Establishing Our Presence in Courseware: Adding Library Services to the Virtual Classroom
Course management systems and software (courseware) are increasingly being used to enhance traditional college courses, yet library resources and services are noticeably missing from this venue. Libraries risk being bypassed by this technology and losing relevance to students and faculty if they do not establish their presence in courseware. Librarians need to be proactive in inserting links to resources and to library assistance within the courseware domain in order to retain visibility, increase relevance with students, and strengthen relationships with faculty
Courseware such as Blackboard, WebCT, and others are increasingly being used by college and university faculty across the country to augment their traditional classroom courses. 1 According to the 2001 National Survey of Information Technology in U.S. Higher Education, nearly one out of every five college courses now makes use of courseware. Also, approximately 70 percent of private universities and 80 percent of public four-year colleges participating in the survey responded that their institution has purchased courseware. 2 Cohen notes that "Though course-management software is generally considered in connection with Web courses and distributed education, such software is actually used most often in traditional courses, to make them Web-assisted." 3
For the most part, unfortunately, academic libraries have been all too absent in the design, development, and implementation of courseware. 4 As a result, faculty do not think of integrating library resources directly into their courseware-enhanced courses. It is possible that faculty (who increasingly make course-related resources--reading and research assignments--available to students through courseware) and students (who use courseware in conjunction with the Web to search for and obtain their course-related materials) may not see the library as the first or even a relevant place to obtain the scholarly resources needed for their courses. Librarians may well find themselves and their services being ignored in a world where library services and resources are not included in the courseware domain.
Academic libraries across the country are becoming increasingly aware that they must be included in the courseware domain in order to further assist faculty and students in locating and accessing appropriate library resources. 5 Long asserts that librarians ". . . need to think hard about what services they wish to deliver to online environments and clearly articulate how they might be accessed from courseware systems." 6 Currently, there is little consensus on how to fit the library into courseware.
In this article, several methods will be outlined by which libraries and librarians can insert themselves into the courseware domain. The focus will exclusively be on courseware used to enhance traditional classes. One broadly defined method, titled Macro-Level Library Courseware Involvement (MaLLCI), entails working with the developers and programmers of courseware to integrate a generic, global library presence into the software. Another method, titled Micro-Level Library Courseware Involvement (MiLLCI), involves individual librarians teaming up with faculty as consultants to participate in developing a customized library instruction and resource component for the courseware-enhanced courses.
Benefits of Courseware
It is important to understand some of the tools and benefits that courseware offers to the faculty and students who use it. This will enable a better understanding of the methods by which libraries can insert their presence and services into the courseware domain. There are many different types of course-management software systems available. However, most courseware share a certain core set of basic features, including powerful resource sharing, communication, and assessment tools. Dabbage, Bannan-Ritland, and Silc assert that the "use of these features can promote collaborative learning, enhance critical thinking skills, and give every student an equal opportunity to participate in classroom discussions." 7
Resource Sharing Tools
At a bare minimum, courseware resource sharing tools allow students and instructors to upload and make available various types of files (such as word processing, spreadsheet, and database), create hypertext links to internal and external Web pages, and easily create simple Web pages. One of the advantages that this offers students is the ability to access much of their course content from one Web location completely independent of, and agree able to, both their physical location and schedules. Also, students are able to electronically submit their assignments to their instructors, who can then grade and return the work along with comments for the students to read. The advantages that this offers the instructor include both the ability to extend the classroom (independent of time and location) and the ability to collect and archive class assignments, activities, and resources.
Courseware communication tools allow students and instructors to e-mail directly from their courseware domain, create asynchronous threaded message boards/discussions lists, and create synchronous real-time chat forums. One of the advantages that this offers the students is the ability to communicate with their peers and instructor independent of both time and location from any computer connected to the Internet. Advantages to the instructor are the ability to further class discussions by allowing shy students to contribute more, as well as to allow discussions to continue outside of the physical space and time limit of the classroom. Additionally, students and instructors can mutually benefit from such courseware features as the threaded message boards and discussions lists, which allow one student to ask a question and the entire class to view the archived question and its answer, thus allowing the instructor to provide one answer for the entire class.
Courseware assessment tools allow instructors to create simple, auto-marked Web quizzes and tests, create auto-marked Web surveys, and monitor their students' progress and interaction with the courseware-enhanced quizzes, materials, and communication features. One of the advantages that this offers students is the ability to take practice quizzes and get immediate feedback with their results, allowing them to monitor their progress in learning the concepts they are instructed to learn. The advantage that auto-marked Web quizzes and tests offers instructors is that, by reducing the grading time, they can increase the time to monitor and direct the students' learning progress. Accordingly, instructors can utilize Web quizzes to quickly assess and identify areas or topics where students need further reinforcement.
