The Perils/Possibilities of attending Library School Online

Justin de la Cruz is in his first trimester of library studies at Florida State University. His professional interests include academic libraries, digital libraries, and emerging technologies. His personal interests include music (listening, writing, performing, recording), internet culture (trends, memes, single-serving sites), and comedy. You can read more on his website. 

There’s an old adage that you only get as much out of something as you put into it. But what happens when you end up in a class that you really don’t need? Or one that doesn’t hold your attention? Despite my undergraduate experience in a psychology research lab, this semester I chose to take a basic research methods course designed to teach those without a social science background the fundamentals of researching in the field of library studies.

When I found myself in my first few class sessions being introduced to terms like “independent variable” and “causality” — subjects I’d been exposed to a number of times before — I at first let my mind wander, and then eventually took advantage of the online course format by opening up some internet browser tabs. I started checking social media for links to interesting websites, articles, or news bits. I surfed the net, listened to music, played some guitar, and checked into class from time to time to add a brief comment — to pretend like I was there. Only later did I realize that I could be better utilizing my time.

If you should ever find yourself ahead of the curve in one of your classes, try to reign in your goofing off and block out your class time for something that will help with your professional development. Consider:

  • Schoolwork — Check out your upcoming reading or writing assignments for your class and see if there are any you can do while class is being conducted. You’ll have the added benefit of having your instructor and classmates there if you have any questions.
  • Local Networking — If you’re ahead of the curve, chances are that some of your classmates are too. It might be hard to figure out who, but try reaching out to your classmates outside of class to see if you can form a discussion group that can serve as a supplement to the class. You might be able to get into more complex issues that will hold your attention, and you’ll gain some peers in the profession.
  • Global Networking — If you’re going to mess around on the internet, at least make it relevant. Library studies programs exist to lay out the foundations of the field — self-study and internships are how students begin to develop into professionals with specialities. So read an interesting library science-type blog like ProfHacker; write your own library-related blog post; find and learn how to use an interesting computer tool like Plixr’s Editor or Dropbox; or search out new professional contacts on Twitter or Facebook.

You may feel that since you know the material you’ve earned the time off from class. It’s certainly okay to take a break when you feel that you need it, but remember that when you signed up for this class, you mentally blocked out certain times to devote to studying. Don’t lose all that time that you pledged to yourself.

Categories: Distance Learning

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21 replies

  1. Hey Justin! Fellow FSU student here! *waves across the digital divide*

    Really nice post about the perils of online classes. I always joke about the luxury of going to class in the evening with a glass of wine in hand, but in truth it’s a pretty rare occurrence for just the reasons you mentioned. I think the suggestion to use that time for something relevant, if you don’t need to pay close attention (which was my experience in the Research Methods class as well), is spot on.



  2. A couple of other suggestions:

    1. Even though there is talk of going away, I am still using it to collect helpful websites for my career. When I find a particularly good website, I see who else has it tagged, and then I explore what else they have tagged. There are lots of great librarian taggers out there.

    2. Whenever you find yourself ahead of the curve, it is an opportunity to lead. Help answer classmates’ questions or offer real life examples for whatever is being discussed. Ask questions that you think will help classmates’ understanding of what is being taught. There may come a point in your career when you are managing others, and this can be good practice.


    • Excellent tips! Do you happen to have any links to delicious — feeds, pages, and whatsuch? I haven’t used that one too much, but it sounds like a good way to find websites… I sort of stay isolated in my Google Reader feeds.


      • Here’s my delicious page:

        If you thumb through my links, you may find a few you like. They are sorted into bundles (folders) on the right. Create your own delicious account and tag any you like for yourself.

        On any list of tagged websites in delicious, you will see numbers in blue boxes indicating how many other people have tagged that website. Click on the number to see their delicious websites. You can usually tell which ones are librarians by the way they tag!

        If you have not used delicious before, the cool thing about it is that you can access it from any computer, so you can take your favorite links with you to whatever computer you end up on at work.


  3. Hey Justin! Another fellow distance FSU student here!

    I like the honesty of your post. Sometimes those of us in distance programs are quick to defend our learning experiences without acknowledging their shortfalls.

    I echo Mary Jo’s suggestion to help your classmates. I’ve found myself in classes that, due to my current professional position, have been far from stimulating. I think sharing personal experiences is a great way to learn and try to offer my own to my classmates whenever possible.


  4. My school offers in class and online classes. Last semester, I took an online class which was partially easy, but incredibly frustrating. I hated not being able to just ask someone for help and getting an answer right away. I probably spent too much time yelling at my computer. I think if the online class is well organized than it works much better for everyone.

