Libraries today are incorporating an increasing number of electronic resources and services in their collections, and more frequently now, these electronic resources and services are accessible beyond library walls. User education librarians will have to develop innovative instructional methodologies if we are to be able to offer the remote user assistance in the use of these resources. But at a time when the need for new kinds of instruction in library use is crucial, declining budgets have resulted in fewer staff to provide instruction in library use.
Harvey Sager, in his essay "Implications for Bibliographic Instruction", discusses the impact and influence of emerging technologies on bibliographic instruction. He points out that our users are coming to us with a wider diversity than we've seen in the past, due to varying levels of computer experience. He says "technology has sensitized us to potential differences in skill level and learning style among various user groups, as well as to the confusion constant and rapid technological change has caused for library users..." Students "wandering in electronic confusion" often take "virtual library detours." Says Sager, "If the student is in sight of the reference desk, it becomes an easily resolved reference issue. If the student is elsewhere, it is a BI issue with no easy solution" (Sager 1995: 53-55).
But a solution nonetheless must be sought. Carla Stoffle, in her essay "The Upside of Downsizing", describes a radical and fundamental change needed in academic libraries, a change toward greater user self-sufficiency. As libraries attempt to carry on in times of financial crisis, Stoffle suggests that our tendency has been to reduce services, with the result that, ironically, users become more staff dependent. Stoffle believes that at the heart of a user-focused library is the goal of making users self-sufficient in their information seeking and use of libraries" (Stoffle 1995, 7). She looks toward a reference service that has moved away from the place orientation, and that offers instruction at point of use. Stoffle argues that as the goal of the self-sufficient user is approached, demands on librarians' time, such as staffing multiple service points, will be eased.
The benefits to be gained with the use of instructional technologies are many, and the potential for an enhanced learning experience is promising. Research in the area of computer assisted instruction (CAI) (e.g. McComb 1994, 167) suggests that one advantage of instructional technologies is the potential for freeing a teacher from many time-consuming mundane activities, thus creating more opportunity for active dialogue and discussion between teacher and student.
When assignments and course materials can be updated and distributed electronically, time-consuming paper managing chores are greatly reduced. A wide variety of benefits of CAI have the consequence of shifting a teacher's activities from maintenance and routine tasks to the more active and stimulating encounters with students.
User education librarians as well can realize time-saving benefits of CAI. For example, updating of bibliographies and library guides can be done electronically. Photocopying and distribution of handouts can be minimized. Electronic dissemination of answers to frequently asked questions can save repeated communication of basic facts and concepts.
Instructional technologies in the classroom do not render the instructor redundant. But they can promote self-directed learning in the student. Students can proceed at an individualized pace. Contact with the instructor can be reserved for consultation, discussion, and other forms of dialogue and personal interaction.
Similarly, the user education librarian can set the stage for self-directed learning. A self-sufficient library user will have professional consultation available when needed, but if , with the aid of technology, information and instruction is made available to the independent learner, then skill development can occur independently, and the library user can be self sufficient to a great extent. With technology, a vast amount of information regarding the use of the library can be available when and where it's needed.
World Wide Web technology provides a grounding for CAI; it is CAI with a telecommunications capability. This added capability means that self-directed learning need not take place in isolation. Communication with the instructor can occur beyond the classroom and outside of class time.
Various studies have considered the benefits of instructional uses of the Internet. For example, in the study "Benefits of Computer Mediated Communications in College Courses" Mary McComb describes factors that were significantly enhanced when CMC was integrated into the course structure. Computer mediated communication, or CMC, extends learning beyond the classroom: students can contact the instructor or each other with questions and comments. With specially created newsgroups, a CMC supported course allows the learning dialogue to continue outside scheduled class times and places. McComb found that CMC balances power. In computer mediated communication, the teacher is not behind the lecturn, the gatekeeper for communication; students are freer to take initiative in communication. As well, McComb's research confirmed that CMC is efficient; paperwork is reduced because instructors can put course materials, assignments, resources and records online (McComb 1994).
The World Wide Web has only recently come to be recognized as a type of instructional technology. Increasing numbers of faculty and teachers are gaining insight into the vast educational potential of client server technology. Bibliographic instruction librarians, as well, can tap into the instructional potential of the World Wide Web. Librarians will find many benefits to be derived from the development of a Web-based instruction program, benefits such as efficiency, contact with a distant student, and promotion of self-directed learning.
A step beyond the simple conveying of contact information is a link to a newsgroup. A course may utilize a specially created newsgroup or listserv as a means of conveying information, such as announcements, course assignments, and the syllabus. Instructors can post information and also respond to questions via a newsgroup. An electronic discussion group can also serve as a forum for discussion of various issues, some instructor mediated, some carried on among class members, or subgroups of students.
The World Wide Web is becoming increasingly useful as a medium for newsgroups. Not only can users read archived postings, they can also post messages and respond to postings via a Web browser. An added benefit is the ability of a Web browser's newsgroup function to connect the user to a cited URL. The latest version of Netscape displays images cited in a posting.
The communication function of the Web has implications for user education workshops. A Web-based user education course can contain contact information. The page can provide information service hours and phone numbers. It can also provide and/or link to the email address of user education librarians, as well as the electronic reference service address. The idea of a newsgroup specifically created to respond to questions regarding library use is interesting and may be a valuable additional service.
A typical net search will result in many sites which are themselves lists of links, sometimes classified and annotated, to Internet resources and services. These sites are in a sense reference resources, similar to bibliographies or directories. A site that has a very specific focus may be classified as a guide. Subject-specific guides to Internet resources are numerous. The Clearinghouse to Guides to Internet Resources is a "metaguide" providing annotated access to subject specific Internet resources guides.
