Opening the Door to Distance Learning

Article excerpt

Florida has created one solution to the problem of making print and electronic materials available for the distance learner.

Distance learning is one of the hottest topics in modern education, and the implications for library services are just becoming known. As legislatures and educational administrations struggle with escalating costs and demand modernization and efficiency, there is a wistful hope--and often an assumption--that newer technologies will provide simple solutions to long-standing, complex, and expensive problems. Library service in the distance education environment is one area that is particularly subject to high expectations of simple technological solutions. The public, which includes legislators and academic administrators as well as students, often believes that all the information in the world is now free on the Internet or available in digital format and what the distance learner really needs is Internet access--instead of a library. In Florida, the library community has been able to provide information to counter such assumptions and to enrich the understanding of library funders, governors, and users by assuming full partnership early in the development of public post-secondary distance learning.

The Distance Learning Landscape in Florida

Florida educators quickly realized that providing services to a student who might never set foot on campus presents problems not just for the institution providing distance learning programs, but for the entire statewide educational infrastructure. In response, Florida has begun the coordinated development of the emerging elements of distance learning. The Florida Public Postsecondary Distance Learning Institute was established in 1996 to promote coordinated development of distance learning programs and infrastructure among all of Florida's tax-supported Postsecondary institutions--10 state universities and 28 community colleges. Created by a "Memorandum of Understanding" between the Board of Regents and the State Board of Community Colleges, the institute is governed by a 13-member board of directors composed of four university presidents, four community college presidents, the secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services, the chancellor of the State University System, the executive director of the State Board of Community Colleges, a member of the State Board of Community Colleges, and a member of the Board of Regents. The Learning Institute currently operates on funds provided through the Florida Distance Learning Network (FDLN)[1].

The Learning Institute formally embarked upon an effort of infrastructure building and program development during the 1996/97 fiscal year. It includes an online system to provide a full range of services such as registration, advisement, financial aid, fee payment, transcripts-and library services. The underlying assumption is that all services will be provided and supported without the student being required to physically visit the higher education campus. A library subcommittee was formed in October 1996 to examine what could be done in both the short and long term to provide library services to the distance learner.

Address Common Misperceptions First

The library subcommittee quickly realized that there were two levels of planning and understanding that required immediate attention. Obviously, there was the need to efficiently and effectively supply library and information services in the distance learning environment. But first, there was a need to change perceptions both within the library profession and among the educators and students who would be using library services. These topics have been discussed and aired at every opportunity with our policy makers and legislators, both formally and informally.

Changing Perceptions of the Role of the Library

Historically, good librarianship has been seen as the effective management and deployment of scarce resources. …

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