This post from Ben Lainhart inspires me to do everything I can to make online LIS learning and engaging: (emphasis mine)

One of the worst things about being an online MLIS student is the lack of meaningful interaction with professors and students. Let’s face it, Blackboard is still stuck back in 2001. Ideas do not organically flow there. How can they when you have to make two insipid posts per week – 1 original, 1 response please! I am nearing the end of my program and though I am sure I have had more than a few classes with several students, I never really interacted or networked with them.

So, I wonder why more LIS professors have not embraced social media and recognized the great potential for learning that exists there. I am not saying Blackboard is completely obsolete (an upgrade wouldn’t hurt though). However, it is past the time for classes to shed the familiar shell in which they exist. I do not want to take any more online classes that are exactly the same: sign into BB, read the “lecture,” read the articles, make my obligatory posts on the discussion board and occasionally write a paper. How uninspiring! This model of learning belongs back in the physical classroom (actually, it doesn’t really belong there either). Online learning should be a dynamic and self-directed experience. The professors role is to act as guide by curating materials around the web. Basic competencies should be taught and then the students need to be led on their own journey of learning through doing, interacting, trying (maybe failing), and working hard.

I kid you not, this was actually in a textbook (time for these to go too) that I had to read for one of my classes. Thank you, Info 530, for teaching me about the most famous internet: “the Internet.” Glad I am going into debt for this.

(see the post for the image of the textbook entry!)

I recently met with one of my professors in a private pod she created on Drexel Island in Second Life. The meeting was excellent. We chatted as if I had stopped by her office. She answered my questions and explained a bit more about SL to me. Lectures and meetings in SL with professors and students would greatly increase the ability to interact and network. It provides a space to learn more about each other as well. It pains me that this resource is available (for free!) and it is so rarely used.

Especially in the LIS field, emerging technology is incredibly important. If professors and students are not willing to attempt to use them to learn and expand, we are going to make ourselves obsolete. This must to start in school. I have learned some great things at Drexel, but I can’t help but wonder about how it could have been better. I am convinced that there have been days that I have learned more on Twitter than from an entire class.

As I begin to prepare for two classes centered on emerging technologies for SJSU SLIS in the fall, please tell me TTW readers what you’d like from an online course…

13 thoughts on “Office Hours Extra: IS ONLINE EDUCATION STILL STUCK IN 2001?

  • Anna

    My online classes at the University of Illinois are entirely synchronous, audio- and sometimes video-based, and incredibly interactive (we use eluminate software), and every semester there is a week for all the online classes to meet for a day in person. Though I still prefer traditional classrooms, I definitely interact MORE with my classmates in these online classes.

    While I understand that some people choose online classes for the fact that they don’t meet in real-time, I don’t understand why so many universities still use text-based online classes so enthusiastically.

  • Kindree

    I finished my MLIS at the University of Illinois (UC) a year and a half ago. I was in the online program, and I really enjoyed the synchronous classes. As Anna described, they were interactive and collaborative. Illinois’ intense, required 10-day on-campus course (“Boot Camp”) at the start of the program also gave me a chance to create friendships that helped me a great deal throughout the program and after graduating. Each online class also meets during the on-campus weekend, and also gave my friends and I a chance to reconnect each semester.

    I took an online course through U of I Springfield as well, and it was asynchronous. I found it absolutely useless compared to my MLIS courses. We had assigned readings (usually in a paper textbook) and assigned writings. There weren’t even any lectures! I had a much harder time finding any incentive to work hard in the class, because other than the subject matter, there was no opportunity to expand my understanding or create connections. In my opinion, synchronous classes are the way to go; at least partially synchronous, or having required discussion groups or something. Asynchronous discussions just aren’t the same.

    I’ve used three different platforms for online learning, and the differences can have a big impact in the quality of education. I wish I remembered the name of the platform UIUC used before eluminate; I preferred it, because it was possible to have multiple conversations at once in different tabs, enabling me to follow the main discussion and have several other side discussions going at the same time while listening to the lecture.

    I also really appreciated the professors who tried their best to cut down on the number of physical textbooks we had to use; it really seemed to help those students who were less accustomed to doing research using online databases when the professors used articles from those same databases.

    Online learning doesn’t have to be full of gimmicks to work, but it needs to be interactive and collaborative within the context of the class. Videos and widgets don’t make a class. In-depth discussion, research, and experimentation make a class.

  • Alyssa

    I cannot tell you how much I empathize with this post! Thanks for re-posting Ben Lainhart’s thoughts. I am currently taking an online course at Simmons College using Blackboard, and I agree that it needs some serious updating.

    Blackboard does not allow you to subscribe to the discussion board threads in any way whatsoever– no RSS feeds, no email digests with new posts, not even a notification if someone has responded to something you wrote. Yet, we students are expected to post on the discussion boards regularly to “participate in the on-going conversation.” The Blackboard Discussion module requires me to log in to the e-learning software several times a day just to make sure I’m keeping up with everyone else’s comments (and logging-in takes forever too). I thought that online courses were supposed to be more flexible to accommodate non-traditional students, but this method makes me feel trapped to my computer.