Librarians can make use of these tools and the benefits they offer in differing degrees to establish a presence for both library resources and services, using the MaLLCI and the MiLLCI.
As previously stated, MaLLCI entails librarians at an institutional level working with the designers, developers, and programmers of courseware to integrate a generic library presence into the course management software. This means that preexisting library Web information, resources, and services would be integrated uniformly so that all courseware-enhanced classes would have direct access to them. There are varying ways in which the library and its services could be integrated and made accessible in courseware. Some possible options for enhancingÊ courseware:
- Virtual reference-desk services. Virtual reference-desk services offered by many university and college libraries could be integrated into courseware, thereby allowing students to ask reference questions while they are logged in to their courseware course page. It is also possible, for libraries that have not invested in virtual reference-desk software, to utilize courseware's chat functions to provide the needed environment to create a basic virtual reference-desk service.
- OPAC and database links. The library can establish direct links in the courseware domain so that students can search their campus library's online catalog and the proprietary databases the library subscribes to in the courseware environment. The advantage in creating these links between the library's resources (catalogs, indexes, and databases) and the courseware is that students have straightforward and direct access to the electronic materials offered by their campus library from their own personalized or customized courseware course pages. Cohen also suggests that software that searches the library's catalog, indexes, and databases to create customized bibliographies based on the students' needs could be integrated into courseware. 8 This would greatly benefit students by enabling them to have a relevant bibliography of print and electronic resources they can use in their coursework and writing assignments. This electronic bibliography could also provide direct links to full-text Web-based resources so that instructors and students alike could have immediate access to them, saving both instructor and student time and energy.
- Global pathfinders and help sheets. The library, by providing links to broad-based pathfinders and help sheets that librarians have previously created, can assist students in searching OPAC and various online databases.
- Document delivery services. The library can integrate electronic-reserves software, interlibrary-loan, and document delivery systems into courseware so that " . . . students could benefit from the scanning, check-in and check-out, and copyright management functions. . . ." 9
Benefits and Drawbacks of MaLLCI
There are several benefits of implementing this model. The first two benefits of integration of the library's resources and services into the courseware domain are the increased visibility of the library's resources and services, and the increased ease of access for both faculty and students. By integrating and linking the library's catalog and online databases into the courseware environment, students and faculty are only a click away from accessing many of the information resources relevant to their course assignments from within courseware.
A third benefit is the scalability of library services. Linking to the preexisting library systems serves both a large university as well as a small college. Just as libraries designed and developed their Web sites so that students can access library resources and services independent of both time and location, by linking these same resources to courseware, the library makes them directly available to all students using courseware. Since the information is directly linked, by updating the library's Web site the information is automatically updated in the courseware, saving library staff both time and energy. A fourth benefit is that it does not require faculty to commit time and energy to making these resources available; rather, they are automatically integrated directly into their courseware-enhanced pages.
The MaLLCI model does have some shortcomings. One of the biggest, (similar to preexisting library Web sites), is the lack of direct human contact. Students using courseware would not likely develop familiarity with any librarians in this model. Rather, they would be able to get many of the resources and services they needed right from their desktop computer. In essence, students would become virtual library users when accessing online full-text databases, catalog, pathfinders, and other helpful resources from courseware. Consequently, they may not be able to develop their search skills and utilize the full power of the databases to locate the most appropriate resources for their class assignments.
Another shortcoming is the lack of personalized and customized resources for both students and faculty. Because this model focuses on integrating the broadest and highest level of library services, it would not be possible to customize specific resources for specific class assignments. In order to accomplish this, a librarian would have to work directly with a faculty member.
We have discussed MaLLCI as the library at an institutional level making broad-based links between library resources and courseware. In contrast, MiLLCI is individual librarians working with individual faculty members to provide more customized library research assistance within courseware. This option is probably best seen as a supplement to the in-class library instruction rather than a replacement, although it may also be a way of getting a toe in the door of classes for which there was not previously any library instruction. 10
The level of individualized courseware use by librarians can range from minimum to maximum, with a great deal of flexibility in between. At a minimum, if there are already library Web pages appropriate to a course, such as pathfinders, bibliographies or Webliographies, or guides to the literature of a field, or if the librarian is already planning on making a Web page of some sort for the class, the librarian simply asks the faculty member to link to it from the courseware page. At a maximum, course-integrated library instruction involves the faculty member and the librarian collaborating in planning and delivering the course, with equal access to the courseware pages. The librarian adds many customized links, leads some chat-room discussions, and monitors a message board of research-related questions throughout the semester. In between are many options, depending on how much effort the librarian wishes to expend. Options for enhancing courseware include:
- Library instruction outline.This outline is the basis for a class presentation that later can be accessed as a reference by the students. It can include various sources appropriate to the class assignment, such as selected databases, the online catalog, selected Web-page links, and print and online reference sources.
