Friday, July 21, 2006

Library content in online courses

I've been planning for several sessions aimed at both faculty and librarians about using library content within online courses. This could be full courseware, like WebCT, electronic course supplements, like MySCSU, or plain old course webpages. I would like to outline my thoughts, both for those who can't make my sessions, and for my own organization and reflection. I've talked about many of these things separately, but this way, it's all in one place.

First of all would be a link to the library website. Yes, this is important. I am regularly horrified by the number of online students who don't realize that they have any access to the library online. (I'm working on some sort of newsletter or orientation package.) We have access to over 30,000 ejournals, ebooks, e-encyclopedias and dictionaries, research guides, advisory services, and more, all online. But without a link to the website, it's easy to miss all of this.

Links can be added directly to library created websites, such as research guides, subject database lists, and instructional tutorials. Specific databases can also be linked, for instance as a recommended starting point for an assignment. (i.e. "Go to Academic Search Premier and find a peer-reviewed article on this week's topic. Use the "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals" check box to limit your search to peer-reviewed articles.")

Individual full text articles can be linked to form a reading list. Most of our databases allow links directly to an article. The few that don't can be linked via the Journal Locator (these links may go to a search box or information about the journal in question, but at least it gets people into the correct database), or to the database itself. You can link to ebooks and individual articles in our electronic reference books and encyclopedias, too.

Many journals have tables of contents that can be sent via RSS feed (an XML format that allows for automated delivery of information). One of the great things about RSS feeds is that they can easily be mounted in web pages, creating a continually updated webpage with no further intervention. This could be great for general recommended reading pages, especially for survey courses where students should be learning about top journals in the field. You may have to provide a separate link into a database or to the publisher's page via our proxy server for off campus access to the full text articles.

RSS feeds can also be created from certain kinds of searches. One personalized function could be a feed created with the results of searches in databases or on the web on particular topics. Have a look at the website for my "Blogs and RSS in Academia" talk. The website listings are added via an RSS feed from my link saver (Favorites/Bookmarks) account. Anything new that I want to add to this site I simply save and annotate with the appropriate keywords to trigger the feed. Poof, new content on the site without my fooling around with the HTML at all. One of the most interesting examples of this was Owen James presentation on "Nomadic Desktops" at HigherEdBlogCon. He uses an aggregator service to create a readings site for his class. Some of the material is harvested automatically, and some he adds using a citation saving service.

I often create customized handouts for library instruction sessions. They are tailored to the course and the assignment that I've discussed with the professor. I usually put these online, so they can be linked, but they could also be made available for download as a printable file within a courseware site (like WebCT or MySCSU). Other library handouts, such as database help sheets, can also be made available this way.

A final key piece of library "content" that can be provided is access to the librarians. The library maintains a email account, and all the librarians have individual emails. There is a form on the web to request individual sessions with a particular subject librarian. Since I specialize in online services, I also maintain instant messaging and chat accounts. The chat service I use, Chatango, has a Flash-based chat box that can be added to any website, including course sites and within WebCT. It will even take messages for me when I'm not online.

If you are curious about how any of this works, just let me know. You might want to look at my Guide to Full Text Linking, Library Services for Online Faculty page, and the contact/help information on the Distance Education Library Home Page.


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