    My ideal online discussion experience would involve something akin to an RSS feed so that I could follow my fellow students’ comments using my smartphone.

  • Ben

    Hey, thanks for re-posting this. It’s good to see some comments and hear other people reacting to some thoughts I have been having about online MLIS lately.

    @Alyssa, I agree with you 100% about Bb. The lack of RSS feeds is really annoying. If some of your classes are anything like mine, a hundred posts show up towards the “due date,” which makes finding things you’ve already said and been discussing really difficult. It is very hard to have an organic conversation there.

    As for what I’d like to see in an online class…I can offer something I was reading about yesterday from The Unquiet Librarian: the digital essay. Especially since you’re teaching classes about emerging tech, this would be a great alternative to a paper.

  • Kyle Jones


    Michael and I continue to adapt his course sites to new technologies and learning methods online. I’d be curious to see a critique of the 768 site ( to see if it meets your online learning needs/wants and how it could be improved.

    ~Kyle Jones~

  • Veronica

    I completed my MLIS in 2006 through a UNT distance learning program in Houston that combined traditional evening/weekend face-to-face classes with online classes. I am really surprised to read that online courses in Bb haven’t changed much in the last 5 years! Like Anna, I understand that many people take online courses as a way to learn around their work or childcare obligations, however I would have been willing to sacrifice AT LEAST one night a week and some weekend time for a real, live, synchronous class discussion using something like GoToMeeting or Wimba. I think that the standard Bb class that Ben describes in his post (lecture notes, readings, discussion board posts, blah blah blah) really prevents students from getting to know their professors and classmates in the same way they would in a face-to-face class. I held my online classes and f2f classes to the same standards: I wanted engaging, thought-provoking reading and discussion. If Bb can’t offer this, perhaps professors should start using something else.

  • Ben


    The lis 768 course website is great. It looks and feels like a “digital classroom.” Everything is interactive and I have a feeling that the students finish the class feeling very comfortable participating in a variety of online environments. Just looking over the activities and assignments makes me wish I had applied to the PhD program there so that I could take a class like this. I’m glad you shared the link with me. I will be heading over to it in my free time to take advantage of some of the resources posted there. I know this isn’t much of a critique. Maybe I’ll have some real suggestions for you once I have the time to look a bit more in-depth. Keep up the good work.


    I agree with you in that I hold both online and f2f classes to the same standards. One of the reasons that I choose a program that is entirely online is because I have a real interest in how education is going to evolve to meet our changing world and adapt to (and create!) paradigm shifts around traditional and institutional education. When I take an online class, I look for the professor to be thinking about these ideas and really struggling to make the learning experience new, different and transformative. It is really exciting to be a student/educator right now and to be experiencing it all first-hand.

  • Kaz

    I agree whole heartedly with Ben. I’m doing a MLIS in Australia at Charles Sturt Uni by distance as I live in a remote area. A lot of library staff are studying at CSU to get their qualifications and others who work in different industries who want to change career. We don’t use blackboard but something that is probably similar called Interact (may be CSU’s branding). As Ben said, read notes, post, reply to a post is how a lot of tutors run their class. We read/learn about the need for libraries to be innovative, catering to new audiences by using wikis, social media, online chat, IM and a plethora of technologies yet only one subject has done this. Web 2.0 is such a big component of the theory but not used in the practice. There is a chat facility for each class but a lot of the students never use either. I’ve put in a post and gone back a week, 2 weeks later and still no reply. Does this reflect on the student or is the tutor partly responsible for not encouraging use of chat? Glad to hear at the top of these comments that some universities seem to be getting it right.

  • Paulina

    Amen Ben, and thanks for articulating this problem so well. As an online student nearing completion of my MLIS, “uninspiring” is the perfect word to describe the typical online class.

    I have really appreciated those profs who create audio and video content specific to the course, as opposed to those who just direct you to hour-long videos–already on the Web–that may/may not touch on what you need to know. It’s not just about having audio and video content; it’s about directing students to efficient sources of learning.

  • Simon Chamberlain

    My MLIS (at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand) had a mixture of online and face-to-face classes, but the online classes were always synchronous, using webcasts and VOIP. I can’t imagine taking a course that involved reading articles and lectures and posting on a bulletin board, and nothing else. That sounds pointless to me. The online classes worked pretty well, but I did find I missed visual cues – for example, when deciding whether to speak, being able to see if someone else wants to speak is useful. On the other hand, having a chat room running alongside the slideshow and voice discussion was useful.

    If a middle-ranked university at the end of the world could do this reasonably well several years ago, then I don’t see why most US universities can’t…;-)

    [As an aside, VUW had partnered with a number of other library schools in the WISE consortium, so that our students could attend courses in other universities, online. So we had US students phoning into our classes, at 3am their time. Quite impressive].

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