Most institutions provide instructional design teams to support faculty in creating online courses. At my institution, each department has an assigned instructional designer, and most faculty members consider designers to be an indispensable part of the course development process. The same cannot be said for librarians, however, as my experience has been that most instructors view librarians as valuable sources of resources but not as actual resources themselves. While not intentional, of course, this means that instructors are missing an opportunity to enhance their courses. Similarly, instructional designers, who often work independently of librarians, may not be aware of all the resources available to them when supporting instructors during the process of course design.
All institutions have librarians dedicated to instruction and assigned to departments. In many cases, especially at larger institutions, these librarians hold graduate degrees in the fields to which they are assigned. They also usually possess many years of experience working with faculty from those fields. Combined with their training in developing collections, these librarians bring considerable expertise when selecting resources to be used in class and should always be consulted when choosing textbooks, articles, and other materials being used in class. They often know of material that faculty members are not aware of. They are also up-to-date on what databases and other electronic resources are currently offered through the library. This is no small detail because licensing agreements and available titles shift regularly as libraries and vendors renegotiate their existing contracts. Consequently, it is best to always include a course's assigned librarian in all stages of course design, as the librarian may have more current knowledge regarding available resources than an instructor or instructional designer.
Copyright is another important area for consulting librarians. Many instructors have become accustomed to freely using materials in face-to-face courses on the grounds that this is educational use. While such use is almost always compliant with copyright law, things get messier in online courses because the educational use exemption is intended only for traditional classroom instruction. When making resources available online, instructors must adhere to the TEACH Act of 2002, which puts limits on how copyrighted materials can be used in a classroom. For example, instructors can use only the amount of a copyrighted work that is needed for a lesson, that lesson must be relevant to the course material, and access to the materials is limited to only the amount of time needed for the course. Furthermore, the material cannot be accessible to anyone not enrolled in the course, and reasonable attempts must be made to prevent students from downloading and distributing the copyrighted material.
Sound complicated? That's because it is. So it's a good thing that librarians are available as resources to provide support in making sure everything used in an online class is compliant with copyright law, including the TEACH Act. Furthermore, librarians have taken a leading role in the promotion of open educational resources (OERs) and can often recommend resources that are licensed for use. These include learning objects, test banks, activities, open access journal articles, electronic textbooks, and even entire courses. Selecting such resources does not just help save money for students but can also help you improve your course, as, in many cases, they are superior to copyrighted material that is frequently included in courses. This is contrary to a widely held notion that cost is correlated to quality, a myth that is probably perpetuated by many publishers. As with copyrighted materials, instructors and instructional designers may not be current on where OERs are located, especially for specific concepts. Librarians, however, track these resources as part of their jobs, and some of the larger institutions have even hired librarians specifically assigned to curating OERs. Therefore, instructors and instructional designers interested in incorporating OERs into courses should seek out their assigned librarian for assistance.
Librarians can help with much more than selecting course materials, though. Pedagogical training is now more common in library schools and professional development. Consequently, librarians can help develop instructional resources for the online classroom, such as tutorials on how to use library-related resources for research projects. It is rare to find an academic library that does not have a librarian assigned to online courses and is responsible for the development and promotion of such resources. These resources are easily integrated into any LMS and incorporated into the course seamlessly. Better yet, the librarians themselves can be embedded into the course and assist with the development and grading of assignments. Unfortunately, in my experience, instructors tend to be completely unaware of such services. At my institution, for example, we get only a handful of such requests every semester, and almost none of those requests come from instructors teaching online courses. This is unfortunate because instructors tend to agree that their students lack basic information literacy and research skills yet do not realize that they have an excellent resource available to help solve those problems. Consequently, instructors and instructional designers should be discussing how to integrate librarians into the instruction of the course, especially since students are unlikely to seek out librarians outside of the online classroom.
Librarians are a key, and often forgotten, resource for developing online courses. Engaging them right at the beginning of the development process saves faculty members time and improves the educational experience for their students.
Andrew J. Cano is a virtual learning librarian and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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