A Web-based course serving in part as a gateway to Internet resources and services would refer to relevant guides and other secondary sources available on the Internet. A Web-based course might also link to primary sources, for example, specific sites containing relevant full-text information. Primary Internet resources containing full-text information include resources such as electronic texts, journals, and discussion groups.
Web-based university courses often function in part as a gateway to useful and relevant Internet resources. For example, a Web-based course in Geography might link to an electronic journal in Geography. It might also links to a variety of secondary sources.
A second component to the publication function of a Web-based course is the dissemination of locally created or digitized materials. UW examples of Web-based courses show how the Web is being used to distribute course materials, including the syllabus, grading structure, assignments, bibliographies, etc.
Much of the content in a Web-based library workshop will be locally created information, just as it is in the case of workshops held in the classroom or the library conference room. Handouts at the typical user education workshop include bibliographies of reference materials in the library, guides to the use of the library generally, or to specific tools, such as a relevant electronic index. Handouts are limited to a degree by resources available. We can offer a description of all of the brochures available, and suggest that students pick up copies at the information desk as needed. The arrangement is less than satisfactory. Even if we could afford to send each student away with handfuls of handouts, only the best organized student would have the necessary handout available to him or her when their need for it arises. If these materials are in electronic format and linked to a Web-based workshop, the student can call up the information, even make a printout of it, when the need arises.
One of the most promising qualities is its telecommunications capability. A workshop presented on the Web is available to participants of a workshop, and is also available to them subsequent to the workshop by means of an Internet connection. The Web-based workshop is also available to distance education students, or a student who was unable to attend the presentation in the library. The Internet connection allows the instructor to demonstrate electronic resources and services that are located on the Internet, such as library catalogues, electronic reference and interlibrary loan, and Internet based indexes.
This presentation today is itself an example of the use of the Web as a presentation tool. It is currently available, and will continue to be available for a period of time into the future, at http://library.uwaterloo.ca/~cjewell/wilu/paper.html. It uses the most basic elements of the hypertext markup language, yet it is able to make use of powerful features of the Web, viz. the multimedia and telecommunications capability.
This presentation's Website utilizes the communication function; it provides basic contact information, including my address and phone, as well as my email address. I'll be happy to respond to questions or discuss various issues with you via email after this presentation. This presentation's Website also utilizes the publication function. You'll find a link to the full text of this paper, as well as links to other Internet resources, including examples of Web-based courses, at the University of Waterloo and elsewhere around the world.
Found on most every UW Web-based course is a link to the UW Electronic Library. The UW Electronic Library serves as an organized and subject-classified gateway to scholarly Internet resources. It also provides members of the UW community with access to various services, such as the Library's Electronic Reference Service, and electronic interlibrary loan forms. The Electronic Library also provides local information, such as library hours, borrowing policies, contact information for subject specialist librarians, etc.
In some cases a course's link to the library is at the broadest level, i.e. to the top level of the UW Electronic Library. In other cases, the course contains a link to the relevant discipline page within the subject classified section of the Electronic Library.
The discipline pages are maintained by the subject specialist librarians. The discipline pages serve to link to discipline related Internet resources, and also provide local information, such as the email address of the subject specialist librarian, and the types of services available, such as consultation by appointment and course-related workshops, etc.
The opportunity for collaboration extends to the course level. Subject specialist librarians provide course related workshops by faculty request. These are workshops designed for the specific needs of the students enrolled in a particular course.
We have found that our workshops that are specifically associated with a course, tend to be the most successful with respect to attendance, and reaching the largest numbers of undergraduates. With librarian/faculty collaboration in the development of a Web-based course, we will enhance this outreach. The time to make this contact is now, as faculty begin to realize the value of the Web for their courses. Ideally, faculty members will include library information on every course related webpage they design.
Tools are available to assist with HTML encoding. There are HTML editors, and the option to save as an HTML document available now with some word processors. Internet technology is changing at a rapid rate. Some may perceive Web-basd instruction as one more thing to keep up with, and on the periphery of our professional responsibilities.
But the instructional benefits of multimedia and telecommunications technologies will be expanding. At the heart of our responsibility as user education instructors is the successful learning experience. If technology has given us the phenomenon of the remote user, then I think we are obliged to see if technology can help us to teach the remote user. Taking into account the added efficiency of electronically disseminated information, and the opportunity for collaboration with faculty, it becomes clear that the development of basic skills in this area is well worth our efforts. This direction is not on the periphery of our professional responsibility. It speaks to the heart of our goal of enhancing learning through instruction in information seeking skills.
Sager, Harvey. 1995. "Implications for Bibliographic Instruction." In The Impact of Emerging Technologies on Reference Service and Bibliographic Instruction. Gary M. Pitkin, ed. London: Greenwood Press.
Sherrer, Johannah. "Implications of New and Emerging Technologies on Reference Service." In The Impact of Emerging Technologies on Reference Service and Bibliographic Instruction. Gary M. Pitkin, ed. London: Greenwood Press.
Stoffle, Carla. 1995. "The Upside of Downsizing: Using Economic Crisis to Restructure and Revitalize Academic Libraries." In The Upside of Downsizing: Using Library Instruction to Cope. Cheryl LaGuardia, Stella Bentley, and Janet Martorana, ed. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.
Valauskas, Edward J. 1995. "Using a Web Browser as Presentation Software." Online 19(4): 44-47.