The Three C's of Distance Education:: Competence, Creativity and Community

Article excerpt

The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University has long been an innovator in library and information science education, including the establishment of the field's first Web-based with limited residencies library and information science distance learning program in 1993. This article describes Syracuse's school library education (both distance and campus-based) in terms of developing student competence through a competency-based curriculum, bringing research into the classroom, and the use of technology for teaching and learning; fostering creativity through inquiry and "scholarship in action"; and building a community of inquiry among school library faculty, students, and practitioners through the use of social media and a variety of inclusive techniques.

Introduction

The nationally-ranked, ALA-accredited School of Information Studies at Syracuse University (iSchool@Syracuse) has a long and rich history of leadership and innovation (Small, 2003). Founded in 1896, the school was the sixth library science school in the United States.

Syracuse has been the site of many firsts in library and information science education. In 1974, Dean Robert Taylor changed the name of the School of Library Science to the School of Information Studies, making it the first information school in the U.S. (Small & Settel, 2003). In 1980, under Dean Donald Marchand, Syracuse became the first information school to offer a master's degree program in information resources management (later information management) and, in 1987, the first undergraduate program in information management and technology (Taylor, 1980).

In 1993, Syracuse established a distance program specifically for people who wished to become librarians, but who (1) lived in remote areas of the country where no such programs exist or (2) had full-time jobs, young families, or other responsibilities that precluded them from attending traditional part-time programs (Small & Settel, 2003). Syracuse became the first program in the nation to establish a distance program in library and information science that combined online courses with limited on-campus residencies. Soon thereafter, distance programs were established in the other master's-level programs at the School (information management, telecommunications and network management) and recently, a distance executive doctoral program.

In this article, we describe school library education at Syracuse University in the context of developing student competence through a competency-based curriculum, bringing research into the classroom, and using technology for teaching and learning; fostering creativity through inquiry and "scholarship in action"; and building community among school library faculty, students, and practitioners through the use of social media and a variety of inclusive techniques.

Distance Learning at Syracuse

Both distance and on-campus courses are taught by a highly interdisciplinary faculty. Because our School houses three different master's programs, our school media students have the benefit of learning from some of the top scholars in information management and telecommunications, in addition to library and information science. This provides them with a more global perspective on the information profession. Brief (2-5 days), on-campus residencies allow distance students to network with campus-based students and faculty and to participate in "technology training, hands-on labs, and group activities while facilitating bonding of cohort groups" (Small & Settel, 2003, p. 318).

Research conducted by Small (1999) explored differences in the educational experience of part-time campus-based and distance students in the Syracuse program. Results revealed that campus-based students find it harder than distance students to (1) balance their academics with their work/family responsibilities and 2) bond with peers and faculty. The study also found that teaching and advising at a distance requires substantially more time commitment by faculty and that ongoing training and technical support for both faculty and students are critical for effective distance learning programs. …