receive instruction in the differing requirements of on-campus and distance students allows them to better understand the pedagogical needs they must address when designing a Web-based or other distance course.
In conclusion, all of these services provide a well-rounded approach to teaching students from a distance. The offerings described above show that Southeastís program makes many worthwhile services available to its distance students and that it compares favorably with other programs at such schools as the University of Missouri at Columbia in terms of database access, document delivery, and distance service. In fact, UM-C does not allow its students living in central Missouri and taking distance classes to request materials be sent to them; students must physically go to the Columbia campus. On the other hand, Southeast Missouri State University will allow students taking classes from any of the distance centers to have materials delivered directly to them. As with any program there are students who will not make use of the services available to them, but this is also true of on-campus students. As advances in technology progress, and students' needs change, new services will be adopted and older ones will be adapted.
Suhr, K. (2001). Compiling a Collective, Searchable List of Full Text Titles for Multiple Databases. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 5(3), 73-90.
Suhr, K., & Bibb, D. D. (2001, Summer). Facilitating student online research. Workshop presented at the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning Summer Institute, Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, MO.
Summers, L. (2000). Keep online students engaged with Web-based technology. Retrieved January 11, 2001, from http://www.techrepublic.com/printerfriendly.jhtml?id=r00620000809smm01.htm
About the Author:
David Darryl Bibb, MLS, MHAMS, is Distance Education Librarian at the Kent Library, Southeast Missouri State University, One University Plaza, MS4600, Cape Girardeau, MO 63703-5818. Phone: 573-651-2748. email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org