The Village of ISS: Providing Library-Based Instructional Support
Institutions want courses that incorporate the latest instructional technology. Instructors cannot take advantage of new technology if they are unfamiliar with the tools and have limited experience with online learning pedagogies. It has been said that it takes a village to build a curriculum in the information age. Morris Library’s Instructional Support Services (ISS) is such a village. ISS provides instructors with technical advice and access to current hardware, software, and multimedia techniques to meet their teaching objectives. Offering instructional designers, Web programmers, and video and graphics professionals, ISS is a one-stop shop for instructors who want to add technology to their courses.
Many colleges and universities want to offer courses that take advantage of the benefits of technology, yet often their faculty are unfamiliar with that technology. Having grown up with the Web, today’s students expect more than a traditional lecture format from their classes. 1 Many facets of new technology can enrich course content, engage students, and encourage interaction among them. 2 Institutions must find ways to help faculty members use new technologies to create new courses and redesign existing ones. Instructors will need help using new skills, a hospitable environment for innovation, and a reliable infrastructure to support the endeavor.
Few faculty members have knowledge of the pedagogical issues related to online learning. Someone has to help them decide which courses would benefit from integrating Web-based components such as online course syllabus; schedules; content; and intracourse communications, like e-mail, bulletin boards, and chat sessions. The instructional support system that best aids faculty combines an understanding of the components of sound instructional design with expertise in applying the latest instructional technology. 3
For the last five years, the national Campus Computing Project, a group made up of senior information technology (IT) officials from academic institutions, has made helping faculty integrate technology with their instruction a top priority. In many cases, instructors are offered limited opportunities to consult with IT staff, which usually focuses on issues of hardware and software. That level of assistance can work well if the instructor already has a good understanding of course-related technology or if the project is of limited scope. Instructors with limited knowledge or with larger, more complex projects will need a much higher level of support.
Many resources are required to help instructors incorporate technology into their classrooms and courses, but the final number of specialists an instructor will need depends on the size and scope of each project. Examples of specialists include instructional designers, Web programmers, graphic artists, photographers, and video producers who may be found in the IT department; the campus center for teaching; and various academic departments such as art and design, photography, journalism, radio/television, and computer science. The specialists at the library help instructors by identifying resources, securing copyright permissions, and helping to create online material that will aid instruction. According to Altschuler and McClure, “to build a curriculum in the information age, it takes a village.” 4 At the Morris Library of Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), that village is called Instructional Support Services (ISS).
Library-based Instructional Support
Institutions have tried many approaches to promote technology in the classroom. Some have developed incentive programs to increase the use of technology in teaching. When Johns Hopkins University determined that faculty needed help from a support staff with expertise in both technology and pedagogy, they established minigrants to encourage faculty to explore technological solutions to instructional problems. 5 They established the Center for Educational Resources, which provides faculty with support in the use of technology and media for education by serving as a planning and production resource. 6 At Cornell University, grant funds were allocated to assist twenty faculty members per year in redesigning their courses. It was hoped the experiences of grant winners would lead to greater interest and enthusiasm among the rest of the faculty for using technology in instruction. 7
Many institutions have made instructional support a part of the library’s mission. Major has described a community college’s user-oriented center staffed by library-based instructional developers where instructors could get assistance in applying specific instructional methods and strategies. The library was a logical location for such a center because of its long tradition of providing services to instructors. The library was also seen as the center of emerging interactive techniques, such as video and computers. From the library it would be relatively easy to incorporate technology into the delivery of instructional development information. 8
Of the fifty-eight respondents to a 2001 survey from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), 48 percent said that their library offers instructional support services to some degree. 9 The Instructional Technology Center at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s library provides satellite teleconferences, multimedia design and development assistance, training sessions, consultation and production services, computer and equipment maintenance and repair, and creation of instructional graphics. The Multimedia Development Center, with a tenure-track multimedia specialist, assists instructors with designing and developing their own multimedia materials. Workshops are given on topics of hardware, software, design, and authoring. The goal is to empower the faculty to create their own multimedia programs. 10
