MLA Position Statements and FAQs
Technology-based Distance Education:
While technology is having a profound impact on colleges and universities across the nation and around the globe, the higher education community still has much to learn regarding how and in what ways technology can enhance the teaching and learning process. Educating students separated from a campus by many miles is not new to the field of education. However, distance education, which evolved from yesterday's correspondence courses, differs dramatically from the past, because technology-based, interactive study can unite not only the separated teacher and student but also the students with other students. This interaction generally occurs in one of two ways:
1. Asynchronous interaction (e.g., email that is read or delivered at the student's or the instructor's own pace or via group discussion technology integrated into computer programs used or distance education) sometimes referred to as "store and forward."
2. Synchronous interaction in real time (e.g., chat rooms, video conferencing, phone conferences). In some networks, all learners in a specific system receive instruction through a combination of all these modalities.
Today, an array of corporate and virtual universities, existing only in cyberspace, are competing with traditional educational institutions for a piece of the growing market for anytime-anyplace, just-in-time education services. At least thirty-three states have developed statewide virtual universities or are part of a consortium. In 1988, 44% of all higher education institutions were offering distance education courses. Recent studies estimate that by the year 2002, 84% of all four-year colleges and universities, public and private, will offer distance education courses. More than 200 Websites containing more than 4,000 courses offer some form of continuing medical education to medical professionals, students, and caregivers. The International Data Corporation forecasts that by the end of 2002 over 2.2 million students will be enrolled in distance learning courses.
The U.S. government is setting up national infrastructures such as the Next Generation Internet (NGI) to develop advanced networking capabilities and improve Web applications for distance education. Other federal initiatives including the Distance Education Demonstration Project (DEDP), the Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP), and efforts of the Web-based Education Commission may significantly increase acceptance of technology-based distance education.
While contributing to traditional missions of higher education, Web-based technology is causing a re-examination of traditional policies and rules, and of higher education institutions' role in society. Although services for distance education participants may differ from, they must be equivalent to services available from the traditional campus. Thus, the provision of library resources and services is essential and participation of library leadership in planning the future of distance education is critical in several areas.
The Association of College and Research Libraries Guidelines for Distance Learning acknowledge that "access to adequate library services and resources is essential for the attainment of superior academic skills in post secondary education, regardless of where students, faculty, and programs are located." Further, information literacy instruction is critical for life-long learning and is a primary outcome of higher education.
Issues such as accreditation, faculty and student support, technology training, online library services, confidentiality and privacy, and ownership of materials that surround these changes must be reviewed and involvement of as many internal and external stakeholders as possible is necessary.
Accreditation standards require that colleges and universities provide students with access to library resources. The basis for most current accreditation guidelines are derived from:
Training and support needs are different for early adopters of distance education than for most faculty. Most faculty, however, need carefully planned training programs, specific goals for each learning session and ongoing training presented in low-risk environment. Most health sciences libraries have knowledgeable staff skilled at providing the necessary hands-on experiences and specific assistance in locating online resources. Librarians can also help faculty gain insight into the challenges that students face in locating online resources when taking online courses. Additionally, librarians are advocates of broad, incremental training using hardware and software that draws on the principles of adult education and collaborate teaching essential to technology-based education.
Librarians typically serve a broad spectrum of learners at many educational levels with diverse learning needs and skills and with multicultural backgrounds. In this respect, librarians can provide insight into the development of technology-based distance education courses that are sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of the diversity of students found in the digital classroom.
It is also true that students who take technology-based distance education must change their thinking about how they learn. They learn how to learn while collaborating with their peers, their faculty, and those who facilitate the process. Librarians have skills derived from managing collaborative efforts such as consortium building, and they are familiar with professional information-seeking jargon that may have to be explained, especially to students whose experience with language, culture, or field of study is limited.
Technology-based education also creates increasing pressures for institutions to become more customer oriented than before. They must be student centered in outreach, engagement, and services. They must extend the long-standing practice emulated by libraries to reach out to students, providing them with personalized responses and attention. Tools that make for self-reliance such as online book purchases and twenty-four-hour access to electronic information resources are also expected by students in distance learning courses.
Technology can be a knowledge-construction tool that enables learners to use higher-level cognitive skills, combine new information with prior knowledge and form new sets of understandings. However, online information tutorials are essential to provide the continued support needed by users of technology-based courses. Fairly specific instructions regarding what action to take in certain online situations are required. It is particularly helpful if users can locate people who have computer and Internet skills, such as librarians, to serve as local resources.
Distance students need online library support and online students view lack of library materials as a significant problem. One study, found that nearly 80% of the 1,014 respondents stated that they needed to use the library regardless of specific course requirements.
In most states, colleges and universities provide library services to distance education students via interlibrary loans, access to statewide networks, and statewide licensing agreements for electronic library databases. While distance students rely heavily on these services, they do not often have the luxury of going to the stacks to personally search for what they need. Online library services are gradually becoming more available, but only a few major educational institutions have comprehensive digital libraries.
In addition to support for comprehensive digital collection, educational institutions offering distance education should provide:
Technology-based education frequently requires security measures for confidential transmittals such as conversations between faculty, sharing information about students, and electronically tracked faculty activity and interactions. Librarians and the health information associations to which they belong can provide assistance and guidance in developing policies that balance the confidentiality and privacy rights of individual users with those of the producers of online resources.
The 1999 Report on Copyright and Digital Distance Education recommends that (1) the fair use doctrine should apply to activities in the digital instructional environment; (2) any expanded exemptions should be premised on the use of technologies that protect against unauthorized use to minimize the risk of piracy to copyright owners, and (3) the expanded fair-use exemption should continue to be available only to nonprofit educational institutions.
The Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH) updates copyright for distance education. If passed by Congress, the TEACH Act would significantly benefit online distance education. The following provisions of the bill are particularly important: (1) exempting digital transmissions from Section 106 rights to the extent necessary to permit such transmissions in the ordinary operation of the Internet; (2) eliminating the physical classroom requirement for remote reception of educational material; (3) enabling the asynchronous use of material by permitting material to be stored on a server for subsequent use by students; and (4) expanding the categories of work exempted from the performance right to include reasonable and limited portions of audiovisual and dramatic literary and musical works, as well as sound recording of the musical works that are already within the scope of the exemption.
The Medical Library Association (MLA) and the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) support recommendations included in The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice, a report of the Web-based Education Commission chaired by Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Vice Chair Representative Johnny Isakson of Georgia, especially recommendations to:
Healthy People 2010 identifies opportunities for health communication to contribute to the improvement of personal and community health during the first decade of the 21st century and notes that often people with the greatest health burdens have the least access to information, communication technologies, health care, and supporting social services. MLA and AAHSL encourage key stakeholders-including health professionals, researchers, public officials, and the lay public-to collaborate on a range of activities to reduce disparities in underserved communities that often lack access to crucial health professionals, services, and communication channels. (See also MLA statement, Essential Library Support for Distance Education).
Health sciences librarians need to meet the challenge of becoming more informed about distance education technology and its applications, including its use as a methodology for education and training of our profession. The following list of resources is intended as an aid to identify additional ways that health sciences libraries can participate in this emerging service area.
Prepared May 2002 by
Logan Ludwig, Ph.D., Chair, MLA Governmental Relations Committee, and Associate Dean, Library and Telehealth Services, Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, IL.
For more information, contact Mary Langman, 312.419.9094 x27.
Medical Library Association
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Last Updated: 2008 January 18