Webinars are something that librarians and teachers are going to have to be increasingly more familiar with in the coming years. We have to “go where the users are” and increasingly they are online. If you’re going into academic libraries in particular, it’s important to understand the distance learning is a growing component of higher education. ALA released a set of standards for distance learning students in 2008 that says, “Every student, faculty member, administrator, staff member, or any other member of an institution of higher education, is entitled to the library services and resources of that institution, including direct communication with the appropriate library personnel, regardless of where enrolled or where located in affiliation with the institution. Academic libraries must, therefore, meet the information and research needs of all these constituents, wherever they may be.”
I think that the current conception of webinars for us as students is as materials for professional development, and certainly that is a valuable use of the webinar format, but I think that we need to readjust our frame of reference for webinars to include the use of webinars as a tool that many of us may be using as part of our jobs to reach students.
Webinars are a new kind of challenge for instructors. In a distance learning situation, you no longer have the forced intimacy of a classroom in which to create interactions. I think this is the biggest challenge of a webinar format. How do you create meaningful interactions among students who are not inhabiting the same space? How do you engage students in learning when it becomes very easy for students to metaphorically punch in and out on a time clock without actually learning anything? How do you, as the instructor, get over the feeling of being a talking head in a virtual box?
I appreciated the approach that Matos et al took in their paper. They are asserting, essentially, that embedded librarianship takes many forms. It is effective in many different ways depending on the needs of the communities the librarians are serving. We often get caught up in the idea that we have to be doing whatever is new and current, or that there is a “right” way to serve our communities. I appreciated that the article acknowledges that whatever works best for your community is the “right” way, no matter what the literature says.
I have a number of questions about the Montgomery article. I think it gives a good overview of the definition of a webinar, but I am concerned with her tone which seems to say, “We must do webinars because webinars are online and our students are online and they’re on YouTube so we must ‘provide the same experience!'” I think webinars are an excellent tool, but just because they are an online tool does not mean that they are automatically the right tool. She refers to the “dreaded one-shot instruction session” but I do not see how using a webinar is any different from a dreaded one-shot, except that your students have more opportunities to be disengaged because they don’t even have to keep up a pretense of manners in a classroom. She suggests that scheduled webinars can supplement in-class instruction, and certainly they can, but this seems to me to be no more than offering a virtual solution to a face-to-face meeting with a student.
I don’t want to come off as anti-webinar. The suggestions in Montgomery’s article are all valid uses for webinars, but I think it’s important that we not suggest that because students are online we must replace face-to-face interactions with virtual ones. Certainly, webinars allow us to reach out to students in a unique way, but let’s consider this a tool for the magic bag of tricks instead of the one magic wand. Just because students are online and our resources are increasingly more online does not mean that webinars are always the right approach to reaching students.
Having said that, you might want to think up answers to some of the questions I posed about how we create meaningful interactions with students in a virtual space. It may or may not have come up in an interview recently. Just sayin’.