ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest – ALA Annual 2008 – Discussion 1

Academic Library Instruction in an Online Learning Environment

Conveners: Linda Gordon & Christina Cicchetti

Sunday, June 29, 2008, 10:30am -12 pm, Doubletree Guest Suites Tuscany A/B  |  Anaheim, CA


According to the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, more than 87% of public 4 year institutions and 42% of non-profit private 4 year institutions offered distance learning programs during the 2005-06 academic year. Distance learning is clearly here to stay, and nearly all such programs involve an online component. Good teaching techniques in an online environment differ from good teaching techniques in a classroom environment.

Modes for Delivering Library Instruction Online

The foundation for an effective online library instruction program is a user-friendly, intuitive library home page. Beyond your web site, there are a variety of modes for delivering instruction online:

  • Tutorials on databases, research processes, and citation tools
  • Webinars, videocasts, and podcasts
  • Research paper consultations by phone, e-mail or chat
  • Direct library links (chat reference, course-related tutorials, embedded librarian) in learning management systems, such as Blackboard©.

Current Trends

Higher education is moving toward a “hybrid” delivery of courses, with an online component supporting face to face instruction. This trend is growing as electronic delivery of resources becomes the standard. The role of the academic library is increasingly mirroring the hybrid course delivery mode. Librarians may be “embedded” in a learning management tool, requested to design research assignments using the library’s online resources, or deliver instruction electronically using videocasts, podcasts, and webinars.

Challenges and Opportunities

Collaboration with faculty begins with getting your foot in the door. Build relationships through regular attendance at campus meetings, celebrations, and committees where faculty are present. Take every opportunity to pass out your business card and chat up faculty about how you can serve them. Identify and request regular meetings with department and program chairs; ask to be placed on their distribution list (particularly e-mail). Obtain approval from appropriate administrators to communicate directly with the faculty.

Find ways to bridge the distance. E-mail, online meetings, etc. are great, but you need some face to face opportunities if at all possible, to develop relationships with students, faculty and site administrators. A travel budget is crucial. Appropriate technology is essential when you take your show on the road; make sure you have internet access, laptop computer, and portable projector. Offer to be available as a resource for students on course sites (embedded librarian), and suggest assignments for evaluation of information. Make sure distance learning students know they have access to library resources; ask to be included in any student or faculty orientations, either face to face, or online. Cultivate a relationship with your computer support and instructional technology departments to enhance your access to the latest technology.

A Follow-Up From the Discussion

Participants in the Annual 2008 Discussion Group divided themselves into small groups where each group discussed one of the following questions:

What methods have you used to reach students in the online learning environment?

A wide range of methods were mentioned, including:

  • IM systems such as Meebo
  • Course management systems such as WebCT and BlackBoard
  • Conferencing software such as Horizon Wimba
  • LibGuides
  • Screencasts and online tutorials
  • Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook and
  • Texting and convert to e-mail
  • My Media

What are important differences to keep in mind when teaching online rather than face to face?

  • Class interaction is more difficult online
  • Student attention span is shorter; online learners expect an IMMEDIATE response
  • Developing creative assignments
  • Media response may be slow
  • Need a pedagogical approach other than lecture: videos, chat rooms
  • Be interactive
  • Hold virtual office hours
  • Students and instructors need to be tech savvy
  • Virtual communication differences (no body language, anonymity, etc.)

What best practices have you found for library instruction online?

Marketing library instruction is an important issue. Student clubs, faculty meetings, and department meetings were all suggested as marketing venues. Faculty buy-in is critical, and instructors need to reinforce library instruction.

The importance of identifying learning outcomes was mentioned. Active learning techniques and variations in learning styles were recommended. Measurement and feedback are important to make sure learning outcomes are achieved.

Make every effort to get in early on planning for new courses and programs. Try to develop content that is modular and reusable, then link it in as many learning environments as possible. The best instruction is embedded as part of a course, either at the course level or the assignment level. Consider discipline specific library instruction as opposed to one size fits all.

Keep in mind that teaching online is not a time-saver. Be strategic and selective in the courses taught. Keeping online modules up to date is a challenge; have a plan for keeping modules updated.

Pay attention to the characteristics of various user groups. Key into student’s expectations for online interactions; for example, gaming: is the expected level of sophistication affordable? Get students involved in developing online content; YouTube, for example.

What assessment methods have you used for evaluating online library instruction outcomes?

Most participants admitted to not having done assessment, and confessed that they were looking for good ideas! In the context of institutional accreditation, it is important that learning outcomes be measured, not just student attitudes toward instruction.

Pre and Post tests can be used with library skills classes. Completion of embedded assignments in online courses may also fulfill the need for assessment. Requiring a bibliography to be uploaded to course management system may also be appropriate.

Survey Monkey was suggested as a helpful tool for developing assessments. However, it can be difficult to get online students to participate in the assessments. One librarian was able to make 1% of the class grade dependent on completion of the assessment. Ask questions that will help to improve the instruction the next time around, such as what was most helpful in the instruction, or what was missing from the instruction.

When doing assessment, keep in mind that students are finding new ways to cheat in online environments.

Other comments

A lively discussion continued after each discussion group had reported, and a variety of issues came up.

Cheating and the whole issue of academic integrity was one of the most discussed. Georgetown’s model of requiring students to complete an academic integrity tutorial before registering for classes was mentioned. Participants felt that it was important to address the issue of academic integrity up front rather than waiting until cheating occurred. Libraries can help to address this issue by including modules on plagiarism and citing sources properly in online instruction modules. It helps for students to hear this issue addressed from multiple sources in multiple ways.

A number of institutions use Turnitin to help address this issue. Opinion varied as to how well this worked, with some thinking that since students can do a trial run with their paper, students can tweak the paper just enough to avoid getting caught. Others felt that this was a useful feature, since much of the cheating they see is unintentional. Some institutions encourage students to do a trial run before submitting the final paper. SafeAssign in BlackBoard was mentioned, but those familiar with it said it is not as good as Turnitin.

A need was expressed for rubrics that would inform the assessment process.


Buck, S., Islam, R., & Syrkin, D. (2006).Collaboration for distance information literacy instruction: Do current trends reflect best practices? Journal of Library Administration, 45(1), 63-79.

Clayton, S. (Ed.). (2007). Going the distance: Library instruction for remote learners. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

McLean, E., & Dew, S. H. (2006). Providing library instruction to distance learning students in the 21st century: Meeting the current and changing needs of a diverse community. Journal of Library Administration, 45(3/4), 315-337.

Smith, S. S. (2005). Web-based instruction: A guide for libraries (2nd ed.). Chicago: American Library Association.


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