What Is The Value In An LIS Technology Course

As a part-time library science educator I pay attention to trends in LIS education. A notable one is the increase in courses that spend an entire semester introducing students to web 2.0 and other trend technologies. I ask ACRLog readers, many of whom are the future employers of LIS students, if this seems like a good idea to you. A typical LIS student gets to take 12 courses, maybe fewer if he or she receives field experience credit. What is the value for you in having your future employees spending 12 to 16 weeks learning how to create and use blogs, wikis, social networks and podcasts? This may be one of those “it depends” type questions as in it depends what is really being learned and how will it be applied in the workplace.

Now maybe I’m being narrow-minded here. Yes, right now these technologies are all the rage, and you could take the perspective that the courses are focusing on teaching students to be risk takers who can experiment, take chances, exploit new technology, etc. All good lessons indeed. But does that require a semester long course? Could a week dedicated to the topic of hot new technologies communicate the same information, especially in the context of a broader course about developing skills that will allow for constant adaptation to the latest technologies. Are there better ways to ingrain these desirable skills in our LIS students?

Personally, I’d much rather see more LIS programs introducing instructional design courses that would give students a far more powerful understanding of how and why to incorporate technology into practice – and knowing when it is and isn’t appropriate based on field assessment. This approach would be far more likely to give our future employees a theoretical foundation that informs their practice and pedagogy, and which provides them with a skill that can be applied to an endless number of technology innovations over the course of their careers. As the use of educational technology ramps up in higher education, those entering academic librarianship today need to think of themselves not simply as librarians using technology to promote information storage and retrieval, but as learning technologists who apply technology to help faculty and students achieve academic success.

The current web 2.0 technologies will no doubt be bypassed by disruptive new technologies before we know it, and then what will our library 2.0 savvy students be left with from these courses. Put another way, are you still using those skills you learned in that course you took on putting cd-roms and laserdisks to practice in libraries? On the other hand, I suspect you learned how to search DIALOG. As an academic librarian you probably don’t use that system anymore, but you do make regular use of all the skills you developed related to online information retrieval. It was the theory that informs your practice. Those are the types of courses we need, the ones that teach an understanding of the practice of academic librarianship that will be of value to students in a landscape of shifting technology and user expectations.

19 thoughts on “What Is The Value In An LIS Technology Course

  1. I work in an academic environment and I find that students expect me to know as much and more about these tools (blogs, etc.). The lines are very blurred between a librarian and a computer teacher these days. A certain amount of technological education is necessary for the librarian, and with “new” internet tools showing up almost every day, it becomes difficult for us to keep up. It isn’t only the expectations of our employer, but also the expectations of the clients we have to worry about.

  2. Taking a (quarter)-long course on Twitter would beat taking it on Blackboard.

    Blackboard’s widespread popularity, despite a user experience that’s hideous even by Web 1.0 standards, highlights the problems and possibility inherent in Steven’s suggestion. It’s not clear that the people who think Blackboard is a good idea are ideal candidates to select instructors to teach instructional design classes or classes dedicated to wikis, blogs, social networks, etc.

    On the other hand, I suspect that someone qualified to teach instructional design would do a bang-up job of teaching a Web 2.0 course. And anyone who really gets Web 2.0 well enough to teach a course on it would likely end up teaching students a whole lot about instructional design.

  3. I would rather see the tools integrated into assignments in other classes, along with the traditional things. Instead of writing a paper in one class, post a series of blog entries, and require comments from/to classmates. Instead of a group presentation in another class, make a wiki. (I also would like to see “memo to supervisor” and “grant application” as forms assignments could take as well, if they aren’t already).

    I don’t know that teaching how to use the tools should take up too much class time, any more than teaching how to write a research paper does. Workshops and drop-in assistance seem more appropriate to me.

    I think there is definitely a place for the theory behind the tools, as you say, and some use of the tools is appropriate for grasping that theory. Description and classification courses should include a foray into tagging and folksonomies, comparing and contrasting those to controlled vocabularies and other aspects of traditional cataloging. Reference classes should dig into the Wikipedia vs. traditional encyclopedia debate. Etc.

  4. I agree with Mark. I think the best way to learn about these things is by using them in other classes – I think you get a better sense of what a blog or wiki does or doesn’t lend itself to after you’ve used it to support something else you’re doing for a few weeks. That context is important. Naturally, some technologies might be harder to integrate than others, and I think that’s a good thing. It points to the wide variety of usefulness that each of these things have, and I think you lose some of that in a course that’s focused entirely on the technology.

    I think that short, one-shot workshops are the best way to get started with some of these technologies — you get enough info to have a basic understanding of the service, and can move forward and explore it at your own pace, for your own needs. That said, I ran just such a workshop series at Simmons, so I might be biased. ;)

  5. I graduated just two years ago, in 2006, and I’m so glad my program (U of North Carolina) made me take a technology class.

    At the time we did basics like simple HTML, style sheets, databases, some unix, XHTML, some unix, etc. It gave me a great foundation to become a more confident learner of even newer technologies (some HTML really helps when you’re blogging or wiki-ing). I wasn’t the only new LS student not up-to-speed, and I’m sure that’s true today.

    A wise librarian once commented that it’s not important that librarians know any specific technology. What’s important is that we’re willing to dive in and learn the new stuff that comes along. That class helped me do that. And, by the way, I did not take DIALOG.