At Cornell University, instructional support is part of the mission of the library, and librarians help instructors by providing courseware development support. Faculty members are given help in creating Web pages, manipulating digital images, designing databases, and authoring multimedia programs. Instructors also have access to advanced hardware and software. The library also administers a UNIX-based Web server to house the instructional materials. The focus is on providing assistance so faculty can complete their own projects rather than establishing a development shop for producing programs for faculty use. The advantage of this strategy is that faculty can become more fully aware of the benefits technology can bring to their courses and become even more creative in how they use it. Questions of pedagogical design, however, are seen as outside the scope of the library’s expertise. Instructors are referred to other campus resources, such as the Office of Instructional Support. 11
The Village of ISS
SUIC and its Morris Library have a unique approach to serving the instructional technology needs of the university’s instructors. The emergence of new technology prompted the SIUC library to make an early reassessment of the services it provided to promote instructional advancement. The instructional support function was restructured to meet the changing needs of faculty who were trying to incorporate new technologies into their courses. 12 The library has provided instructional technology and audiovisual support since 1949. In 1960, it began assisting faculty with instructional development. Instructional evaluation was transferred to the library in 1979. Video production was added in 1981. Since then the library has added instructional designers, Web programmers, graphic designers, and a corps of very talented graduate assistants and undergraduate student workers. Today, instead of looking all over campus for technology expertise, instructors only have to go to ISS in Morris Library to get the technology help they need. ISS is perhaps the most complete facility at any university for providing instructors with the help they need to fully use technology to meet their teaching objectives. 13
Organizationally, ISS is under the Library Affairs Associate Dean for Support Services. Support Services also includes Systems, the Instruction Coordinator for Bibliographic Instruction, and Reserves. ISS has a manager and two other librarians, one full-time and one half-time. There are five administrative/professional staff members: an instructional designer; the WebCT administrator; video producer; interactive video specialist; and instructional evaluation specialist. There are nine civil service employees including an office manager, Web programmers, video technicians, audiovisual equipment specialists, and a graphic designer. Graduate assistants perform most of the routine production work in ISS, and undergraduate student workers provide assistance in reception, graphics, instructional evaluation, equipment distribution and monitoring, and other services. In addition, the head of the Regional Center for Distance Learning and Multimedia Development has a quarter-time faculty assignment to ISS, and a three-quarter-time appointment with the regional community college consortium. The Regional Center is a resource center colocated with ISS that supports community colleges and public schools in southern Illinois. ISS is also a key player in the Academic Technology Center (ATC), a partnership between the library’s Support Services and the campus IT department. The partnership is manifested in the location of the IT Customer Service Center (CSC) on the main floor of the library, the jointly developed and presented Seminar Series workshops on Microsoft Office products and other user software packages, and collaboration on accessibility and other issues of common concern. Figure 1 illustrates the organizational relationships of ISS.
Figure 1. ISS Organizational Relationships
The services provided by ISS include instructional development, Web course development, custom Web programming, graphics and digital imaging, video and photo production, instructional evaluation, instructional technology, and distance learning. The goal of ISS is to be the one-stop shop for instructional technology support on campus. Whether an instructor wants to create a simple Web page with a syllabus and office hours or wants to design an entire distance learning course with streaming audio and video components and deliver it via interactive video conferencing, ISS is able to assist from start to finish. Whether an instructor wants to have a television and VCR delivered to a classroom, wants a video converted from PAL to NTSC, or wants test answer sheets run through the optical scanning machine, ISS is the office they call. As a result, ISS receives approximately seven hundred work orders for Web development and graphics services, and scans more than 250,000 answer sheets each year.
When an instructor needs any course-related technology, he contacts ISS to discuss the scope of the project and the desired outcomes. The ISS manager assembles a team to design, develop, and implement the solution. ISS staff work on a wide variety of activities at any given time from the mundane to the complex. Skilled graduate assistants work closely with the instructional designer, Web programmers, and graphics staff to create a product that is pedagogically sound and aesthetically appealing. The staff is encouraged, indeed expected, to find solutions that are efficient and elegant, making use of the latest software and techniques in ways that are supportable and sustainable.
