Editors: Ann P. Dougherty, Mountainside Publishing; Richard M. Dougherty, University of Michigan, Emeritus
Contributing Editors: Mignon Adams, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia; Steven Bell, Philadelphia University
Barbara Fister,
Gustavus Adolphus College;
Larry Hardesty, University of Nebraska at Kearney;
William Miller
, Florida Atlantic University
Vol. 25, No. 2 November 2004

Linking the Library to Courseware:

A Strategic Alliance to Improve Learning Outcomes

Steven J. Bell and John D. Shank

On a recent accreditation visit, the reviewing team librarian asked the institution’s librarians to describe the ways in which they used the campus course management system (courseware) product to facilitate access to library resources and promote information literacy objectives.

The library professionals looked at each other with puzzled expressions, wondering how to respond to the question. Their responses revealed that none had ever used the courseware product. None of them knew how to create or manage a course, none of them knew how library resources might be integrated into the courseware, and no librarian participated in the administration of the courseware.

More ominously, further discussion indicated that the institution’s courseware system manager had misinformed the librarians about their ability to add direct links to library database content.

While it might seem that courseware is an academic technology resource that falls outside the bounds of what the academic library contributes to the institution, failure to include the library in the courseware equation deprives faculty and students of a convenient access path to valuable library content and services. Fortunately, at many colleges and universities, librarians are proactively engaging themselves in the delivery of services through the conduit of the courseware system.

For example, librarians are using courseware to provide electronic access to reserve readings, to allow direct searching of the library catalog and other electronic databases, and to provide students with lists of library resources tailored to the demands of faculty assignments. At some institutions, librarians are participating in courses by having faculty enroll them as teaching assistants or co-faculty. Librarians are then able to monitor discussion forums or participate in real-time class chats, and by doing so are able to intervene to assist students with research at the precise time help is needed.

Along with the institution’s other software systems (administrative, productivity, library automation), the campus courseware system is a significant investment of institutional resources. As with other campus-wide software applications, it is in the administration’s best interests to achieve the greatest return on software investments. Nevertheless, college and university libraries that desire to integrate their services and resources are faced with the challenge of library and courseware systems that are currently not directly interoperable.

This article describes ways in which librarians, along with the faculty and instructional technologists who develop courses, can help students achieve learning outcomes while contributing to the institution’s ability to maximize the benefits of courseware products.

The Ubiquity of Courseware

A course management system is a software system that is specifically designed and marketed for faculty and students to use in teaching and learning. Faculty primarily adopt courseware to manage the more mundane tasks of teaching for content distribution and presentation, while more sophisticated tools to promote evaluation and interactivity among students are used less frequently. The primary reasons faculty adopt software are peer recommendation and pressure or persuasion from campus administrators. And once they start using courseware, faculty find that they have improved their communication with students and overall teaching quality.

A 2003 study by Market Data Retrieval found that 94 percent of colleges and universities use one or more courseware systems, and The Campus Computing Project reported in 2003 that 80 percent of universities surveyed license courseware systems. On average, 40 percent of courses offered use courseware tools.

The products. Though there are a number of competitors in this market, the two best known products are Blackboard and WebCT. Respectively they have 46 percent and 35 percent shares of the market. Large research universities are exploring other options. Both the University of Michigan and Penn State University use ANGEL, an alternative to the market leaders. The fact that Blackboard became a publicly traded company in June 2004 shows the level of interest in the future of courseware.

Any institution still waiting to acquire courseware is likely to do so in the near future as faculty and students learn from colleagues and friends that it is indispensable as a learning support system. The market leaders are also expanding their reach into the K-12 setting, helping to secure a future generation of students who will expect to find instructors using courseware in their college classrooms. The marketplace is also likely to be impacted by SAKAI, a consortium of universities that are developing an open source (free, but requires significant local programming and customization) courseware system.

Librarians' lack of involvement. Far less is known, however, about how librarians are involved in the management and application of courseware at these institutions. One of the authors conducted an informal survey of participants on two electronic discussion lists, one populated heavily by instruction and computing staff responsible for their institutional courseware and the other for college librarians. The responses confirmed what we anecdotally heard from our library colleagues.

The survey of computer and instructional technologists revealed that they largely had little contact with campus librarians, and that librarians had virtually no presence in the administration and management of the courseware. The survey of librarians reflected much the same environment. The survey confirmed the significant disconnect between academic librarians and those who administer the courseware.

“From a student
and learning-centered perspective on education, making the library highly visible in courseware
is essential to achieving student learning

Institutes of higher education take different paths to acquiring courseware, but typically a committee composed of information technology or academic computing administrators joins with faculty members to decide which system to license. This is where the library is initially left out of the equation. Rarely is a library representative asked to participate in the decision-making process. Once implemented, the control of courseware is assigned to computing staff. Training and support is managed by information or instructional technologists.

