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ACRL Presents: Information Literacy at a (Social) Distance: Strategies for Moving Online

April 3, 2020

As the coronavirus continues to make headlines worldwide, numerous webinars have been presented on how to address the needs and inquiries of our students and patrons while working remotely.  To help with easing myself into the transition from working on campus to hibernating and eating every twenty minutes assisting students from the comfort of my living room personal computer (complete with candles, chillhop relaxing beats, and glowing cat), I recently viewed ACRL’s presentation of “ACRL Presents: Information Literacy at a (Social) Distance: Strategies for Moving Online” presented on March 17, 2020, by Melissa A. Wong, an instructor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This hour-long webinar provides general strategies for moving your information literacy instructing online while ensuring that no student is left behind. Wong encourages instructors to teach how they are most comfortable but to keep your expectations reasonable. Start from where you are and keep it simple. Do not do more than you can handle or accommodate. Wong advises against developing a completely online course because of this pandemic but to just make tweaks and small changes to your current lesson plan to get your students through the remainder of the semester. (Do you have LibGuides? Tutorial videos?) Give yourself permission to stop at “good enough.” Assume that students are trying to access your content from their smartphones when planning your instruction. Be sure to make your content accessible for students with disabilities.

Keep in mind that your students are stressed and apprehensive right now, too, and the last thing they might care about is information literacy. Wong says that is alright. Students have been throw unexpectedly out from their dorms and into online education. Many students are now homeschooling their children, which can make it difficult to focus on their own coursework. Unemployment has become a consistent and enormous stress factor across the country. Still, others do not have access to broadband width and high-speed Internet, especially for those students living in rural communities. Additionally, many students may now be forced to share devices with other family members. All of these factors can contribute to making online learning a rather nail-baiting, worrisome experience.

Wong proposes that there are two ways in which to present your online instruction: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous would include everyone joining in on a Zoom meeting or in Google Hangouts. The instruction occurs in real-time. The advantages to this are that you can use existing lectures for instruction and the discussion is happening in real-time so you can answer students’ questions. Also, during this time of social distancing, synchronous instruction fosters and maintains a sense of community, allowing for simultaneous and spontaneous conversation. However, higher broadband is required for these real-time meetings, which might be a huge issue for those who do not have access. There might be limited mobile access. Additionally, there is a learning curve with some of the synchronous technology, which I, for one, have discovered while trying to use Zoom on my computer. My web camera will not hook up and I have no idea why!

Asynchronous, on the other hand, is instruction not involving real-time discussion. This would include previously filmed tutorial videos and assignments distributed through the students’ blackboard. The advantages of choosing this form of instruction are that lower bandwidth is usually required, it is more mobile-friendly, you can recycle content, and it is easy to replicate the instruction for future use. Students can log in at any time to complete the assignments, and they are most likely already using familiar tools within their blackboard. On the flip side, students might not be as motivated to engage with the instruction and with one another, and this can result in the potential loss of community.

So which instruction is right for you? Wong reminds us to consider campus requirements and to definitely not overwhelm students with too much information. Be sure of legalities. For instance, it is legally required to close-caption your videos. Unfortunately, most caption software is only 90% accurate, so Wong encourages you to do automated captions and then go back to edit them. I also never thought of those students who might be colorblind, because I am the Queen of All Colors and adore typing in different colors and breaking out the highlighters. Wong warns not to use different colors in your notes for this reason.

No doubt this a stressful time with new territory and each other’s backs to cover. It is an understatement to proclaim that we are currently tackling an unprecedented situation, the likes of which we probably have not seen since the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, but should have been better prepared to deal with when it happened again, as is the nature of pandemics, especially in such a technological world of high standards. Nonetheless, we need to stick together while staying physically apart as we ride out this virus.


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