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The Future of GSLIS: Blended and Online Courses

You haven't heard from me in a long while because I've been in class every day for the past three weeks. No, I am not taking more than my usual part time load. However, I am taking my first online class this semester. The online class is taking up most of my time. I spend a good hour every day following my class discussion on twitter. Check us out #lis460. I also listen to podcasts from my professor, the ever so talented Linda Braun. After the podcast for the week is over I watch her explain a new trend in social media through multiple screencasts on youtube. I then do my readings. Thankfully they are more relevant than a textbook on reserve at Beatley; they are blog posts or magazine articles from the LIS, technology or education field. I then take all of this knowledge and discuss it with my group on a collaborative google doc. There are of course other projects, but that is the bare bones of what we do every week.

I used to luxuriate in the "one day of Simmons" marathon. I would spend just one day a week soaking up LIS knowledge in a lecture style class. Do some homework at the library or read and then check my LIS brain at the door to the parking garage because I was DONE. D-O-N-E. I really didn't want to be bothered with having to THINK or apply what I'd just read about to my work. You're rolling your eyes because deep down you know you've done just that at some point in your time at GSLIS. I don't blame you. I just want to say that I was a naysayer of online classes because I thought I would never get as good of an education without a flesh and blood professor standing in front of me. This is simply not true. This is the most intense course I have ever taken. I have never been so challenged.

I can't sit around spending too much time on this post because at this very moment I'm thinking about the qualities that define a great app and the benefits of BYOD (bring your own device) brokered through the school library. My mind is flooded with thoughts. And you know, the more I think about this blog the more I think that maybe a blog is not the best medium for this audience. Maybe what Simmons Snippets really needs is a Tumblr page or a weekly podcast. This is what you want your education to be like: making your brain explode with ideas and applying that electricity to the library where you work.

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There has been a lot of blog talk lately about online classes.  I have taken all three types of classes in my two years here at GSLIS - face-to-face, blended and online. My personal favorite is face-to-face although with a long commute, blended and online can be more convenient.  I love the face-to-face interaction of my traditional classes, but a well-done online or blended class can be just as involved and highly interactive. (See my posts on Saving Kingston and my alternate reality class!)  Any kind of long-distance learning requires one to tap into a different skillset and requires good time management and self-motivation.

As all styles of learning have their benefits, which vary from individual to individual, I am a big fan of trying them all.  I have taken classes on both the Boston and West (South Hadley) campuses, in-person and online.  This semester (my last!), I have added the final GSLIS choice and am taking a class online through the WISE program at Syracuse University. WISE stands for Web-based Information Science Education. It is a cooperative consortium of ALA-accredited Library school programs that opens up even more opportunities for GSLIS students.

There are just too many classes I want to take, many more than my degree requirement. (Thank goodness for post-grad continuing education!) With so many choices here at GSLIS, why look further? I have specific goals I have set for myself to feel prepared for the real world.  WISE is a way for LIS schools to expand their course offerings and share their expertise.  I am taking Library Budgeting, Fundraising and Grant Writing at Syracuse.  The topic is one I covered within my Management class, but this semester-long course allows me to dig deeper, explore further, in a subject that I think will be important for my career.  I am really enjoying the WISE experience, and the interaction with faculty and students in another part of the country has been a great way to round out my education.

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Online Classes : To Overthink or to Not Overthink, That is the Question

Despite the fact that I have been the Facilitator for the Archives Management Cohort Online for almost a year and a half now, I personally have never taken a class online.  I have taken face-to-face classes for almost 20 years, but had my first online class experience happened last Monday when my Management class was held online for Columbus Day. 

We had a fairly "traditional" online class, which required several hours sitting in front of the computer reading through articles, and then watching powerpoints, reading lectures, and participating in discussion activities - a fairly typical week in the life of an online class. 

I cannot speak for the other students, but I for one quite enjoyed the structure of the online class.  It was laid back and didn't require an hour's travel to and from school (if you live around the Boston area, you're familiar with the "reliability" of the green line...), but it was difficult to motivate myself.  While we normally have classes on Monday afternoons, I found myself starting the readings on Monday evenings, and eventually posting my discussion on the Saturday after we would have normally had class - almost a week late! 

In addition to the structure, it was really cool to read everyone's opinions.  I for one am much more comfortable with reading opinions and responding to them - to make sure I say precisely what I mean to say - and is significantly easier than speaking in class.  It was also very interesting to read everyone's opinions. 

Emily Boyd, a fellow blogger, and I were talking about the structure of the online class, and one downfall of the online class that we both felt was that it's difficult to convey meaning in an online format.  This is something I personally struggle with, especially in writing emails - my email may be concise and informative, but is it coming off as harsh and uncompromising?  If I make it too flowery by overemphasizing my respect for the other person's opinion, does my own response get lost?  I can imagine that this issue will become less of a problem in a more practiced and regularly-meeting online classes. 

Overall, I am interested in the concept of the online class, especially one that convenes regularly.  It's a refreshing change of pace from standard face-to-face classes, and one that I will definitely consider pursuing! 

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The Ultimate Group Project: Saving Kingston Part 3

wordle-team.JPGI am recovering from the summer term and the intensity of two classes.  You may have followed our ground-breaking alternate reality game in my online Management class with Mary Wilkins-Jordan.  (See earlier Kingston posts)

As fabulous, dedicated Simmons GSLIS students, we did, indeed, save Kingston and all its libraries!  We battled blizzards, naysayers, and gloomy politicians to raise the level and value of the library and information science industry of our fictitious town.  To do so, we had to be a team, and all flag-waving aside, the collaborative effort was the likes of which I have not seen before in any of my classes.

Early in the term, our professor gave us complete flexibility to work alone or in groups related to our organizations (public, corporate, prison, archives, etc.) or across our base groups (our classes - management, reference, etc.).  She cautioned us, however, that while working alone remained an option, we might need to work in groups in order to accomplish it all in the compressed summer session. I am pretty driven, but she was right. I needed my peers, but not just to get it all done.  I needed their skills, their expertise, and their support.

In the world of our alternate reality game, we watched our point levels rise each week, as we continued to strive for Titanium level through completion of our assignments, projects and challenges. Behind the scenes, however, our groups collaborated, finding ways to offer new insights and perspectives to each other. Our biggest project was writing an actual grant proposal for our chosen library organizations, including not just the idea, but the budget, staffing, marketing and evaluation of our designed projects. Not only did we all team up effectively for our own projects, but we took the time to read those of other Kingston organizations, offering additional resources and ideas.  When I printed off a copy of my team's proposal at home, my husband's jaw dropped when he looked at the document. "You guys did all this in a few weeks?!"  He suddenly knew why he hadn't seen much of me this summer, but truth is, what we achieved together was so much greater than what I could have done alone.

In Kingston, we learned a lot of things, but the biggest takeaway was the value of collaboration.  When it comes to saving libraries, never underestimate the power of a team of librarians.  

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