ISS Departments and Services
Instructional Design, Course Development, and Custom Web Programming
Much of the work of ISS centers on the course design and development staff. The instructional designer often has the first look at an incoming project. She helps the instructor translate the vision of what is needed, defining it into concrete tasks, developing a work order, and passing it along to the production staff. This process requires teamwork and open communication often resulting in many drafts and revisions. The instructional designer has a deep understanding of online pedagogy. She is adept at adapting traditional lecture-and-blackboard classes to the Web-based environment. She listens to the instructor’s ideas and goals and suggests technology that can be used to achieve the desired ends. The instructional designer finds ways to create Web-based learning through interactive content, online assignments, and testing. She is also well versed in online interactive communication tools, the strengths and weaknesses of streaming multimedia, and methods to engage the learner. She reviews Web pages with a critical eye, suggesting effective and creative ways to display the content, such as graphics, rollovers, and pop-ups. For new initiates, she may suggest small steps that can be done quickly and easily. Some instructors have a firm understanding of the capabilities of technology and are comfortable managing a course that aggressively exploits those capabilities. For them, the instructional designer can steer them to the latest techniques while keeping them focused on the presentation of instruction and not just on the latest bells and whistles.
The instructional designer works closely with the Web programmers to create the applications, pages, or effects the instructor wants. They include the WebCT administrator, applications programmers, and a librarian who specializes in multimedia development. The programmers use Perl, SQL, and other programming utilities to create database-driven Web pages, Web forms, surveys, and other applications to meet the needs of the instructors. ISS programmers have access to servers that are owned, operated, and maintained by the library. These servers, in addition to those administered by Systems for library support, house the WebCT service, multimedia applications, and development projects. ISS manages three Unix-based Sun servers colocated with Systems machines, a remotely located machine containing Windows 2000 Server that runs the interactive voice response (IVR) system and video servers, and a development server within ISS itself.
The WebCT administrator supports more than 450 courses across campus. He assists instructors with uploading course pages, creating approximately fourteen thousand instructor and student accounts, resetting passwords as necessary, and cleaning up after the course is completed. Using Respondus, a separate program that works with WebCT, he can create online exams and quizzes that automatically report scores to a Web page for students to access after they have taken the test.
Although the primary mission of ISS is to assist instructors with the technology they need for their courses, ISS programmers may also work on projects in support of other campus-related functions as time allows. Clients include the Student Recreation Center, the Office of Research Development and Administration, and faculty doing research projects not directly related to their course offerings. Programmers are encouraged to explore new applications and capabilities that may not be needed currently, but have potential for future use. Recently, such applications include ASP.NET, SPSS, and Windows Media.
Graphics, Video, and Teleconferencing
ISS also has extensive graphics and video support services. A graphic designer and student assistants provide a variety of print and digital production services. These include creating logos, posters, library handouts, announcements, certificates, and advertising and promotional materials; scanning 35mm slides for in-course and reserves use; and creating graphics for Web courses and Web pages as well as other layout and design projects. The graphics staff also digitize photographs and other materials for Special Collections and Archives.
The video production and photography section provides instructors with a wide variety of services ranging from simple tasks such as videotaping classroom lectures and duplicating tapes, to complex assignments such as scripting, shooting, and editing educational videos. Going beyond tape distribution, many videos are converted for presentation on the Web and added to course Web sites. Sometimes the videos are compressed to fit on CDs or VCDs for easy computer presentation purposes. All productions may be placed on reserve in the library or accessed electronically via a Web site. Instructors who are considering adding video components to their courses may come to ISS to discuss their ideas and get practical and artistic advice from the video production staff. ISS has complete camera packages and editing facilities for creating virtually any type of video product. Numerous academic departments have made use of this service to create videos that demonstrate procedures essential to their curriculum. The videos are made available to students for review outside the classroom or laboratory. The video section also offers international videotape conversion, an invaluable service for faculty with ties to global institutions. Conversion of reel-to-reel and audiocassette tapes to digital formats is also provided. Staff members also photograph class activities for use in instruction and they photograph important library events for archival purposes.