    Frankly, I think we could use more librarians comfortable with disruptive technologies.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience Joan. However I’d make a distinction between your course – which covered some basic and core technologies – and one dedicated to trend technology. I wouldn’t expect an LIS student to learn XML, unix, etc on your own, and we need grads who can jump in and feel comfortable editing a web page or contributing to a database. If you can master those skills then you won’t need a course or workshop to figure out some of these low-threshold technologies – you’ll be able to figure it out on your own and develop ways to apply it in a library setting.

  7. Steven, can you document this trend? I’d like to see some syllabuses of Web 2.0 library school courses. The way you present it, I agree with you, but I wonder if I would feel differently if I saw what these courses actually covered.

  8. I think the best mode of instruction depends on the student. I’m an MLS student nearing the end of my 12 courses, but I was a software engineer in my previous life, so I have a fearless attitude about learning new software applications. I would be bored senseless if I had to take an entire semester of “Web 2.0,” but other students coming from a different background might not be. I had an on-line reference class (that is, the class was on-line) in which a class wiki was put to good use. I would love to take an instructional design class that incorporated the use of blogs and wikis, Moodle, etc. My school uses WebCT. I’ve seen some improvements to WebCT over the last 2 years, but it still doesn’t do anything that couldn’t be done for free using Web 2.0 tools and free/open source software.

  9. A semester long technology-oriented course should be considered an absolute necessity for LIS students. That is not to say that course should focus on the hot new 2.0 trends. What students should be learning is web design basics, information about how networks and servers work, how ILSes work, how databases work generally, and perhaps even some simple programming knowledge (what are variables and functions and how does it all fit together). i think it’s appalling how few LIS students graduate with advanced technology skills, which are so key! I could care less if a student knows how to blog or twitter specifically, because once they have an excellent foundation, they’ll be able to figure out whatever new trends come along on their own.

  10. When I was in library school I would have liked a course that taught me how to distinguish between technology trends and technology fads.

    In fact, I’d still like to take a course that would teach me that.

  11. Shouldn’t a technology course, whether on “fad” technology or “core” technology, however you define those, also incorporate instructional design components? What would be the pedagogical or service purpose of Twitter in a library? Who is the audience? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Twitter for this purpose, especially compared to whatever is serving the purpose now, if anything? What’s the learning curve? Etc.

    A “fad” technology course could serve the excellent goal of learning how to evaluate technologies for your own library’s purposes. Is Twitter right for us, now?

  12. I never felt that high schools should be teaching _The Lord of the Rings_. Isn’t that something students do on their own time? I’m an MLS student now and feel the same way about web 2.0 courses. The program I chose had the basics of library science. As I’ve become more interested in the field, I’ve gotten more involved; reading blogs and trying out what they suggest, attending virtual conferences and springboard events, reading library science material that interests me, taking continuing education classes while I’m still in school. Shouldn’t we _know_ the basics before we get involved with the trends? Won’t I be better able to handle the trends because I’ve learned the basics? Sorry, I just don’t think web 2.0 and gaming are classroom material. That doesn’t mean don’t take courses about them, just not in those precious 12 classes of an MLS program.

  13. Interestingly, I’m currently taking a Web 2.0 class but I’m a practicing librarian and this is an 8 contact hour CE course offered at a distance. I think doing it as a CE workshop, or even a 1-credit special offering, is an utterly appropriate way to teach Web 2.0. But a 3-credit graduate offering? Hmmm…

  14. I am an Adjunct at Kent State SLIS (http://www.slis.kent.edu/) and teach a workshop on web 2.0 in libraries called Using Web 2.0 Principles to Become Librarian 2.0. It is a 2-day workshop and is hands-on to give everyone a chance to play and learn.

    Kent State also has a core course called INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY FOR LIBRARY AND INFORMATION PROFESSIONALS. It covers everything as each week covers something new. You might be doing a little html one week, web 2.0 another, or databases the next week. It is to be an overview of anything that librarians might experience.

    Here is the description:
    Provides basic information technology concepts and skills necessary for library and information professionals. Topics include computer hardware and software basics; operating systems; file management; software installation and configuration; basic PC applications; information systems concepts, development, and evaluation; search skills; Internet and web concepts, tools, and applications; emerging technologies and tools.

  15. Funny, I’m just preparing a section for my “Digital Information Services & Providers” class at Simmons GSLIS on this topic. I’m going to show them *some* social networking trends (Twitter, podcasts, blogs), and summarize some of LITA’s Top Tech Trends … but that’s not the focus of this lecture.

    Instead, I incorporate Web 2.0 material into my class (they annotate databases on a wiki, for instance, and use del.icio.us / Google docs and other social tools to collaborate on their major class project).

    I’m going to start this lecture by describing the Learning 2.0 teaching trend that’s going around (tm Helene Blowers) — and using that as the touchstone for the class. I’ll talk about some of the Top Tech Trends as they apply to reference, and encourage them to stay aware of the Top Tech Trends themselves in the future.

    They want to see the hot new stuff, but I’m going to couch the demonstrations in terms of how to learn new stuff, how to keep up, and how to share their knowledge with their future colleagues / librarians.

    I *don’t* think that this trendy stuff should be taught as a full course in LIS, though some basic tech skills (html, networking basics, etc.) are very important.

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