Professional Education, Recruitment, and the Online Degree

Library Link of the Day brought me this interesting essay on online degree programs. In it, Karen Glover of Georgia Tech asks why a recent survey of HR professionals showed that they view online degrees as less “credible” than degrees earned through traditional, face-to-face programs. She wonders about this bias, and so would I (although Glover doesn’t say that the survey she cites was of HR professionals in libraries, which seems a significant point to omit). I’ve taught in 2 online MLS programs (Illinois and San Jose State) and have found the majority of my students to be as actively engaged in preparing for a career in libraries as anyone that I knew during my own F2F MLS program at Indiana. Although my perspective on their work is typically limited to what they do for my class, I certainly think that they have the opportunity to receive as good a pre-service professional education as I did (although, as anyone who has read my work knows, I’ve taken issue with a number of aspects of professional education for librarians, in general, and those issues are not any less evident in online degree programs).

Professional education and recruitment into the profession have been identified by ACRL as one of the top issues facing academic librarianship, and there is no question that the availability of online degree programs has opened up the field to people who cannot relocate to one of the cities housing a F2F program, and has opened up opportunities (albeit limited ones) for practicing librarians also not located near one of these programs to take part in LIS education. I know that I would not be at all “concerned” if a candidate for a position at Kansas had completed the ALA-accredited degree through an online program (and I might well be thinking about how that experience could translate into effective delivery of services to faculty and students making use of Blackboard here). Others? Is Glover’s citation of the general study not applicable to the academic library environment, or is this something that needs further research within our own community? Is there any difference between completing one’s pre-service professional education in an online environment vs. completing continuing education (much of which is sponsored by LIS programs and by ACRL) in that same environment?

One thought on “Professional Education, Recruitment, and the Online Degree”

  1. I think it is difficult to generalize about the graduates of online and F2F education. Getting to the heart of whether or not either one is well qualified for a professional position, for me, depends more on the individual. I too have taught LIS courses both online and F2F. How well online works can depend on the subject matter, the student, and the educator. All may be well or poorly suited to online learning. I had students who went well beyond what we covered in class because of their own passion for learning. Other students barely kept up and really should have been in a F2F course. Not that many librarians use DIALOG these days, but I always felt challenged to teach this in an online setting. I could do it because the technology makes it possible, but I never felt the graduates of the online version were as skilled as the ones who took it F2F where I could work with them individually in a hands-on lab setting. Catching searching mistakes and correcting them on the spot is something I can do F2F, not online (no, co-joint searching just doesn’t do the job – not to mention trying to do that with 20 or 25 students). Still a good, motivated learner should come out of online courses with enough of the basics to provide a sufficient foundation for on-the-job learning.

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