Acknowledgments for useful inputs to: Dr. Brian Keating, Dean at Baton Rouge Community College and Silvia Pinzon MLIS, Assistant Library Director, of Miami-Dade Community College, Florida.
Educational methods are changing. It is most notable at Community College level. Four years ago only a few teachers were exploring at Bachelor Degree level and Master's Degree level, the distance learning concepts, of e-mail contact with professors and chat rooms using the keyboard. Today in 2000, it is only in the most old fashioned colleges that professors lack e-mail contact with students and have a regular daily hourly scheduled chatroom for students to talk live using audio speakers and microphones with the professor on homework problems. Low pass rates in some courses can be attributed to professor overload. One network professor at a nearby college has over 600 students in various classes. There is no way, he or she, can attend to the individual needs of a student. Consequently, many subjects now being taught, have a high dropout rate and teachers routinely expect only a 20% graduation from the beginning class, due to poor student to teacher ratios and time available for personal attention. Teacher exclusive classroom chatrooms on daily schedules have in the more advanced colleges replaced the twice weekly office appointments for one hour, that was the older traditional method of helping students with their homework problems. Gone is the long drive to a college and lining up in a queue, 30 students long, waiting for your 45 second moment of the professor's time.
With daily chatrooms on-line, a professor now can hold scheduled assistance for students, even when away at conferences in far off places and hotels, using a laptop and complimentary hotel ISP telephone connection.
A recent article in a library association magazine pointed out that Media Library Centers are failing nationwide in the USA. Despite the promise of some outstanding examples. The magazine article is just identifying a problem with the media library center project, in particular for elementary school systems that was noted as long as three years ago, in Dade County, Florida. The problem is not that Media Library Centers don't work. Results are subject to the type of character in the librarian hired, but most importantly, as the Dade County school system has pointed out, the problem lies mostly with the bureaucratic arrangement. The failure nationwide of media center libraries, despite such successful examples as at Riverglades Elementary in Broward County, Florida is probably primarily bureaucratic organization. I have observed that whereever an elementary school media center library comes under the control of a School Principal, for physical assets and budgets, the media center will fail. The reason is; that when an institutional Director has the responsibility for many departments, there is a tendency 'to rob from Peter to pay Paul'. The media center library budget then becomes something to be raided by school principals for more urgent unexpected things. Such as a bus tour for the school band, or uniforms for the gym team. The library is at the bottom of the totem pole in priorities. I have noted in some institutions that even libary computers will be removed by institutional administrator's to places that are deemed to be more needy, such as the labs, or student services. The solution of course, is to have budgets and equipment for library media centers operate outside of the control of the Principal of an elementary school. School principals who are usually in their 50's or 60's often equate the modern trained media library center with the type of library they had, when they themselves were youngsters 30 years ago. Consequently, they often misapply rules and instructions to librarians, forcing them to teach things using lesson plans, syllabuses and the format of a regular teacher. Nothing could be further from the training concepts taught in the Librarian Master's degree of recent years. You simply have control of the medial library center in the wrong hands, when you hand it over to a school principal, or college services director. Control and budget lines must be separate and in the hands of the librarian. This is the core failure nationwide in the USA, of media library elementary school centers. There is even a problem in larger institutions, such as community colleges and universities with many branches, in which one library director is in charge of several libraries and happens to be over budget in one library and will seek to balance things, by taking from the budgets of other sub branches to cover the overspending. This is a common bureaucratic failure. The hidden agenda of such budget adjustments by senior administrators, leaves many librarians frustrated with poor performing ruined branch libraries in disarray and misunderstandings occur, creating low moral among lower echelon faculty.
The SACS requirements for accreditation of Colleges is also obsolete. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. For instance one requirement by SACS is that a college branch must have certain things before it can become a separate institution and grant an Associate degree with accreditation. One infra- structure requirement is a library collection of 33,000 volumes in some cases. This year in 2000, a small library with a bank of internet networked computers for library patrons has the equivalent through the internet, of access to 3 million books and information sources. But may only have 500 actual paper books in the library shelves. Only 10 years ago, only the biggest Universities could afford a million volume library. Today, any small branch college library with one librarian and a few computers can surpass the information sources of that ten year old statistic. The SACS requirements are obsolete.
Then there is the nature of how we teach a subject itself. Four years ago, DISTANCE LEARNING was an experimental subject. Today, a growing number of colleges and universities are applying significant percentages of their degree requirement courses to distance learning. They still charge the same fees and do the same registration routines, though this is often via the internet. Students now can attend class, solely by computer from home. The problem of professor work overload is much reduced, because of the use of the chatroom and e-mail exclusive registration access password system. Individual attention to concepts, can be given by teachers, by using the internet with their students for many more days and hours than is possible with a live class congested situation in the old fashioned way of teaching. This should show up in statistical studies of rising pass rates in difficult classes; such as computer courses. With more ability to spend time with each student and the rest of the class watching on a chat room ,HELP homework, question and answer session; the number of students passing should rise because of more time available for a professor to handle each student with the others observing. Estimates show that about 20% of the colleges in the USA now have effective courses teaching via distance learning. The rest are catching up rapidly. Only the most backward colleges are still fighting the changing trends in how we teach. Usually, such colleges are dominated by senior bureaucrat administrators with long years of service, mental blocks against technology and computers in particular. To change these hold backs, a variety of things are being tried. Golden parachute retirements, promotion sideways out of the way and other ingenious methods to get the educational institutions back on track, to give increased service to the public and students. Distance learning courses are no longer experimental, but a growing segment of increasing student enrollment and applying technology to new student markets in many colleges nationwide. The list of such course offerings is rising exponentially.
One facet of distance learning, particularly in southern California, New Mexico, Texas and South Florida is the opportunity to provide courses to the Latin American market in Spanish. The accreditation aspects of southern states Colleges and Universities that are bi-lingual in Spanish and English, solve a lot of problems with Latin American students attempting to have their degrees and certifications accepted in different parts of the American continent. By taking courses via distance learning through institutions that serve the bi-lingual community, they get also the benefits of recognized credentials. A degree taken in Santiago, Chile via distance learning in Spanish from MDCC or FIU in South Florida would entitle any Chilean to be employable in Canada, or the USA, or other Latin American country. Because MDCC or FIU has the accreditation recognized throughout the continent.