This is my final post of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! Read all of my HLSDITL posts here. And visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone who participated.
Hello, friends! Welcome to my last post for the Library Student Day in the Life week. It’s been fun and definitely not as difficult as I thought it would be to come up with seven consecutive posts that related with some aspect of my normal week. I just wanted to say thanks for visiting, commenting or liking my posts. While I won’t be able to post everyday in the future, I will continue to post on the topics I’ve introduced this week. If you liked what you read, go ahead and follow me. If you hate what I said, leave a comment explaining why. I love conversations, and I’d love to hear from people about their opinions on libraries, library schools and book reviews.
Now, down to business! As far as school is concerned, if you remember my post breaking down my weekly schedule, Sunday is the day I try to do the least school work, except for the hourlong Skype discussion I have with my ethics group. Today we talked about some of the privacy topics I mentioned in Friday’s post. The most interesting tidbit was from a student who just moved to Italy to teach English. She informed us that they have a “controlled” society which she described as “a little bit like living in 1984.” Not only are there a variety of surveillance cameras where she is, there is the completely acceptable expectation that the government and police are listening. Which was interesting considering the text had said European countries are more likely to be concerned with privacy.
But this synchronous aspect of my asynchronous program got me thinking about the overall online program at UMD. As far as online programs go, one of the reasons I chose UMD is because the classes met completely asynchronously. Although there are deadlines, you get about a week to post discussions (though, some professors prefer you post on the first day and return to post responses as the week wears on). More than that, you get to pick the time of day to do work, which is ideal if you work a night job like I was (many synchronous programs hold their weekly class meetings at night thinking they are accommodating their students).
But this is the first semester where a professor required synchronous discussions that would be live in some way (phone, Skype, Google Hangout, etc.). It was difficult to pick a time that worked for four different people, especially when one moved to Italy half way through the semester. But to be honest, once the hurdle of picking a time was cleared, the discussions have actually been really interesting. Something about hearing someone’s arguments out loud can make it easier to respond on the fly. I think professors requiring sourced, lengthy replies for each post can make debate a little stale and less off-the-cuff. This allows for a balance of working through issues together and making fully supported arguments later once we are more fully able to understand each side.
If you have a more flexible schedule but still can’t move close to a school, you might find synchronous online classes up your alley, since they require weekly class meetings where you can take advantage of this type of interaction. But if you have a pretty strict schedule, asynchronous will likely be the way you’ll have to go. The key with graduate school, especially online, is that a lot of the responsibility falls on you. You must make sure you put in the amount of effort it requires you to learn in these courses and you must be proactive in making sure you are getting what you want to learn from them. UMD’s online degree is very generalized, but most professors allow you to follow your interests within each class. So if you want to work at a university, you can focus your research on academic libraries. If you want to work with children in public libraries, you can focus on that. As long as you can tie it into the class subject, most professors give you a little leeway in that regard.
If I could go back in time, would I pick the online route again? Well, sometimes I miss the camaraderie of commiserating or celebrating with my fellow students as we walk across the quad (they still call it that, right?) after class. But, the online learning environment is actually well-suited to my preferences. I just wish some professors would interact with us a little more. In undergrad, I befriended many professors and I still talk to them today. It’s difficult to build that relationship with professors you have never actually met. Although, it’s nice when professors record weekly video messages or short lectures, like my ethics professor does. It makes it easier to relate to her.
Would I recommend to aspiring library students UMD’s online program? That one is a little more tough. UMD’s online program is still in its infancy. It was launched in 2011, and they’ve only just graduated their first cohort this past August. And, they only just allowed two specializations (School Library and Government Information Management and Services), which are quite different from the general degree. The biggest problem? There is no flexibility. If you want to take an extra course that interests you, you’ll have to jump through hoops and then you might still be denied access. They have some good reasons, but it really has rubbed some in the program the wrong way. Personally, I can educate myself on many of these topics, so I’m okay with them picking my courses because it means I get my degree faster and I am guaranteed a spot in those classes, so I don’t have to worry about graduating late. However, it seems like they should easily give the option to those that want a little variety or more control. Bottom line, give UMD another year or two for them to iron out the kinks. That will give you a chance to get some real world experience before you enroll straight into grad school, something I definitely recommend.