Online Learning (a response to Michael Steeleworthy)

Recently Michael Steeleworthy (currently at Wilfrid Laurier University) posted a manifesto on online instruction. Good for him. This is an area where we in libraries need a healthy debate.

Michael invited a dialogue and I can’t resist.

For the most part I’m good with his observations (particularly his focus on people rather than technology – although I admit to being a bright shiny object guy with respect to learning technologies).

However, I would take up two things he mentioned.

First, I think libraries (and everyone else for that matter) need to lose the term “instruction.” Not only is it so old school, it misses the point of what we are trying to do. Michael is taking about learning not instruction (or if he really is talking about instruction, like we used to talk about “teaching”, then I have bigger issues with his perspective). This isn’t a pedantic observation. The shift to a focus on learning is something the academy has been trying to do for some time; libraries need to get on board with this. Most consequentially this shift means a commitment to student centered learning. And I fully endorse that.

Secondly, I’m concerned that the library’s curriculum is so often separated (isolated) from the real curriculum; the one defined by our academic programs. I agree with Michael that the library needs to integrate it’s online learning with all the other library programs and initiatives (i.e. learning initiatives should be infused in all our work not a silo). I can accept the idea of a single coordinator (although this isn’t the case with other academic departments).

What I am arguing for is that “library instruction” should be so integrated into the academic curriculum that we construct it and implement it within this larger context. As long as we (libraries) continue to implement learning initiatives disconnected from the formal (read: real) curriculum, we will struggle to find attention and value.

The concept of “library learning” needs to disappear (become integrated) into the program curricula. It is not about us; it is about context based learning. As a result, the governance issues Michael raises are really about how libraries and academic departments or program committees fully articulate a broader strategy for learning outcomes. If libraries separate ourselves from this we have consciously chosen isolation and irrelevance.

My two cents. Good on Michael for his contributions.


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One Response to Online Learning (a response to Michael Steeleworthy)

  1. Thanks for your kind words! And as I mentioned to a couple others, thanks for adding some clarity by questioning some of my word choices. To clarfiy: I do agree that there is a difference between learning and instruction, but my words did slip in the heat of the moment in the original post. I am a supporter of user-centered learning, in part because the evolution of PSE (if not of education in general) demands it, and in part because I think it affords greater opportunity for exploration and risk-taking, which are excellent learning methods.

    Regarding the gap between the the “library curriculum” and the “real curriculum”, I have to say that I agree with some colleagues who have suggested that for librarians in the Province of Ontario, the push toward assessment and defined outcomes is an opportunity for libraries to insert (assert?) themselves into the university’s broader educational mandate. Some of the better ACRL IL competencies, for instance, have strong, broad-based outcomes that libraries could use as a framework to align itself with the university mission…

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