August 1998

Copyright 1998 EDUCAUSE. From Educom Review, July/August 1998, p. 22-26. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, the EDUCAUSE copyright and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of EDUCAUSE. To disseminate otherwise, or to republish, requires written permission. For further information, contact Jim Roche at EDUCAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301 USA; 303-939-0308; e-mail: [email protected]

Distance Learning and the Digital Library

by Judy Luther

According to Stan Davis, the author of Future Perfect, "The half-life of what a person learns is getting shorter and shorter," which means there is a continuing need to upgrade education as an employee in the workplace and as a customer in the marketplace.

Historically, adult education has been viewed as a remedial approach to basic skills whereas today lifelong learning for adults has become necessary to adapt to our changing roles in the Information Society.

Students in continuing education programs now outnumber those of traditional age and status. As more people take advantage of the opportunity to telecommute, they want the same level of convenience in their educational choices.

While remote (virtual) students become accustomed to classes being offered anywhere, anytime by the (virtual) university, they will also need to have the corresponding resources available to them in an easily accessible digital format from the (virtual) library.

The Changing Nature of Distance Learning

Non-traditional education has evolved from correspondence courses, to video based classes taught in a remote location, to online Internet classes which do not meet at a specific time. Different models of distance learning share the common feature of a remote place and are further distinguished by pace (scheduling), time (synchronicity) and interactivity.

Courses may be offered as open enrollment, with the student determining the time frame within which to complete the program, or as paced (also known as cohort), where a group begins and ends the program at the same time on an academic calendar. Within the class structure, students may meet periodically as a group or may work asynchronously, independent from each other.

Various technologies are better suited to some courses than others and faculty need to be trained in the effective use of televised lectures, interactive media, and new ways of delivering their material that can expand on the traditional classroom model. Although faculty can easily create a Web page for their course, incorporating new technology and converting a class to the distance learning environment requires rethinking the way the course is delivered.

Much will be learned by trial and error; however, a development team for each class should include the faculty member, an instructional developer and a library liaison to ensure that assignments previously made in a print or in an on-campus environment can be completed with available electronic resources.

The Electronic Library

Since the 1980s, libraries have used computers to automate their operations and make the titles of their book and journal collections known to users who access their OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) on the Internet. During this time period secondary publishers have begun using CD-ROMs to deliver better search capabilities for their bibliographic databases which were made available through local or wide area networks on campus.

Several companies (Information Access Corporation, EBSCO Publishing, University Microfilm Inc.) began adding collections of journal articles in ASCII full text to their CD-ROM indexes to provide a complete package. These are very popular and, in response to demand for broader access, have been made available over the Web.

Many other database publishers, such as the Institute for Scientific Information and Engineering Information, have made their indexes available on the Web. In addition to the structured subject access provided by the secondary publishers, other aggregators such as OCLC and the subscription agents (EBSCO, Swets, Blackwell's, Faxon) offer keyword search and browse capabilities for a table-of-contents database linked to the full image of the journal online. Both OCLC's First Search service and Silverplatter's software offer a common interface for a variety of databases to simplify searching.

Developments in recent years such as PDF (Portable Document Format) and SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) enable reproduction of a printed page on the screen. This technology is being adopted by the primary publishers (Academic Press, Elsevier, Wiley, Springer) enabling them to offer all their journals online, either mounted centrally on the campus or statewide host or accessible to each institution via the Web.

The virtual library of today is a combination of electronic resources composed of journals with full images, reference works such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, and bibliographic databases which have begun to be linked to full image articles. Some libraries are digitizing the full text of rare works from their archives for preservation and remote access.

To supplement online resources, some libraries are extending document delivery services and mailing books to remote users in support of specific programs. Phone and e-mail reference service is also common with the librarian serving as a coach to provide guidance to the student.

Issues in Providing Access to Electronic Resources

Each electronic database involves a license agreement specifying terms and conditions of usage. There is an online discussion ([email protected]) hosted by Ann Okerson at Yale University that deals with all aspects of licenses for electronic products.

Although contracts for electronic databases are referred to as a "site license," they really apply to the entire university or groups of users within the university. The focus is shifting from place to person. One topic of discussion has been to define the contract by identifying groups included in the university community, i.e., faculty, students, staff, contractors. With distance education students located away from the main campus and with faculty who operate at other locations, access needs to be defined by who the users are in terms of their affiliation, rather than where they are geographically when they access a database.

