Online Education Development and Delivery: The Role and Functions of Academic Libraries (Article)

Abstract

More and relevant information is made available through the web. Search engines assure the accessibility of these materials and groupware allow (a)synchronous communication between teachers and students -- worldwide. Academic libraries are therefore at centre of  global information crises. This paper  focuses on the relevance of  academic libraries in online learning environment, which its key focus and emphasis is improvement of research, teaching and learning in academic institutions. The paper therefore, discusses the place of academic  libraries in online or e-learning environment and highlights  how modern academic libraries provide technology based information anywhere, anytime besides providing resources for innovative lifelong learning. Finally the paper brought forth  the role of academic librarians in the delivery of online education in Nigerian institutions towards the enhancement of teaching and learning process for better productivity.

Introduction

A great psychologist  Skinner, referring to the first days of his ‘teaching machine’ in the late 1950s and early 1960s, posit that , I was soon saying that , “with the help of  teaching machines and programmed instructions , students could learn twice as much in the same time with and with the same  effort as in a standard classroom”. Undoubtedly, there are now profound changes going on in the educational system. These changes arise because of over growing pressure in the school systems themselves, partly because society itself is changing into one in which knowledge work becomes more important, and partly because of the developments in information and communication technologies which are transforming our ways of teaching and learning. Both of these factors evoke change and offer  solution to the problems with which the educational system struggles to overcome.

By confronting trends and technological developments, experts in educational fields arrive at a vision of a "global learning infrastructure" in which the role of schools and universities and other educational institutions will be drastically changed, resulting to a radical transformation of the educational system. “These transformation leads to the ongoing debate about whether it is the use of a particular delivery technology or the design of the instruction that improves learning among students”  (Clark, 2001& Kozma, 2001).

It has long been recognized that specialized delivery technologies in form of modern Information Communication Technology (ICT) equipments can provide efficient and timely access to learning materials. However, Clark (1983) has claimed that technologies are merely vehicles that deliver instruction, but do not themselves influence student achievement. As Clark notes, meta-analysis studies on media research have shown that students gain significant learning benefits when learning from audio-visual or computer media, as opposed to conventional instruction.  The same studies suggest that the reason for those benefits is not the medium of instruction, but the instructional strategies built into the learning materials.

E-learning according to Roes (2002), is the use of electronic technology to deliver education and training applications , monitor learner’s performance and report learner’s progress. Twigg and Miloff (1998), defined it as “an innovative approach for delivering electronically mediated, well-designed, learner-centered and interactive learning environments to anyone, anyplace, anytime by utilizing the internet and digital technologies in concern with instructional design principles.” It is all about learning with the use of computers. In this age, learning with the use of computer is simply online ways of acquiring knowledge through the internet or through the offline –CD-ROM. The online involves the use of Internet Explorer/Navigator. It may be in form of Audio, Visual, and or Audio/Visual. The convergence of the internet and learning, or Internet enabled learning is called e-learning. The applications and process of e-learning include computer-based learning, web-based learning, virtual classroom and digital collaboration where contents is delivered via the internet, intranet/extranet, audio and or video tapes, satellite TV and CD-ROM.

With the advent of computers, the nature of libraries has changed dramatically. Computers are being used in libraries to process, store, retrieve and disseminate information. As a result, the traditional concept of library is being redefined from a place to access books to one which houses the most advanced media including CD-ROM, Internet, and remote access to a wide range of resources. Libraries have now metamorphosed into digital institutions. Gone are the days when a library was judged by its quantitative resources. Today, libraries are surrounded by networked data that is connected to the vast ocean of Internet-based services. Moreover, electronic resources relevant to the professions are developing at an unprecedented pace .Academic libraries are considered to be the nerve centers of academic institutions which support teaching, research, and other academic programmes in various ways. Demographic changes, technological advances and globalization have totally change the concept of education. The teaching-learning is a delicate process which needs to be standardized throughout the world. The important question today is no longer whether to implement e-teaching and e-learning in academics but how to run it well and how to get the best out of it.

 

Academic Libraries and Online Learning (E- learning)

According to Bonk and Reynolds (1997), to promote higher order thinking on the Web, online learning must create challenging activities that enable learners to link new information to old, acquire meaningful knowledge, and use their meta cognitive abilities. Hence, it is the instructional strategy and not the technology that influences the quality of learning. In relation to this therefore it could be noted that e-learning could only be effective with the combinations of technology and effective instructional methodology. Thus,   Kozma (2001) argues that the particular attributes of the computer are needed to bring real-life models and simulations to the learner; thus, the medium does influence learning.