Another dimension for course delivery is interactive video conferencing. Video technicians and telecommunications specialists in ISS support seven distance learning classrooms across the campus that are equipped with video conferencing technology. Staff members assist instructors in developing conferencing sessions and scheduling classrooms. They also provide technical support and training in the use of the equipment. The instructional designer works with faculty to take full advantage of the instructional capabilities of interactive video. Interactive video has enabled several instructors to reach students at dispersed locations around the state with lecture sessions conducted from on-campus classrooms, and remote instructors to reach on-campus students.
The interactive video conferencing capabilities provided by ISS are a valuable resource for the university, the community, and the region. ISS is a major technical support resource for the delivery of interactive video throughout the state. ISS staff members were instrumental in engineering the Illinois Century Network, a statewide network of broadband connections for state agencies and educational institutions.
A distance learning librarian is also assigned to ISS. She is assigned one-half time in ISS and one-half time as a reference librarian specializing in science and medicine. She is a first point of contact in the library for off-campus students. She assists SIUC students around the world in accessing library resources and insures they receive any materials needed for their courses. She also serves as an online reference provider through the library’s Web site.
Instructional Technology and Instructional Evaluation
For more than fifty years the library has served the audiovisual needs of the university’s instructors by distributing equipment across campus. A variety of resources ranging from 16mm projectors to DVD machines, slide projectors to video projection units (VPU), and television-VCR combinations to laptops are available through the ISS Instructional Technology department. Instructional Technology also has facilities for repairing damaged or faulty equipment. In addition to supporting classrooms throughout the campus, members of the unit provide services in Lawson Hall, which houses many of the university’s large classrooms and auditoriums. The ISS staff recently participated in the development of a plan for upgrading the Lawson Hall infrastructure as part of an initiative in 2003 to improve the physical condition and the quality of instructional technology in the university’s classrooms, laboratories, and auditoriums.
Another long-standing service provided by ISS is instructional evaluation (IE), which centers around the optical scanning system. IE processes all campus examinations and faculty/course evaluations that use “bubble-sheet” technology, amounting to 250,000 to 300,000 answer sheets per year. Test scores are made available to the instructor by e-mail, posted directly to a course Website through WebCT, or distributed by green-bar paper printout. The staff in IE prepare statistics for the instructors at their request. Instructors use a standard course evaluation form available from ISS to obtain feedback from their students. Some departments have developed, with assistance from IE, their own evaluation forms using the optical scanning technology. These forms are tailored to the needs of the particular department and can focus on specific areas of interest. IE runs about twenty-five hundred different jobs each year. A job may be ten tests for a PE class, a batch of eighteen hundred faculty evaluation forms, or a set of evaluations for eighty different sections of history. IE provides one of the few ISS services that is available to students. Graduate students who wish to use bubble-sheets to conduct surveys can have the sheets processed in IE and they may request some basic statistical analysis. IE also assists graduate students with project design to take full advantage of the technology and avoid its pitfalls.
Partnerships and Collaboration
ISS is not an isolated village. It maintains a partnership with the campus IT department and a close working relationship with the Regional Center for Distance Learning and Multimedia Development. ISS also has collaborative projects with national library organizations, including ARL, and the American Library Association (ALA).
Academic Technology Center
Since 1992, Library Affairs has partnered with IT to improve campus connectivity and access to library materials. 14 In 2001, the ATC was created to bring together the services of the IT Customer Service Center (CSC), with the library’s ISS and systems departments. The ATC was formed to focus the combined skills and resources of IT and support services on their joint instructional technology initiatives. The CSC is located on the first floor of the library and consults on campus network access to students, faculty, and staff. CSC also assists ISS by helping solve student and instructor problems with their WebCT accounts. One of the major facets of the ATC collaboration is the joint development and delivery of workshops on widely used software products, such as the Microsoft Office suite and Macromedia Dreamweaver, and on the use of SmartBoard equipment. Teams consisting of one member from ISS and one from IT jointly develop the workshops and alternate presenting them or present them in tandem. Office managers for ISS and for CSC also work closely to ensure high levels of communication between the agencies. The long-term goal is to have a centralized point of access for technology-related issues.
