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LIS 549 Reflections and the Future of the 540 Series

By Nancy Lou

MLIS students who have taken LIS 540 are all too familiar with the troubles that have plagued the MLIS core course over the last few years.  One of the key problems is that previous 540 courses did little to support students with different degrees of technical knowledge.  Novices were overwhelmed and often left behind while experienced users were bored with the redundant material. 

Another issue was the lack of consistency across different instructors teaching the course.  This would result in students coming out of 540 with different skill sets, and often lacking the specific skills needed to succeed in more specialized technology electives.  This often resulted in faculty needing to review basic skills in their elective courses, preventing them from moving on to more advanced topics as well as providing advanced electives in their particular area of study. 

To address some of these issues, iSchool faculty have put together a new approach to the 540 series. The plan is to get rid of LIS 540 all-together, and implement multi-level, modular technology courses, starting with the new INFX preparatory courses beginning autumn quarter.  These will cover the essential concepts of four key areas of study (algorithmic thinking, databases, websites, networking), providing students with enough background to complete their core requirement, which can be fulfilled through a number of courses in the LIS 540 and INFX series’(see ‘So what should you take next year’).  The approach provides students with a menu of choices instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.


LIS 549 – The Pilot Course

Since the new format is being implemented in the fall, current students, particularly those who started the MLIS program last fall, may miss out on taking all of the preparatory courses since they will only be starting this fall.  This would be problematic for students still needing to fulfill their 540 requirement in order to graduate next spring.  To compensate for this, the iSchool offered LIS 549 this past spring, a four-credit course that covered the four preparatory topics (algorithmic thinking, databases, websites, networking) taught in parallel over the quarter.  The course was offered in distance format with pre-recorded lectures supplemented by almost daily (but optional) in-person lab sessions. 

“We felt that this spring was the perfect opportunity to pilot the new courses and tried to make the delivery of them as close to the distance mode as possible, for example, using recorded lectures. Then we used class time for one-on-one help with the students. That gave us some great feedback on how students were dealing with the course content and that gave us some useful ideas for the future,” said D.A. Clements, a lecturer who co-taught the pilot course along with Bob Boiko.

To get a sense of the effectiveness of the course, a brief questionnaire was sent out to 549 students to collect their thoughts on the course. While the number of responses received wasn’t really enough to represent the feelings of the entire class, we were able to get some opinions on the success of the course, as well as recommendations for the future one-credit sessions.

One respondent who had previously taken 540 indicated that LIS 549 was a definite improvement over 540 as it was nice to learn more practical skills.  Another student highlighted the intensity of the course, and stressed the importance of using more practical examples related to the LIS field: “It's another of those courses where you get thrown in at the deep end and just hope you don't sink! I would be nice to have these courses be 2- or 3 credits, starting with the same level of not knowing anything, and in the end being able to create something PRACTICAL for a library setting.”

Respondents unanimously agreed that the individual subject areas would best be taught as single, one-credit courses as planned starting in the fall.  This was mainly due to the amount of information covered, and the need to balance all the different concepts since the four areas were taught concurrently.

  • “All together (even two sections at the same time) is WAY too much new information. No time to do it. If feels like I'm taking 4 4-credit classes all at once.” 
  • “The one thing that was hard about this course was switching back and forth between the different units. Some of them complement each other, but just managing the workload and the different topics was hectic at times.” 
  • “It's not that each section was "too fast" on its own. It was that it was ALL TOGETHER. There was no time. Period. I never got the chance to complete a single module all the way through (lectures, reading, lab, assignment) for the entire quarter (times 4) which was hard because I really wanted to learn more about most of this stuff.”
  • “I think this format will be good because it helped identify what 540-type class to take as my core requirement. And now, I can at least understand the language of the other 3 subjects, or at least that is the hope.”

There was strong support for the continued use of in-person lab time so that questions could be answered immediately, and to get support from fellow students.  Several students were concerned with the effectiveness of the course in a purely on-line format:

  • “If I was taking this class on-line I feel like I would really miss getting D.A. and Bob's (or whoever is teaching it) help in person, as well as the collaborative benefits of problem solving with my colleagues in the lab. I see recreating that as a potential challenge in an on-line environment.”
  • “Purely on-line courses might be frustrating because there are lots of questions that my classmates and I had, which was easier to get resolved in person during lab time. Also, having in-person lectures might fit people's learning styles better. For example, at times if I didn't get something during an online lecture, I wished that it could be in person and that my question could be answered right way instead of having to wait and remind the instructor of the context.”

One student also raised concern over the technology skills that should be expected out of MLIS graduates, and how those skills should be reflected in the curriculum:  “We heard at the beginning of this course that it would cover material that our lecturers feel is essential, that they would be ashamed if anyone got an MLIS degree without knowing this material. Why not, then, make this course the required technology course?”

Overall, it seems like the 549 pilot was pretty hectic for students due to the amount of material covered and the need to balance each of the sections simultaneously throughout the quarter.  However, comments also indicate the proposed one-credit modular format will be more effective, especially if supplemented with in-person lab time.