- Pathfinders, bibliographies, and Webliographies. These may be general guides created to aid research in a discipline or customized guides created for a particular class.
- Recommended databases for the assignment. Databases appropriate for class assignments may be listed in order from basic to more complex, with optional annotations by the librarian to help students understand what they will find in each database. Direct links can be made from within the courseware. Alternatively, instructions for getting to the database from the library Web pages could be provided. If the library has produced help sheets on the databases, these can be put in PDF format and linked to the course page for interested students to print out at any time. Even when a librarian is not available, they have access to this basic help online.
- MLA, APA, or other style sheets. One of the most common reference questions is "How do I make a bibliography?" If the class will be doing this as part of their assignment, it is helpful to have a link to information in the style selected for the course (or multiple styles if desired). Numerous institutions of higher education have Web pages on several of the commonly used bibliographic styles. If the library has handouts on these, they can be included in PDF format for students to print out. The call numbers of the MLA handbook, APA handbook, and others can also be listed.
- Reference service. A basic e-mail link to the librarian, as well as a phone number and office address, provide a necessary help line for students. Another option is a link to real-time chat reference service, if that is available at the institution. Wheeler and Fournier note that it is beneficial for the librarian, in face-to-face meetings with students, to strongly encourage them to contact him or her with research questions, noting that "student anxiety levels seem to be greatly reduced" with this encouragement. They add that the subsequent e-mail communication allows the librarian to "continue building the relationships" begun in class. 11
A third option is a link to a message board, which the librarian monitors periodically, for discussing research difficulties. The advantage of the message board is that all can see questions that have application to a number of students. Dickstein and McBride report on a course collaboratively taught by a faculty member and librarian, in which the librarian gave in-class library instruction three times during the semester, and at specified times monitored a message board on which students discussed their research in groups. The librarian was then able to jump in with help or suggestions when students expressed difficulties with their research.12 If a faculty member plans to have students discuss their research on a message board, the librarian can offer to monitor these discussions at specified times in order to provide assistance. In the experience of Wheeler and Fournier, students preferred to e-mail questions privately to the librarian. If a question seemed to have general application, the librarian reques ted permission to post it (with identifying information removed) to the message board, and students did not refuse this request. 13
- Tutorials.Web-based library tutorials may be assigned as part of the course, and these can be linked to the courseware pages. If possible, it is preferable not to make online tutorials a substitute for meeting with the class, but they can be used as a supplement either before or after the class meeting.
- Quizzes. If the tutorial does not include quizzes, the courseware has a facility for creating quiz zes, and the librarian can create these as part of a library assignment to follow in-class instruction, tutorial use, or both. Grassian and Kaplowitz suggest a pretest, taken before the in-class library instruction, and a post-test, taken one month after the in-class library instruction to assess the effectiveness of the instruction, be placed on course Web sites. 14 The librarian should discuss this with the faculty member to be sure he or she agrees to assign the tests to the students.
- Questionnaire for students. Following in-class instruction, the librarian can seek student feedback online if desired. Again, the courseware's quizzing facility can be used for creating a questionnaire.
Benefits and Drawbacks of MiLLCI
The primary advantage of MiLLCI is the strategic positioning of library resources and services. For a number of years many libraries have had Web pages that guide students to appropriate resources in a discipline or topic. Students must somehow navigate their way to these pages, assuming they think to explore the library Web site. The instruction librarian may mention the pages during a course-related library instruction class, but the students still must make the effort to find the separate library pages. When faculty have a course Web page or use courseware, students are very likely to be accessing these pages as a course requirement. Having a link within those pages to the library information provides one-stop-shopping for students. The closer the link between course assignments and library resources to help with those assignments, the greater likelihood that students will access library information. As Getty et al. points out, in this way the library offerings also gain the legitimacy of the course itself. 15
Another technology with a library-use parallel to courseware is My Library software. Ghaphery and Ream of Virginia Commonwealth University report that the use of My Library was mainly popular as a teaching tool, where instruction librarians created custom pages with databases and Web sites appropriate for particular class assignments, and used these pages during the in-class library instruction. The authors report that students and faculty were enthusiastic in their appreciation of this as a tool for researching assignments; the pages had "heavy usage" and "classes like coming back to a single page to find all the relevant resources for their research assignments." 16 Placing customized library links within faculty courseware pages will provide this same convenience for students.