To adhere to the provisions of the contract requires that universities be able to authenticate their users. The most common current method is IP filtering, which accepts a user connected to a campus network or dynamically assigns an IP number for a PC that has dialed in from a modem pool.

Most remote and many resident students need and want the convenience of using their own information service provider to connect to the university, which then serves as a gateway to licensed resources on the Web. Surprisingly, only half of the academic institutions have provided for remote authentication for their Web-based users.

Providing electronic access only to the legitimate users, involves two steps: authentication of valid users (you are part of the community) and authorization (you can have access to these resources). Authentication is shifting from identifying machines to identifying people and then verifying that the person is allowed access to a particular resource.

Two options that are widely used are certificates and proxy servers. Certificates for users have been described as having a driver's license on the information highway. They are highly encrypted 64-bit numeric values designed to identify a user as part of the Public Key Infrastructure. Proxy servers are machines resident on the campus but accessible worldwide that perform the verification function of uniquely identifying an individual.

Fewer institutions go to the next level of authorizing classes of users to access different files, because no off-the-shelf software is available and it is costly to create and maintain the necessary access control user lists. This function would have the ability to produce analytical reports on the usage of databases by different groups for evaluating selection decisions.

New Models for the Distance Learning Environment

Repackaging and designing courses for off-campus consumption may sound less capital-intensive than constructing new buildings; however, there are costs associated with the technology, the distribution and the ongoing support, that need to be included in the planning stage. Graduate-level degrees require more library support in terms of research materials than other classes offered, which may be non-credit, skills-based.

While demand for flexible courses and locations is growing, so are the options for applying technology to deliver the course. Regardless of the methodology chosen, coordination with the faculty by library staff is essential to ensure students have access to needed reference materials whether they are in print or electronic format.

In arranging for library support, professional association and regional accreditation guidelines recommend that the educational experience of the off-campus student be comparable to that of the on-campus student. Additional Guidelines for Extended Campus Library Service have been published and revised by the Association for College and Research Libraries to include reference, bibliographic instruction and document delivery.

The evolution of the virtual library provides the research foundation necessary to support the curriculum for the virtual university. Various models are beginning to emerge, beyond the private and public institutions, which allow for new partnerships to be formed. One of the most innovative is Western Governors University.

Western Governors University

Western Governors University (WGU) was formed in 1997 to share higher education distance learning resources. Sixteen states and the territory of Guam are participating in the collaborative effort to offer competency-based, degree-oriented education programs to reach the industry and adult education markets. The Central Library Resource of the WGU represents a new genre of virtual library, designed to provide library support to students who do not have local access to the needed library resources for courses taught by member institutions.

The University of New Mexico General Library will manage four areas for the WGU Central Library Resource: 1) creation of the WGU Central Library Resource Web page; 2) site licensing for electronic resources, including full text and citation databases; 3) reference, document delivery, interlibrary loan and technical support help; 4) Internet service provider capability. An electronic reserve reading room has been identified as another area to be developed.

The first electronic offerings from the WGU Central Library Resource Web page include 60 citation databases and nearly 500 electronic journals online. Primary materials will be provided in the form of full-text databases, commercial document delivery (for which the student pays) and interlibrary loan (slower but free). Policies for coordination with the faculty still remain to be developed.

Funded by both the government and industry, WGU offers the opportunity to match the needs of corporations and the adult learner with the capabilities of a diverse group of academic institutions to deliver market-oriented courses.

Virtually Yours

As these cooperative efforts develop, universities have an opportunity to respond to a market need for more flexible options for lifelong learning. Technology provides the platform, the distance learner is the focus of the courses, and the university becomes the vehicle.

My thanks to three individuals who provided source material for this article: Ken Blyth, Senior Director, Office of Administrative Systems, Penn State University; Larry Ragan, Director of Instruction Design and Development for Distance Education and the World Campus, Penn State University; Steve Rollins, Associate Dean of Library Services, University of New Mexico.

Judy Luther, MLS, MBA, is a consultant for Market Development Services. [email protected]

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