On the virtual classroom

I realized very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to have the normal graduate student experience (if there is such a thing). But lucky for me, many accredited library science programs have strong distance learning programs. In fact, since many library science students are also working full-time jobs, it’s becoming a popular way to train future librarians. And despite not everyone accepting online learning, I think the virtual classroom actually offers benefits for future librarians.

While many out there share my view, there seem to be a few holdouts that think that you can’t possibly get the full benefit of an MLS if all interactions are made through a computer screen.

One thing I’ve noticed many of these anti-online-learning librarians talk about is how tight-knit their cohorts were. In fact, one of the things I love about library science versus journalism is that librarians are much more focused on collaboration and supporting the mission than beating out the competitors for advertising. In journalism, it’s about scooping another paper, sometimes with disastrous results (does “Dewey Defeats Truman” sound familiar to anyone?). A strong argument against virtual learning is that students can’t truly connect and collaborate in the online format. Some say you also can’t get the true library experience without being at a university and having access to brick-and-mortar libraries.

And I agree that both of these will be specific challenges to my cohort and others like it across the country. But there are a lot of pros to going to school online.

For me, I have to keep working full-time to make ends meet. Plus, I don’t live near an ALA-accredited program. When I graduate, my husband and I fully expect to have to relocate in any number of places. In fact, we’re looking forward to the change. But for now we need to stay where we are for at least another year. Plus, I actually enjoy taking classes online. Granted I’ve only taken 3- to 6-week courses so far, but experiences with those classes have left me with the impression that online learning really works for me.

I believe that many of the cons most librarians list are easily overcome by a little work. I live within an hour’s drive of 6 or 7 excellent universities with incredible libraries where I could get hands-on experience through service-learning or intern programs. And if we are proactive, my cohort and professors can easily connect with each other in a similar way that professors and students do in traditional programs.

The world is shrinking as access to the Internet is spreading. It’s actually a great thing. It means I can learn alongside and from individuals I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. And being comfortable with virtual learning means that I will already be used to working in an environment we’ll all have to accept sooner or later.

As the program progresses, I know I’ll have more to say on the topic. So stay tuned for my reflections on what it’s like to interact and learn virtually.


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