Another advantage of library involvement with courseware that benefits students is enhanced collaboration between librarians and faculty members. The librarian will have an opportunity to discuss any difficulties and assignment details with the faculty member, improving both assignments and library assistance for students. The faculty member will perhaps see the librarian as a consultant, improving information access and students' information literacy skills both within the course and beyond it.
A third advantage is that librarians have more contact with students and can provide more research information to them without requiring faculty members to give up more class time. In addition, the information is strategically placed to coincide with the times students are ready to receive that information--when they are working on their research. If students have questions, an e-mail link, phone number, chat reference, or a message board are available from within the course pages to seek help from the librarian.
The drawback to MiLLCI is, of course, the amount of time and effort required of the librarian. As stated above, this can be as little or as much as the librarian wishes to give. If the librarian chooses to become involved at the level of course-integrated library instruction, then an online component such as message boards and chats will demand increasing amounts of time. Librarians can select from the list of possibilities presented here and consider the time they have to give. Use of MaLLCI features will also help in providing library resources within courseware while not adding to the day-to-day demands on the librarian.
The lack of faculty's willingness to be involved in the process is another possible drawback. They need to see the librarian as a consultant in courseware, and some faculty members may not be willing to do that. Likewise, faculty may have difficulty sharing control of their courseware-enhanced course. This will require establishing a relationship of mutual trust in which the faculty member feels comfortable sharing editorial control of the courseware content. Librarians will need to work with diplomacy and aplomb. Eventually, working with the willing members of the faculty will perhaps one day provide enough positive examples of courseware collaborations to convince those who are less enthused.
If the current trend of universities and colleges adopting courseware to enhance their traditional courses continues, most, if not all, of these courses will be augmented in some manner by courseware in the coming decade. Libraries must find a way to enter the courseware domain in order not to be left out of this important educational advance and not lose the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the development of courseware. If university and college libraries do not find a means by which to establish their presence in courseware, they could face the frightening prospect of faculty and students alike viewing the library as an insignificant place to obtain the scholarly resources needed for their courses. Rather, commercial information distributors, who have already gained a foothold in some courseware environments, may successfully eclipse the library as the primary information provider. 17
When establishing a presence in courseware, it is valuable to implement, at some level, both types of library courseware involvement, since both models have different strengths and weaknesses. Accord ingly, if libraries successfully establish a presence in courseware, the gain will be an increased relevance with students, and strengthened relationships and collaborative ties with faculty. Within the courseware domain, the library will once again be viewed as the first and most relevant place to obtain the scholarly resources and information literacy skills that are needed in today's world.
References and Notes
1. The term "courseware" has been used for a number of years to refer to any sort of computer-based course materials. It is used here only as shorthand for course management systems or software such as Blackboard, WebCT, or ANGEL.
2. "E-commerce Comes Slowly to the Campus: The 2001 National Survey of Information Technology in U.S. Higher Education," The Campus Computing Project (Oct. 2001). Accessed Dec. 12, 2002, www.campuscomputing.net.
4. Mick O'Leary, "New Academic Information Model Bypasses Libraries," Online 25 (July/Aug. 2001): 72-74. Commercial vendors, such as XanEdu, Questia Media, and Ebrary.com, are emerging that seek to bypass the library as information provider. This entails increased costs for faculty and students above and beyond what the library may already be paying for full-text databases.
6. Phillip D. Long, "Can Libraries Find a New Home in Courseware?" Syllabus 15 (March 2002). Accessed Dec. 12, 2002, www.syllabus.com/article.asp?id=6136.
7. Nada Dabbage, Brenda Bannan-Ritland, and Kate Silc, "Pedagogy and Web-Based Course Authoring Tools: Issues and Implications," in Web-based Training, ed. B. H. Khan (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology Pubns., 2001), 343-54.
12. Ruth Dickstein and Kari Boyd McBride, "Listserv Lemmings and Fly-brarians on the Wall: A Librarian-Instructor Team Taming the Cyberbeast in the Large Classroom," College and Research Libraries 59 (Jan. 1998): 10-17.
16. Jimmy Ghaphery and Dan Ream, "VCU's My Library: Librarians Love It. . . . Users? Well, Maybe," Information Technology and Libraries 19, no. 4 (2000). Accessed Jan. 9, 2003, www.lita.org/ital/1904_ghaphery.html.
John D. Shank (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Instructional Design Librarian and Head of Instructional Design Services at Penn State University, Berks-Lehigh Valley College. Nancy H. Dewald (email@example.com) is a Reference Librarian at Penn State University, Berks Campus.