Regional Center for Distance Learning and Multimedia Development
Since its creation in 1997, the Regional Center has been colocated with ISS in Morris Library. It is funded primarily through a Higher Education Cooperation Act (HECA) grant from the Illinois Board of Higher Education and is shared by two higher education consortia: the Southern Illinois Collegiate Common Market (SICCM) and South western Illinois Higher Education Consortium (SIHEC). With a director and a few graduate assistants, the Regional Center works with the two consortia to provide community colleges and public school teachers with services that parallel those provided by ISS to the university community. Its mission is to enhance teaching and learning by exploring innovative instructional strategies and sharing expertise in the southern Illinois region. Services include training faculty and staff in distance learning, multimedia development, and emerging technologies. The Regional Center sponsors workshops, seminars, and consultation opportunities for members of the consortia including SIUC. The Regional Center has awarded more than two hundred minigrants to faculty in the region since 1997 for development of distance learning and computer-mediated instructional courses and applications. ISS staff teamed with the Regional Center to deliver a week-long Web Camp on the SIUC campus for teachers from the university and around the region. The goal of the Web Camp was to give in-depth, hands-on instruction in the latest Web development and multimedia tools. ISS staff members taught workshops in online pedagogy, use of WebCT course management software and streaming multimedia, and use of video and graphics in Web design. By sharing equipment, software, expertise, and funding opportunities, the relationship between ISS and the Regional Center is beneficial to both and provides valuable service to the region.
ARL and ALA
In recent years, ISS has expanded its scope to include working with library-related organizations to create Web-based, online career development courses. In 1998 a partnership began with ARL’s Office of Leadership and Management Services (OLMS) to create the Online Lyceum. To date, twelve courses have been created for the Online Lyceum and have been delivered numerous times. Content is supplied by topic experts selected and employed by ARL. ISS is responsible for the instructional design, custom programming, graphics, and multimedia components. Project management is a shared responsibility of ARL, OLMS, and ISS. The courses reside on servers that are operated and maintained by ISS staff. The success of the ARL arrangement and the reputation of ISS for quality work led to a similar agreement with the ALA to produce an online course and provide technical training for ALA staff. ALA provided the content and ISS provided the technical expertise. The course is accessed from machines owned and operated by ALA. The experience gained from these projects has enhanced the ability of ISS to provide quality assistance to the SIUC faculty. Within these courses, new technologies can be explored and used in creative ways.
Keeping Up with the Technology
One of the major challenges that must continually be faced by ISS is the need to remain current with emerging technology trends. Because not all students will have access to broadband connections all the time, media components must be accessible using both high-speed and dial-up operations, and be compatible with both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. These considerations can create the need for multiple or layered delivery methods. ISS staff work to find new ways to deliver educational content and to encourage instructors to use the technology. The development of a call-to-server audio recording capability is an illustration of that activity.
The ISS multimedia specialist is very interested in adding a personal dimension to Web-based courses. He has developed a creative way for instructors to provide streaming audio and video for their course environments. He believes that streaming audio and video components within courses can help students, particularly distance students, feel more like they are in a classroom environment—especially if they can see and hear their instructor and classmates. Many times course Web sites contain only text and images. Usually this is because the instructors do not know how to use digital audio, streaming technologies, or other media applications. There are two ways to make the Web-based course development process more efficient while also adding new media technologies. One is to develop training seminars that provide a hands-on experience with the software applications. ISS provides this training, but many potential users hesitate to begin the long learning process.