Unless librarians are assertive in carving out a role for themselves in this process they fail to become partners in supporting the ways in which faculty use courseware. When that happens the institution loses because faculty and students are denied access to the investment in library digital technology and resources. From a student and learning-centered perspective on education, making the library highly visible in courseware is essential to achieving student learning outcomes.

This lack of cohesion between the campus courseware system and the library was first formally recognized by David Cohen in 2001 when he asked, “What can be done to get library resources — and librarians’ expertise — into courseware developments?” Several years later, despite some fragmented reports of successful integrations of library resources into courseware, the library is still largely ignored or overlooked by administrators, those who administer the systems, and most critically, by the faculty. What can institutions of higher education do to remedy
this situation?

Integrating the Library: Two Approaches

Academic librarians can take two paths to advance their integration into courseware, either generic or personal. The first necessitates working with the administrators, developers, and programmers of courseware to integrate into the software a generic, global library presence enabling all courses to access a broad range of common library services and resources. The second calls for individual librarians to partner with faculty as consultants to develop customized library resources for specific courseware enhanced courses.

Generic approach. The most significant benefit of the generic approach is that it allows a college or university to capitalize on the services and resources a library is already making available through its existing web site. By linking them into and across the courseware, students and faculty alike can have direct access to the library from their courseware sites. Either a large university or a small college library could accomplish this integration easily. When properly configured this approach provides a straightforward and convenient way for students and faculty alike to quickly and easily move from their online course environment to the library. Because the resources and services are offered at the system level, however, they are not necessarily customized to particular classes. At this level opportunities for faculty and librarians to collaborate are negated, and consequently the library’s services and resources may not be used properly and/or to the fullest extent.

Personal approach. The second approach focuses on individually tailored and customized library services and resources in courseware. Consequently, this approach’s most significant benefit is that it allows librarians to provide the personal, customized full service that many faculty prefer. When coupled with librarian-delivered instruction sessions the personal approach extends the librarian’s ability to help students with their research assignments. This requires a great deal more time on the part of the librarian because he or she may be paired with multiple faculty, dozens of courses, and hundreds of students, all of whom have direct access to their specified librarian.

Also, the success of this approach is dependent on the extent to which librarians are given permission to access faculty courses and develop faculty-librarian partnerships in courseware. Within individual courses, librarians may make available to students assignment-specific resources such as APA or MLA citation help sheets, guides that demonstrate how to search subject appropriate library databases, or links to appropriate external Web sites. These are all good outcomes of integrating the library into courseware.

Whether this integration succeeds ultimately depends on the degree to which the institutional administration communicates to faculty and other academic support information professionals the importance of including librarians in the courseware delivery process.

How Integration Is Taking Place

We continue to find examples from the field that provide powerful evidence that there are abundant ways in which academic librarians can participate in faculty course sites on any courseware system. One of the earliest ways in which librarians leveraged the versatility of courseware was to establish their own courses designed to promote and deliver information literacy education.

Teaching research basics and avoiding plagiarism. At Lynn University, the librarians created a series of modules on research basics and avoiding plagiarism on their Blackboard courseware system. This was designed primarily for distance learning students, but the modules were used by on-campus students and faculty as well. This approach enables librarians to develop expertise with the courseware so that they can take full advantage of the courseware for teaching and integrating library resources. But this also isolates them from the mainstream recognition that would come through large-scale integration at the system and course level. Librarians, working with information and instructional technologists, should strive to move beyond using courseware solely as a platform for delivering library instruction modules. It is far preferable and advantageous to seek integration within courses.

An observer‘s role. A more integrated approach was pursued by a systems librarian at Dominican University. This experience, reported in C&RL News, is becoming more commonplace. The librarian became a participant in a senior-level, capstone history course at the invitation of a faculty member. The role played was that of passive observer, monitoring discussion board forums or participating in online chat sessions. In this capacity the librarian is able to identify students who require research assistance and provide a direct connection to library services. Because the role here is more of an observer than active participant, students are likely to get help only if there are signals and signs that assistance is needed. Despite its weaknesses, this example serves as a model for ways in which faculty and librarians can collaborate within a single course site to provide research assistance for students.

Proactively linking library resources. Penn State University has become an innovative leader in library-courseware integration by proactively linking existing library resources and developing new ones for the courseware environment. The library has provided a direct link from ANGEL to the library’s web site and, more recently, added a direct link to the virtual reference desk service. This allows students to have both access to the library’s web site and a means of communicating with librarians either synchronously (live online reference tool) or asynchronously (e-mail). Penn State University librarians also have the unique user status of “Librarian” which allows an instructor to easily grant access to many of the course’s various functions and resources.

