Using Digital Content to Provide Students with Virtual Experiences in an Online History of the Book Course
Library and Information Science
Online and Distance Education
The History of the Book course is a traditional mainstay of library and information science (LIS) education and a perennial favorite among students valuing contact with physical artifacts. In the digital age, knowledge representation has become independent of individual objects and such classes need to reflect these changes. Working collaboratively with experts from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, Drexel University and UPenn faculty have developed a new online version of this discussion based course offered as part of the MS(LIS) degree in the College of Computing and Informatics. This new version, augmented with video created specifically for the course and other digital materials available on the Internet, draws on traditional content but situates it in the context of knowledge representation through the ages, with a special emphasis on the role of information in the 21st century and beyond. The new online version of the course was beta tested in the winter 2014 term with 26 students; a companion section of the traditional face-to-face version of the course was also offered in the winter 2014 term. Only eleven students registered for the face-to-face version of the course, suggesting that the online format appeals to many students on the basis of convenience. The challenge for the two instructors was to keep the two sections of the course aligned in terms of the intellectual content and provide similar educational experienced for both groups of students. For example, students in the online version of the course “visited” virtual collections of rare books while students in the face-to-face section visited the physical collections held at the University of Pennsylvania. Both groups of students wrote and presented research projects on some aspect of the history of the book; presentations delivered by the online group were done through video using a variety of presentation media including Jing, iMovie, and YouTube. The wealth of digital content related to the history of the book now available from many of the major libraries and museum worldwide offers students in the online environment new opportunities for exploring the development of knowledge representation. While the digital content does not provide the same experience as the physical artifacts (e.g., the smell and feel of old manuscripts), it can often facilitate a higher level of detailed examination than would be allowed to students working with the physical artifacts. The following paper will discuss the process involved with developing, delivering, and evaluating the beta test of the online version of the course compared with the traditional version. Data from student feedback throughout the term was analyzed to identify what aspects of the new version were most/least successful, including the use of technology both for the delivery of educational content and student presentations. Recommendations for future changes/enhancement will be presented. The experiences described will be relevant not only for educators in the LIS field but also for those interested in delivering online content in the areas of museum studies, art history, archeology and any other discipline in which face-to-face classes have traditionally involved field trips and visits to view physical artifacts.