The other way is to develop applications that will make it easy to produce media projects using technology that is already understood. With this approach, ISS has adapted an Integrated Voice Response System (IVRS), commonly a business call-center technology, to let faculty easily create streaming audio applications that are delivered via Web-based courses. IVRS can capture the caller’s voice and save it to a server, which allows users to record audio segments from the telephone. ISS has used IVRS for instructional applications from simple audio-only presentations to streaming multimedia presentations for online courses. The result is that online courses are enhanced with media created by facilitators, course participants, and guest speakers located anywhere in the world via the telephone. IVRS can be used by both facilitators and participants to record their own audio introductions. This process has been incorporated into a recent course developed for ARL. Class participants may also call in questions that are answered by the facilitators. Guest speakers may record audio elements for use with a portion of a course. IVRS can also be combined with other media. It is so easy to use that students could create their own media pieces for class presentations. One professor recorded voice-overs for his PowerPoint slides from home, and then the slides were matched with the recorded audio and delivered as an integrated multimedia presentation with Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL).
IVRS has limited hardware and software requirements, so it was easy for the ISS staff to activate. It uses a Windows 2000 server and Dialogic 4 Port Voice Board. The software used is Pronexus VB Voice 4.3 Toolkit, Announce! Audio Recording and Editing, Visual Basic 5.0 or above, and Helix Producer or Window Media Encoder for converting files to streaming format. The IVRS recording process requires little or no training for the user, so it can be used quickly and easily.
The IVRS database administrator in ISS creates a database record that includes the user’s name, e-mail address, and a personal identification number (PIN), which is linked to the user’s information. This PIN is sent to the user along with the telephone number to the system and instructions for recording.
When the user calls IVRS, she is greeted with a voice message giving instructions on the use of the system. A Visual Basic (VB) interface accepts the incoming call to the IVRS board if lines are open. ISS has a four-port board at this time, which means that four simultaneous calls can be taken using four incoming telephone jacks. The introduction message is played and the user’s call is passed on to the next control, which asks for the user’s PIN.
The user enters the PIN using the telephone keypad. The VB control searches the Access database PIN field for a match. If the PIN is valid, then the user’s call, together with the information in their last name and first name database fields, is passed on to the VB Voice record control. If the PIN is not found in the database, then the user is not allowed access to the system.
When the user is finished, she can listen to the file, save it, or rerecord. The system can be set to detect a certain interval of silence to initiate these prompts automatically. The ISS system is set at four seconds. The VB Voice record control then proceeds to the exit message, which tells the user goodbye and hangs up. The user can also just hang up and the file is automatically saved. The sound file (.wav file at 8 KHz, 8-bit mono) is saved in a designated directory on the server. The VB Voice record control uses the user’s last and first name in the file name to identify the person who created the file. It also adds eight additional random characters to make the file unique, otherwise the file would be overwritten each time a user makes a new recording. For example, a file created by Kevin Rundblad may look like: \RundbladKevin8000s3r2.wav when saved on the server. In this way the media developer always knows who created the file and, with the time code on the file, when it was created. This file can now be downloaded by the media developer in ISS and encoded into a streaming format for use on the Web.
In higher education, keeping up with the rapid change in technology as it applies to instruction is a daunting task. Instructors who must remain current with developments in their field, manage the day-to-day operation of their classes, and complete the tenure process are not always able to maintain current knowledge of the technological tools. Students are very sophisticated users of Web-based content and have high expectations for course appearance and delivery. Use of varied programming techniques, graphics, and multimedia within courses is almost a necessity. ISS provides instructors with the vital assistance they need to update their traditional courses and include these elements. ISS maintains the breadth of expertise, the equipment, and the software to create learning environments that are pedagogically sound, aesthetically appealing, and that effectively incorporate appropriate new technologies. Through its partnerships and collaboration with other campus and national organizations, SIUC’s Library Affairs enhances its ability to provide high-quality instructional support in a village called ISS.
References and Notes
5. Todd Kelley and Connie Vinita Dowell, “Incentive Programs to Support the Use of Instructional Technology by Faculty at a Major Research University and a Leading Liberal Arts College” (paper presented at the annual conference of EDUCAUSE, “Broadening Our Horizons: Information, Services, Technology,” San Francisco, Calif., Dec. 3–6, 1996). Available online at www.educause.edu/ir/library/html/cnc9660.html.
Howard Carter(firstname.lastname@example.org) is Manager, Instructional Support Services and Web Coordinator at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Kevin Rundblad(email@example.com) is Instructional Development Librarian at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.