 

It is important to note that it is not the computer and related ICT equipments per se that make students learn, but the design of the real-life models and simulations, and the students’ interaction with those models and simulations. The interaction in this learning process involves that with the learning materials in form of e-books, e-journal among others. This will make online learning to be flexible, ease of access, from anywhere and usually at anytime. It also allows participants to collapse time and space (Cole, 2000). However, the learning materials must be designed properly to engage the learner and promote learning and this in cooperate libraries and librarians fully into e-learning activities.

Academic librarians generally serve the subject academicians to provide information regarding teaching, learning and research. Though, not everywhere, yet e-learning has been integrated in the curriculum of most of the universities and other academic institutions in Nigeria. From the library side it has been a great opportunity to integrate the library resources and services in support of learning, research and outreach. In recent years, several bold steps have been taken to integrate e-learning with the academic work. Most of the modern academic libraries are digital and e-learning can effectively take place in a digital environment.

Academic libraries in an e-learning environment provides via online gateway and digital resources. These learning resources enable curriculum delivery and the general learning management system which is at the central stage in e-learning. Anderson and Elloumi (2004) provide an online framework which shows the role of in co-coordinating e-learning activity. The figure below illustrates that library in e-learning environment is critical and an important components of e-learning. It provides resources for all students and researches for enhanced teaching and learning activities

 

Learning outcome
Students 

↓  ↓

Pedagogy, content
Users portal

↨   ↓   ↓

Courseware development team instructional design, multimedia, templates, guidelines
Services advising, registry, helpdesk, exams etc
Curriculum delivery via the learning management system

↔            ↔

Library via on-line gateway and digital resources

    ↑

Quality assessment process
Secure server
Other learning object repositories

Students Information System

 

(Adapted from Anderson and Elloumi 2004)

 

Academic libraries apply appropriate communication technologies in support of e-learning and e-research by providing seamless access to electronic resources and services. Electronic resources include online catalogues, databases, multimedia, online journals, digital repositories, electronic books, electronic archives and online /electronic services.

The utilization of cutting edge technologies by academic libraries to provide access to resources and services in support of learning, teaching and research has benefited both on-campus, part time as well as distance learners. Both students and lecturers can undertake learning and research without being in the library. An academic library, faculty and academic development department managing e learning may use appropriate technologies to facilitate learning and access to resources and services. It is quite understandable that an e-learning environment can provide both students and faculty with a sustainable infrastructure and seamless access to knowledge, course content, information resources and services, all from integrated service point.

The initiative which should be taken by the academic libraries should take an initiative towards the establishment of an e-learning support centre which would undertake training of the academic staff in integrating the educational technology into the curriculum to provide access to the content. As a part of this initiatives an Educational Technology unit will develop e-learning smart classrooms, along with video conferencing and assignment tools enabling flexible learning and teaching with the students studying at their own place. The academic library must have a holistic approach in e-learning whereby different traditional and digital methods and media are integrated in learning and teaching. As faculty and instructors have began to adopt e-learning strategies as a part of their teaching repertoire, libraries play a key role, helping to find and organize resources to complement programmes and courses making use of e-learning in order to provide support to students working through their assignments.

 

Roles of Academic Librarians in e- Teaching and e- Learning

According to Aina (2008), online learning has many promises, but it takes commitment and resources, and it must be done right. “Doing it right” means that online learning materials must be designed properly, with the learners and learning in focus, and that adequate support must be provided. Therefore, this suggests that online learning should have high authenticity(i.e., students should learn in the context of the workplace), high interactivity  and high collaboration.

Adequate support and high collaboration in e-leraning activities entails that all those concerned in the teaching, learning and reserch processes of an academic institutions must have an input this is because online learning involves the use of the Internet to access learning materials; to interact with the content, instructor, and other learners; and to obtain support during the learning process, in order to acquire knowledge, to construct personal meaning, and to grow from the learning experience.

Nowadays, academic librarians are  part of e-learning process and are actively participating by providing online and in person modules, guides, subject and class based lists, as well as reference (synchronous and e-mail).

The librarians offer classes and courses on research strategies, help students in determining useful scholarly resources, work with the faculty in planning and developing distance education courses (in particular online courses) to integrate concepts of information literacy throughout the curriculum. Faculty needs support in these activities because the ability to articulate information needs, find appropriate information resources and critically assess the results of an online search are key to success in e-learning and this leaves the faculty to focus on course content. In the case of libraries, what is good for the online students is also useful for the campus based students. According to Ogbonna(2009), libraries contribute to educational development through assisting their beneficiaries to:

 

  • Developing skills in library use.
  • Regularly involving the library in study and research.
  • Exploring the library in solving problems including personal life problems.
  • Improve academic performance.

 

By a study it was seen that the librarian facilitating the e-learning are establishing a positive relationship between the academic achievement and use of open shelf library books. The librarians  play a  role in supporting instructors and administrators to realize the potentials of e-learning through the provision of service models unique to libraries. Librarians have found to develop web based modules to support course integrated instruction session, encourage students to actively follow the librarians’ presentation using their own topics for selected searches. Students receive immediate feedbacks on search strategies during the session and can return at any time to refresh their skills for subsequent assignments. Reference staff use the material to guide students in using information resources specific to their assignments at the reference desk.

