ALCTS Midwinter Symposium

Mike Eisenberg
Speaker Jonathan Grudin. Photo credit: Marty Kurth

Libraries and Online Learning: A Powerful Partnership

by Pamela Bluh, University of Maryland

On Friday, January 25, 2013 a small, enthusiastic group attended the 2013 ALCTS Midwinter Symposium "Libraries and Online Learning" and heard five outstanding presentations on the role of libraries in online learning enterprises. The opening address was delivered by Mike Eisenberg, founding dean of the Information School at the University of Washington, and coauthor of the Big6 Approach to Information Problem-Solving, a widely used information literacy program. Eisenberg set the stage effectively, providing an overview on the basics of online learning, offering some baseline assertions, and concluding with a SWOT analysis identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with which online learning must contend.

Karl Nelson, director of the Digital Learning Department for the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, discussed the role of online learning in the K–12 sector. He was responsible for developing the criteria schools must follow to obtain approval for online courses. However, he was chagrined to discover that none of the 54 criteria refer directly to libraries or librarians—a situation that he indicated would be rectified as the criteria are revised.

In the higher-education sector, the role of the librarian in online learning is somewhat more well-defined, according to Meredith Farkas, head of instructional services at Portland State University. Librarians are beginning to be embedded (the new buzzword) in online learning at the macro, micro, and even the molecular (her word) levels, depending on the degree of collaboration that is desired by the instructor and required by the students.

In the public library setting, Felix Reyes, public instruction specialist in the Virtual Library Services Department at King County (Washington) Library System described the system’s strategy for incorporating online learning into the library’s instructional programs. By their nature, public libraries support a multi-faceted clientele with diverse needs. As a result, the library must provide support for online learning in the library, virtually, and beyond the building. This combination allows the library to reach the widest audience possible.

The symposium’s final speaker, Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft, entertained and stimulated the attendees with his observations about online learning. From his vantage point as a technologist, he has been watching, as well as experiencing the rapid changes to online learning and he believes that librarians possess the organizational skills to support successful online learning environments.

A formal participation activity was transformed into lively Q&A sessions during which audience members expressed some passionate points of view. To give the topic of online learning greater exposure, ALCTS plans to invite the symposium speakers to reprise their presentations for a wider audience in the months ahead.