    The other issue that I have is that sometimes it just feels like you have to do a lot of busy work to make up for the fact that you’re not meeting in person. I don’t mind doing work that’s constructive but I hate doing busy work.


  5. This makes me supremely jealous of online students, though I know many of my fellow students do other work on their laptops in class. A professor in our program has asked his students to not bring laptops to his classes; what do you think about this? Does it prevent students from Facebooking and keep them engaged, or does it make them less likely to follow along digitally, looking up new terms, concepts, and case studies as they’re mentioned in lectures?


    • That’s a good point. In my undergrad, as an art history major it used to drive me nuts when people brought their laptops to class and checked facebook because our lectures were in a dark room. Then the same people wouldn’t do as well on the midterms and finals…I wonder why.

      However, I’m trying to go paperless this semester so I have to be one of those laptop jerks, but I just use it to take notes! Also, sometimes the prof might ask someone with a laptop to look up additional info on a concept we’re discussing in class, so it’s not always bad to have one in class.


      • Yeah there’s a whole ‘nother discussion point here… the great debate about laptops in classrooms rages on. But I think it comes down to individual responsibility and individual personality. If you ban laptops, I don’t think you’ll get all the Facebookers to pay attention.

        The internet is an awesome tool in the classroom. But it can be an awesome distraction as well. I’ve also had professors ask people to look up information, even (*gasp*) check to “see what Wikipedia has to say about that.”

        Frankly, I think the people who don’t want to be in class shouldn’t be there. Most of our online lectures are recorded as they happen, so I can always check later. But… I do have an attendance policy in one class…

        Is this where I should say that this post was conceived and written during one of my class sessions?


        • I think it’s really interesting the way the debate about laptops in classrooms changes when the classroom is a digital one. I also wonder if us in-person program students are losing the chance to engage in 2.0 behaviors because laptops have a sort of stigma?

          I personally feel like if you got into a grad school program, you have the ability to make choices about what works for you in the classroom, online or in person.


  6. San Jose State University’s program became 100% online a few years ago. I missed the socializing aspect of a face-to-face class format. It’s a lot harder to strike up casual conversations and develop friendships in an online program.

    I had trouble focusing on lectures regardless of whether they were online or not. I found that doing something mindless during an online lecture would help, as would recording the lecture and listening to it later in pieces.

    I also found that using my old computer for schoolwork helped me focus, since I didn’t have any games or other distractions on it.


    • My cohort has a private Facebook group where we frequently talk about assignments or other library-related things. It’s nice to have a space away from official class discussion boards to chat.

      Part of what facilitated this were the two face-to-face meetings we had at the beginning of the last and this semester. We got to know a few peers in person, but our little area on Facebook sort of feels like our “commons.” I think this might be a little awkward if you’ve never met before, but you never know!


  7. A lot of my professors do recordings of the class lectures/meetings, and I almost always prefer to watch them later so I can pause, rewind, or fast forward if it’s getting too slow. I am notorious for social networking and reading blogs while I’m “in class,” but I’ve never been able to pay attention to lectures, even in “in person” classes.


  8. Wow, I had no idea so many online programs weren’t totally asynchronous! At the UW -all- of our lectures are recorded in advance and posted when we’re expected to watch them, but we get to do so on our own time (same goes with commenting on the discussion boards).

    This has been a good thing and a bad thing for me, honestly. Good because of the incredible flexibility when it comes to when, where, and how I decide to “go to class,” and because I can go back and listen again to lectures or revisit the discussion boards at any time. Bad because I have less accountability for actually doing so. I’ve definitely struggled to stay motivated at times, so it’s nice to know other online folks are going through the same thing.


  9. Hi Justin!

    I have your problem at times, too. I’ll start out paying attention, and then minutes later I’m checking my email, browsing Twitter, emptying my Google Reader…it’s bad, really.

    I’ve found two things that work: like you said, definitely start work for the class. I check my upcoming assignments and look at readings. That way, I’m still learning. And I still listen to the class, as well.

    Also, and this sound super silly, I eat dinner. My classes are typically 6-8, so I have dinner. I’m bad at doing multiple things at once, so it’s easier for me to eat and pay attention, rather than eat and browse the internet and pay attention.


  10. Don’t forget thinking-time. Just becuase you’re in a class, be it online or offline, doesn’t mean you can’t ponder more difficult or testing issues than the ones the course is covering. I think I had some of the best ideas about writing my MSc dissertation whilst trying to stay awake in management lectures!

    Also, depending on the nature of the class – you might not be the only one finding it a little… basic. If everyone feels the same, it’s probably worth talking to the lecturer and asking if things could be livened up a bit. Although you should be carefull what you wish for!


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