             Academic libraries as organizations that are essentially service oriented, perform some practical roles using modern ICT facilities. These services in e-learning environment are intended to satisfy the demand of uses and their information needs. Among these services are Indexing and Abstracting service which are intellectual activities that evaluate and analyze the contents of an information on  library resources. Closely related to this is Selective Dissemination of Information. This service is a specialized service where librarians provide specialized information to meet users need. Other services include Compilation of Bibliographies, Current Awareness Services and Resource Sharing. All these services are important and necessary for libraries in their day-day activities especially in an e-learning environment.

This blended approach to information literacy offers students and instructors with an ability to address diverse learning styles and encourage active participation along the presentation to a 24/ 7access that may foster increased student contact with the librarians. Many librarians specially university librarians are working with online course developers as well as instructors in traditional courses to provide online guides and help for library research, which include modules that introduce students not only to specific resources but to critical evaluation of resources, such as thesis preparation and the like. As with face to face library connection, these modules are very effective when integrated into course and research materials provided by an instructor. The requirements on the part of the Librarian to be a part of e-learning are:

i)     Must be proactive in questioning the selection of learning management systems and complementary e-learning tools by faculty and Departments

ii)    Actively seek representation through appointments to committees that deal with selection, management and governance of online instructions  systems on their campus.

 

Benefits of Online Learning

Increasingly, organizations are adopting online learning as the main delivery method to train employees. At the same time, educational institutions are moving toward the use of the Internet for delivery, both on campus and at a distance. However, for organizations and institutions to make this often expensive move, there must be a perception that using online learning provides major benefits. Some of the benefits for learners and instructors are outlined below:

(i)       For learners, online learning knows no time zones, and location and distance are not an issue. In asynchronous online learning, students can access the online materials at anytime, while synchronous online learning allows for real time interaction between students and the instructor. Learners can use the Internet to access up-to-date and relevant learning materials, and can communicate with experts in the field in which they are studying. Situated learning is facilitated, since learners can complete online courses while working on the job or in their own space, and can contextualize the learning.

(ii)      For the instructor, tutoring can be done at anytime and from anywhere. Online materials can be updated, and learners are able to see the changes at once. When learners are able to access materials on the Internet, it is easier for instructors to direct them to appropriate information based on their needs. If designed properly, online learning systems can be used to determine learners’ needs and current level of expertise, and to assign appropriate materials for learners to select from to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to stress the fact that online education includes mechanisms to facilitate the development of and access to a variety of learning services; an underpinning technological platform. Its growth and development is reliant on the capabilities of e-teachers to see the promise offered by online opportunities and to understand the ambience of the new environment. All these are done in academic community to help potential learners select and enroll in learning experiences.

With the emergence of improved information technologies, libraries have also been early adopters of new information systems and services and have institutional access points for digital knowledge resources such as online journals and special media collections. These materials are important in e-learning development and delivery.  Libraries and academic librarians are playing a key role by way of helping to find and organize resources to complement programmes and courses making use of e-learning and to provide support as students work their way through their assignments.

References

Aina L.O. (2008) Information and Knowledge Management in the Digital Age: Concept       Technologies and African Perspectives. Ibadan: Printmarks Ventures

Bonk, C. J. & Reynolds, T. H. (1997). “Learner-centered Web instruction for higher-order thinking,            teamwork, and apprenticeship”. In  Khan (Ed.), Web-based instruction . Englewood Cliffs, NJ:        Educational Technology Publications. Pp 167-178

Davis, A. (2004). “Developing an infrastructure for online learning.” In T. Anderson &  Elloumi (Eds.),         Theory and practice of online learning, 97-114, retrieved October 25, 2012, from,

Carol T. and Michael M. (1998) "The global learning infrastructure," in D. Tapscott &  Lowry A.         Blueprint to the digital economy, McGraw-Hill.

Cole, R. A. (2000). Issues in Web-based pedagogy: A critical primer. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Clark, R. E. (1983). “Reconsidering research on learning from media”. Review of Educational Research, 53(4), pp 445-459.

Hans Roes (2001) “Digital Libraries and Education”. D-Libraries Magazine, Vol 7, No7/8

Kozma, R. B. (2001). “Counterpoint theory of  learning with media.” In  Clark R. E (Ed.), Learning          from media: Arguments, analysis, and evidence. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing Inc.          (pp. 137-178)

Isaac M. O. (2009) Appreciating The Library. Enugu :His Glory Publications Ltd.

Posted by: Abiduna Abuabakar, asst. chief librarian, f c e katsina, Nigeria (10-Mar-2014)
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