#NYLA12: Info Literacy for Distance Learners

I attended the New York State Library Association (NYLA) annual conference this past week and tried my hand at some live-blogging. Below is my first ever attempt at live-blogging a conference session. It is a reposting from my November 8 post on Information Space (Info Space), the official blog of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies:

This post is part of our continuing coverage of the 2012 New York Library Association conference happening this week in Saratoga Springs, NY. Mia Breitkopf’s first post on the conference can be found here.

Session: Information Literacy for Distance Learners
Presenter: Dana Longley, Asstistant Director, Library Instruction & information Literacy at SUNY Empire State College

Online Instruction Is Scary

Dana (pictured) started by asking the audience about their biggest fears about teaching online. The group came up with a few major concerns: what if online instructors are missing social cues that enable them to connect with students? How will we deal with technological difficulties? Will anyone show up? How can you tell if a student is frustrated or is mortally bored? (Cue Dana’s slide of a sleepy cat passed out on a computer.)

At Empire State College, Dana is dealing with 35 office locations around New York State where its 25,000 students can meet with instructors on occasion. Serving both domestic and international students (average age 35 for undergrads, and 40 for grad students) Empire State uses an individualized learning model.

The college has no physical library and thus provides only digital resources. There are only four librarians to do this. Dana tries to provide distance learners with an experience as rich and individualized as they might receive if they were to set foot in a physical university library. Working with course instructors, librarians embed themselves into online courses. For example, a librarian may participate in a student discussion about a particular assignment.

Synchronous Librarian Workshops

Dana talked about how she interacts with Empire State students using synchronous workshops to build information literacy skills among students. Examples of workshop topics include the classic information literacy and research subjects such as citing sources, how to use RefWorks, using primary versus secondary sources, and when to use non-peer-reviewed sources.

Dana said she tends not to do workshops on specific tech tools, focusing instead on general information literacy skills. She said she does this because her major concern is ensuring students have long-lasting research skills. Technological tools change all of the time, so her resources are best used in promoting general information literacy.

Using Elluminate Live or Blackboard Collaborate, Empire State librarians create 90-minute synchronous instructional experiences that may include lectures with a white board and break-out “rooms” for group work. For workshops, Dana will record her sessions and email links for viewing them to all of the participants so anyone who missed it or attended but had technical difficulties can watch it later. The recording of the lecture could be archived to be made available later, though Dana prefers to require attendance and participation in the workshop. (If students know they can just watch the recording later, they may not attend.)

This format is scalable and works equally well for a small group of a few students as it does for a group of 40 or more. By providing the workshop in real-time, the librarian can assess participants’ needs and understanding and modify the workshop immediately, addressing questions and adapting to multiple learning styles on the fly.


Dana advises attacking from all angles: email, snail mail, tapping into word of mouth, etc.

The #1 way to get students to attend workshops? Get faculty on board. Faculty will send students to the librarians if they know about the workshops and what the librarians can and will be able to provide. Dana makes sure faculty know her. She provides faculty with instructional design support and attends faculty meetings. She constantly reminds faculty about the student support resources the library can offer.

A couple of other tips: email blasts don’t work so well. Students get so many emails, so they often don’t notice an email about a workshop. Dana advised making the names and topics of the workshops as simple and practical as possible.


Empire State librarians use free tools as often as possible. They use Google Forms for workshop signup and have used Eventbrite in the past. Dana uses Google Drive for pre and post-workshop assessment surveys. She polls students during workshops to check for understanding, using polling from within her webinar tech platform. (I think I’ve seen Michael Stephens do this as well, polling participants during webinars using Survey Monkey.)

She puts her handouts into Google Docs so she can send the links to students. She makes sure all URLs are as short as possible by using TinyURL.com. Some of her students print materials, and she wants to be sure they will be able to easily access links later when they’re holding that printout in their hand.

Stay tuned for more coverage of #NYLA12! 



One thought on “#NYLA12: Info Literacy for Distance Learners

  1. As a long time user of eLive and Collaborate I can assure you that the software is quite capable of connecting groups of people in a way that is both reliable and effective. It might take a few tries before people become comfortable with the environment but I figure that most of you will judge the sessions well worth the effort. Besides–no travel!

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