Rethinking Online Instruction: From Content Transmission to Cognitive Immersion

By Ladner, Betty; Beagle, Donald et al. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Online Instruction: From Content Transmission to Cognitive Immersion


Ladner, Betty, Beagle, Donald, Steele, James R., Steele, Linda, Reference & User Services Quarterly


As faculty make greater use of Web-based instruction, pedagogical strategy sometimes evolves from the transmission of content to the creation of interactive courses that immerse students in the cognitive style of the discipline. One technique associated with this is the "classroom flip." Library instructional support for such courses may need to evolve from tool-based user guides toward saved searches and similar techniques that facilitate primary literature engagement. In this study, one project illustrating such bibliographic instruction (BI) adaptation is described and its collaborative development is discussed. Problems with differentiating assessment of integrated BI are noted, and a shift from summative to formative evaluation is considered as a potential solution.

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As faculty and students increasingly use the Web for teaching, research, and scholarly communication, the library's traditional patterns of service delivery, including bibliographic instruction (BI), are called into question. For academic libraries, it may no longer be sufficient to maintain a Web site and proxy remote database access and to offer a Web-based online public access catalog. Library instructional support may not effectively reach its intended audience if course-specific BI sessions are still limited to the modality of synchronous classroom presentation. Nor is the question of asynchronous instruction limited to distance education. The use of course management systems (CMS) such as Blackboard and WebCT to provide new and expanded distance learning initiatives has also attracted the interest of on-campus students. "Online courses are offered to both on-campus and distance-learning students.... The lines between on and off-campus students and courses are indeed blurring as technology is incorporated into all aspects of education." (1) When faculty put their courses on the Web to supplement or replace traditional classroom instruction, course-related BI presentations may also need to migrate from physical to virtual learning environments.

However, as faculty become more familiar with CMS capabilities, a further transformation in instructional strategy seems likely. As Carole A. Barone, vice president of EDUCAUSE, recently described it: "Faculty have progressed from simply putting course content online to designing active learning and knowledge creating environments that immerse the student in the cognitive style of the discipline." (2) For a nursing course on clinical diagnostics, for example, this may mean moving beyond the original question, "What does a diagnostician know?" to an additional question: "How does a diagnostician think?" If this transformation continues, it may have important consequences for the design and implementation of future library instructional support. In coursework, where the focus is on transmission of content, exposure to the cognitive style of the discipline occurs indirectly through faculty lectures delivered in classroom sessions and out-of-class assignments that require student engagement with disciplinary literature. In such classes, BI provides secondary instruction to help students acquire the skills necessary to engage with that literature. And the logical approach has been to present traditional BI content in a guest lecture format that parallels the instructional approach of faculty.

When faculty simply use CMS to put course content online, as Barone described it, the focus tends to remains on transmission of the same content, but in a new modality. The natural adaptation to this, for many librarians, has been to put the equivalent BI content online, typically by posting instructional pages for relevant resources. And many examples of such tool-based "user guides" can now be found on academic library Web sites around the country (although some usability research has recently questioned their effectiveness). (3) But if and when faculty goals for online learning change more fundamentally to elevate cognitive style immersion and active learning to the same level as content transmission, then library goals for online BI may need to change in concert. …

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