Also, librarians can import or create generic — or customized — ANGEL Library Guides, which they can then attach to all or some of a department’s courses. These library guides are designed to provide students direct access to appropriate resources, such as online databases, reference resources, Penn State’s online public access catalog, and other useful Web sites. These guides come in the form of a generic template that can be easily customized so any librarian can quickly create and/or link to a web guide and link it to the appropriate course or courses.

A paperless reserve room. At Philadelphia University faculty receive training on how to develop a paperless reserve room within their courseware site by creating direct links to full-text article content in the library’s periodical databases. This provides the advantages of eliminating the need for time-consuming scanning of hard copy and concerns about copyright infringement because the content in library databases is legally licensed through product subscriptions.

In those situations where no electronic full-text article is available, such as a book chapter, faculty can digitize the material on their own using the library’s ERes system from Docutek. Docufax enables faculty to create a digitized PDF version of any hardcopy article simply by sending it through a fax machine to the ERes system, thereby eliminating time and money spent to hire library staff for article scanning. Faculty then add the PDF content to their ERes course page and create a link within their courseware site to any article in ERes.

Even though two systems are in use, students get seamless access to their readings. Administrators seeking to provide convenient, anytime, anywhere access to course resources for students will appreciate the complementary relationship between courseware, the library’s electronic database content, and the library’s electronic reserve system. Faculty also appreciate the ability to create and manage this paperless reserve system on their own and at their convenience.

“LinkMaker.” Finally, an example of a more sophisticated integration technique was created by Don Gourley, Director of Information Technology at the Washington Research Library Consortium, and Claire Dygert, Serials & Electronic Resources Librarian at American University. They developed “LinkMaker” as a tool to assist faculty to create durable or persistent links from Blackboard courses to articles in library databases. The links are referred to as such because they last indefinitely, and make it simple for faculty to incorporate links that take students directly to articles in library databases.

LinkMaker is unique because it is a custom-designed application for Blackboard systems that is referred to as a “Building Block.” This one is actually integrated directly into the courseware system and automates the process by which faculty add the links from library databases into their courseware sites.

Fostering Future Integration

Ideally, the integration of library resources and services will occur at both the system and course level in a holistic manner at institutions of all sizes. Librarians would be invited to participate in the delivery of instructional resources by their colleagues who both teach and administer the courseware system. That could mean being invited to participate on the courseware managing committee or being involved in training and support. Librarians should be encouraged to establish a courseware committee, and invite the chief academic technology officer to participate. Whatever form this integration may take, it is in the best interest of academic institutions to foster a collaborative relationship where librarians can participate in the courseware process and have access to those individuals who can help to blend the library and its resources into the courseware system. Why? Because it improves the quality of teaching and learning.

Whether this happens will likely depend on the nature and size of the institution, and the amount of community that exists among the librarians, faculty, and academic support professionals. Those environments in which librarians are excluded intentionally or through oversight from the management or delivery of courseware-related services are usually dysfunctional in nature and do a serious disservice to the student community.

Academic administrators are encouraged to facilitate the integration of library and courseware for many reasons:

the money it may save,

the conveniences it can provide for faculty and students,

the obvious synergies to be gained from allowing these resources to complement each other, and perhaps most importantly,

for what can be gained in improving student learning and achieving student learning outcomes.

—Steven J. Bell is Director of the Paul J. Gutman Library at Philadelphia University. John D. Shank is Assistant Instructional Design Librarian and Head of Instructional Design Services at Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College.

Additional Resources

Glenda Morgan. Faculty Use of Course Management Systems. Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR), 2003. http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ecar_so/ers/ers0302/ekf0302.pdf

Anonymous. “Colleges Increase Use of Course Management Systems.” Educational Marketer 34(8), March 10, 2003.

Andrea Davis. “Universities Collaborate To Offer Technology Alternatives.” Indianapolis Business Journal, February 9, 2004.

David Cohen’s article originally appeared in the September-October 2001 issue of CLIR Issues (http://www.clir.org/pubs/issues/issues23.html) and was later republished in Educause Review, May/June 2002, in a somewhat edited version.

John Shank and Nancy Dewald. “Establishing Our Presence in Courseware: Adding Library Services to the Virtual Classroom,” Information Technology and Libraries, 22 (2003): 38-43.

Patricia Presti. “Incorporating Information Literacy & Distance Learning Within Course Management Software: A Case Study.” LOEX News, V. 29, Nos. 2 & 3, Summer/Fall 2002, pp. 3, 12-13.

Kara L. Giles. “Reflections on a Privilege.” C&RL News, 65(5), May 2004, pp. 261-263

Learn more about the SAKAI project at: http://www.sakaiproject.org/

For additional references, web sites, links to courseware products, and more visit http://staff.philau.edu/bells/cmsresourcepage.htm

For additional information on LinkMaker and to view a PowerPoint presentation about it visit http://www.mra-services.com/blackboardtradeshow03/BBsession.asp?msg=6435


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last modified: October 2004


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