Online teaching and more

As usually happens, the past week had its ups and downs. Although the academic year at Wheaton College finished last week and the campus is therefore much quieter, work at Buswell Library continues at a very busy pace. For example, now is the busiest time of the year for finishing up financial transactions to ensure that everything is spent by the end of the fiscal year in June. Also to be finished in that same timeframe are the annual report and staff performance evaluations.

In addition to the normal busyness, we also entered an even more-than-usually-hectic period with converting our entire collection from Dewey Decimal to Library of Congress Classification. Representatives from the vendor we are using are busy hiring and training temporary staff to do the relabelling work and starting to organize the actual work that will happen for the next three or so months. The hope is for most of the relabeling work, along with shifting and reorganizing the entire collection of several hundred thousand books into the new classification scheme, to be completed ahead of the Fall semester. It’s not yet clear if we’ll meet that goal.

As if that isn’t enough, we are also completing a crucial period of planning for a new/renovated library facility. The core team, of which I am part, met once again this week with project architects. We spent a day planning various options for how spaces might be optimally arranged in our preferred plan. (We will actually submit five different plans/options for review and a decision by the Board of Trustees, ranging from extra small to extra large.) The result of our work is a preferred plan that I am quite excited about, and I hope those who review it for a funding decision will agree.

I was also asked to participate in a planning meeting for supporting online classes primarily for students enrolled in programs within the School of Missions, Ministry, and Leadership. I support most of that school’s programs as part of my subject librarian duties. Although the existing plan focuses on asynchronous delivery that heavily relies on pre-recorded lecture videos, we also talked quite a bit about possibilities for other options to explore in future, including synchronous online teaching, which is what I’ve done for about 16 years now at the iSchool at Illinois. The project group I met with seemed especially interested in what kinds of technology I use as well as how the pedagogical approach is different, and I was happy to provide input. At Illinois, the online teaching for Master’s degree students in library and information science has been in place since the late 1990s. It is a very successful and robust program. Currently, I deliver the synchronous portion using Blackboard Collaborate, using Moodle as the learning management system in which to store assignments, schedules, syllabus, readings, and more. This is all supported through an outstanding, dedicated Instructional Technology and Design team at the iSchool. Starting in the Fall, though, the iSchool plans to move away from Blackboard Collaborate to use Zoom instead. I’m pretty excited about that because I have a lot of experience with Zoom and think highly of its functionality. I have never been a huge fan of Blackboard.

As for the whole graduate school classwork thing (meaning, my part-time pursuit of a second graduate degree in historical theology at Wheaton)…I did the best I could in the circumstances but as expected, got a low grade. There is no fault due to the school or the instructor, who in fact has been very gracious and kind, but I’ve also provided feedback to the powers-that-be about structural problems with some of the classes I’ve taken so far. Wheaton provides some classes, including required ones, via a 1/2 semester model called quad classes. The first course I took in this program was a normal semester long course, and then I completed two of these quad classes this past Spring semester. As someone else said to me in all seriousness, “quad classes are of the devil!” They are for two credits vs. four credits for regular, semester-long courses. The problem is that way too much material is crammed into a short period for it to be an optimal educational experience for students. One of the two classes I had this past semester had more required work and expectations than the semester long, four credit hour course I took last Fall. It was crazy, and that ought not to happen. I know it is quite challenging to teach as well. The quad class approach should be abolished.

Finally, yet another big project we are facing is a year-long migration of our primary library system — which powers our library catalog and impacts most of our staff functions — to a completely new and different system. There is an enormous amount of data and work involved in making this change although the end result will be a vastly improved system for users and staff alike. We will also retire two or three other library systems we’ve been using for several years as part of this project. I’m leading this project locally and there is a lot of activity coming up on it that will extend through ’til June of next year, when the new system will officially launch.

I forgot to mention one more thing: we are also launching a new archival management system (ArchivesSpace, replacing Archon) next month.

All in all, with everything going on, the next several months will be interesting…

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