The Ultimate “Malquestion”: Online or Face-to-Face Classes?

I am currently enrolled in the on-campus MSLIS program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My initial plan was to do their online Leep program so I could still live in Chicago. However, I was convinced to come on-campus by a few folks, and I’m very happy with this decision. One could think the obvious reason is because I preferred face-to-face classes as opposed to online classes. But that isn’t really why. I was more motivated by the opportunity to work at one of the largest academic libraries in the country. Additionally, if I chose the Leep program, I would have likely had to keep working as a speech therapist while taking these classes. I didn’t want to have to do this; I wanted to work in a library while being in library school. And yes, I did want to take more face-to-face classes, but I feel that I am not one student that MUST be face-to-face to learn well. In fact, sometimes I think taking classes online can be better.

Oftentimes, there is discussion in the library community, and in other educational programs, about if taking classes online is better or worse than attending them face-to-face. I have heard so many students state that they just can’t take classes online, and they need to be with a professor. Plus, they believe they have a more robust experience and can create a better relationship with a professor. I think these are really great points, and I have also had this experience. I would never argue with someone that just can’t make it work online because everyone has their own learning styles. This post is more about evaluating my educational experience and thinking about this from a different perspective.

Admittedly, I have taken online classes where I get so distracted by other internet things, and I need help to stay alert.  But, to be honest, I can also be extremely distracted while I’m IN a class. So for me, I don’t feel the question is “Online or face-to-face”; it is about pedagogy rather than format. How does an online instructor engage students? What types of material do they include or decide not to include given the platform? These same questions are relevant for face-to-face classes. Given the format, the answers may not be the same, but the questions and methodology chosen are what help to determine student success. This also brings me to another question: how do our instructors learn to teach? Some instructors are adjunct that are working as librarians, while others are tenure-track and focused upon research. Of course, there are definitely instructors that have the hybrid experience. As students, are we aware of different teaching AND learning styles? Are our instructors considering theory and praxis?

Being in a profession that has the practical experience of doing the work versus studying the work makes learning to teach somewhat misaligned. It is hard to have a “universal” training method when everyone comes from different epistemologies, have their own individual styles, and aim towards diverse professional goals. I think this is something we need to be aware of as library students. Perhaps I am not being hard enough, but I think that if researchers are very research-focused, they have a right to be. However, when they end up teaching a class, some (not all) aren’t as invested in teaching..and this stinks for students and can often feel like a waste of valuable tuition dollars. Others have mastered pedagogy or are at least trying to. I do think we should make sure our respective program administrations are aware of these discrepancies. But in order to facilitate a productive conversation, we need to be well versed in the structure that exists when voicing any concerns. As Audre Lorde states, “Your silence will not protect you”. So, let’s start talking more about HOW we are being taught when making decisions about where to attend library school or which classes to take. Also, let’s think about WHAT we can do as students to affect any potential changes for our own benefit.



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