Planned Changes to the 540 series

To review the planned changes to the curriculum, starting autumn 2008, LIS 540 will no longer be required and will not be offered during the 2008-2009 academic year.  Instead, the iSchool is implementing multi-level, modular technology courses. 

The new approach will consist of three levels of courses: 

Preparatory Courses (INFX 501-504) – These one-credit courses will provide students with basic knowledge and skills to prepare them to take fundamental core and advanced elective courses.  Courses are open to all students and are not tied to any particular degree program.  Students may waive out of these preparatory courses but would be expected to know the material to succeed in any follow-up core courses.  They will be offered in the following areas: 

    • INFX 501 - Algorithmic Thinking  (read: programming)
    • INFX 502 - Database Concepts, focusing on storing and retrieving data using Microsoft Access
    • INFX 503 - Web Concepts, covering the basics of web publishing, linking pages, navigation within a site, page layout, etc.
    • INFX 504 – Networking, covering networks, the Internet, email, sFTP, VoIP, how computers work, and using collaborative tools (wiki,google docs).

Fundamental Core Courses (Level 1) – these are designed to give students the skills needed to complete a capstone or portfolio project

Advanced Elective Courses (Level 2) – these allow students to gain in-depth specialization within a given area

“Each of the (preparatory) INFX courses prepares students for an important area of technology. A lot of it is just "getting your feet wet"—doing some work, so it's no longer unfamiliar,” says D.A. Clements, a lecturer within the iSchool.

The new format will allow MLIS students to tailor their core requirement to whatever area of interest they want to specialize in.  In addition, the INFX series will be cross-listed to ensure that technology is an integral element of all degree programs.  The new approach will be in effect for new incoming MLIS students starting autumn quarter.  According to Matt Saxton, Associate Dean for Academics, the new format should be fully functional by the 2009-2010 academic year.
Matt also indicated that the technology curriculum will continue to change over the next few years.  More electives will be offered across the different degree programs to give faculty more opportunities to teach in their area of interest, while giving students more variety.

As a potential example, Bob Boiko mentioned offering technology courses on commercially available software that facilitates students in becoming expert users of real tools such as library management systems and databases.  Courses could consist of an in-depth analysis of the components of a particular system, so they can practical knowledge of how these systems work within a real organization. 


So what should you take next year???

INFX courses will be offered every quarter starting in autumn 2008 in both residential and distance mode.  In addition, a number of fundamental core courses will be offered that will fulfill the MLIS core requirement.  So what should you take?  Here are some suggestions:

If you are an existing student hoping to graduate in spring or summer 2009 and HAVE NOT completed your 540 requirement, you can take one of the following courses that will count for your 540 core requirement.  LIS 540 is not being offered at all next year.

  • LIS 544 – Information Retrieval, offered Autumn 2008 (residential mode)
  • *INFX 542 – Relational Databases, offered Winter 2009 (residential & distance) and Spring 2009 (residential)
  • *INFX 543 – Design of Information Systems, offered Winter 2009 (residential) and Spring 2009 (distance)
  • *INFX 546  – Network System Administration, offered Spring 2009 (distance mode)

* You may need to take one of the one-credit preparatory courses (INFX 501-504) autumn quarter to prepare yourself for INFX 542, INFX 543, or INFX 546. 

If you are an incoming MLIS student this autumn and want expertise in a particular subject area, take Bob Boiko’s advice when registering for classes autumn quarter:  take at least one of the 1-credit INFX courses during your first quarter in whatever area of interest you are hoping to pursue.  Taking the one credit course first quarter will allow you to take the Core course later on in the year, and then have time in year 2 to take the advanced elective before you graduate

For example, if you’re interested in databases, in addition to registering for the required 500-510-520 combo, register for INFX 502 as well so that you’ll be well-prepared for INFX 542 being offered the following quarter.  Then, if you want to pursue advanced electives in databases the following year, you will already have the fundamental skills (and core course) out of the way.

D.A. Clements also notes that while some students may want to take all four preparatory courses (INFX 501-504) at once to be ready for other courses in the decade, for most students, she recommends taking only one or two per quarter since there will be a lot of new material to consume. 

Here are a few other resources to check out as you plan your courses for next year:

  • iSchool IT Course Descriptions – This was initially written for 2007-2008 incoming students as they still need to complete their 540 requirement, but did not have the luxury of taking any of the INFX courses this past year (aside from the pilot LIS 549).  It has useful descriptions of the core courses that will be offered in the 2008-2009 academic year.
  • 2008-2009 Project Course Calendar – while this may not be totally up-to-date now, check back as you are planning for registration as it contains tentative courses to be offered in subsequent quarters so that you can plan out your technology courses based on what will or won’t be offered.

That about sums it up.  I am super glad that I am graduated and have my 540 requirement out of the way but I’m also a bit envious of the new format as it sounds like there is a clear path for those wanting to go in a specific direction.  Good luck to the rest of you!



June 27, 2008
Vol. XII Issue 4

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