Volume 7 Issue 3 April 2004
From the Front Lines:
What’s an Online Degree Program Really Like?
An Interview by Melissa Moore
Last fall, two of Summar Library’s staff members–Jeannie JEANNIE: Yes, I earned my Masters in a traditional setting.
Byrd and Valerie Howell—enrolled in online degree programs Actually, I see a greater difference between the part-time vs.
with the intention of earning Masters degrees in the field of full-time components than between distance vs. on-campus.
librarianship. Jeannie is pursuing her MSIS (Masters of When I was able to concentrate my full attentions on my
Science in Information Science) from the University of studies in an atmosphere where everyone else around me
Tennessee (Knoxville) and should graduate in either was also pursuing scholarly goals, a synergy developed that
December 2005 or Spring 2006. Valerie is pursuing her MLS made me more productive. It is certainly easier to be a full-
(Masters in Library Science) from Texas Women’s University time student! It is more difficult to incorporate studies into
and will likely graduate in Fall 2005. my work schedule, but I have been blessed with super
supportive supervisors and co-workers. Also, applying the
Q: Please briefly describe your program: practical experience of working in an academic library to the
theory I am learning in graduate school is the best way to
JEANNIE: UTK’s MSIS program requires 42 hours, 15 of learn!
which are a core curriculum required of all students. You can
opt for either a thesis (6 hours) or non-thesis with a written VALERIE: Yes…the two definitely have their differences. In a
comprehensive exam. (I am leaning toward the non-thesis classroom setting you may experience a more stimulating
option at this point, though if an interesting research topic learning environment. In an online format you miss the
presents itself, I would be willing to pursue a thesis.) The oratory and auditory stimuli that can enhance learning. But I
degree is offered in a virtual classroom, using Blackboard don’t think it takes away from the educational experience. I
and Centra. I had to go to UTK for 2 days of orientation, but still have notes / PowerPoints to go through, chapters to
that’s it—the rest is online. I have an additional technology read, assignments to turn in. I think time plays an important
fee added to my tuition fees each term. role in comparing the two. With my program, I’m not tied
down to going to class each week. I work at my own pace to
VALERIE: TWU offers an MLS program that is completely some degree. I seem to feel more relaxed with the online
online. All course work is done online with three optional experience, probably because of this. But this is also new
face-to-face meetings per course. With TWU’s program, I for many people and professors are aware of this. It’s also
won’t have to go to Texas at any point. TWU uses hard for me to balance my class requirements with work and
Blackboard, a web-based software program where faculty my life beyond Union. I agree with Jeannie—being a full-time
post announcements, notes, PowerPoint slides, syllabuses, student is certainly the easiest way to pursue a degree, it’s
grades, documents, and assignments for us to view. We use just financially not an option.
message boards for primary interaction. Blackboard also has
a virtual classroom option that faculty may or may not utilize. Q: How about the repartee that is commonly felt in
At TWU, I have to pay both a technology fee and a distance- traditional classroom experiences over the course of a
education fee on top of the course fees. semester (or the length of a cohort program)? Do you feel
connected with your professors in the online environment?
Q: Jeannie, you earned a Masters of Arts in English at Ole How would you describe your relationship with your
Miss, and Valerie, you earned a Masters in Communications classmates?
from the University of Memphis. Both of those were
traditional classroom experiences, right? Can you compare continued on Page 4
your current online program with that traditional program?
How do the learning experiences compare?
Page 2 The Compass
From the Director’s Desk Perhaps the phrase’s most typical form is from Jonathan
--by Steve Baker
You can’t make a Silk Purse out of a Sow’s
Making a Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear
From Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable we learn that
John Wolcot made the following use of the expression in one
During our recent survey of faculty satisfaction with the of his 18th century poetic works satirizing English court life.
library we received many written comments. Some are the
pointed but constructive suggestions that help to motivate You cannot make, my lord, I fear,
change. Others are the encouraging compliments so A velvet purse of a sow’s ear.
commonplace among this community of learners called
Union. All faculty comments about the library are welcome From this we learn the typical negative connotation of the
whatever direction they may take. However, one comment phrase. In its normal usage it expresses the futility of
that especially caught my attention was in response to the attempting what is impossible. Indeed, Roget’s Thesaurus is
open ended question, “What one thing do you most instructive here as we see from the phrase’s placement
appreciate about the library?” under the heading “impossibility.” It is akin to looking for a
needle in a haystack or getting blood from a turnip.
Helpfulness of the staff….Why not two
things?–Image: Making a silk purse from a Interestingly, there is a sense in which it is sometimes used
sow’s ear in a positive sense to express the extraordinary efforts of
those who valiantly persevere over seemingly hopeless odds
The use of the old silk purse/sow’s ear saying drove me to a to accomplish great things. In fact, since with GOD all
bit of etymology. The phrase goes back at least as far as things are possible, we need not grow faint when faced with
the sixteenth century. The Dictionary of Clichés records an circumstances that limit or conditions that constrain. If I
early literary use of the phrase in Stephen Gosson’s read the comments of the faculty correctly this is the case
Ephemerides (1579). with our library staff. They are revered for the quality of
service they provide in spite of the physical limitations within
Seekinge….too make a silke purse of a which they labor. Such in the alchemy of the librarian’s
Sowes eare. calling.
Getting to Know ITCM Technicians
Bobby Johnson Jeremy W. Scott
Bobby is a senior in the digital media studies Jeremy received a bachelor of music degree from
department. He assists in the technical aspects of Union in December. He oversees the day-to-day
campus events. His responsibilities also include operations of the ITCM during the morning
designing and maintaining of the ITCM website. hours. Jeremy is originally from Memphis, TN.
Bobby has a wife, Paula, and two boys, Drew (4) His hobbies include photography and music
and Dylan (22mos).
The Compass Page 3
What’s in Your Beach Bag? Summer Reading Ideas
By Melissa Moore
these two men which appeals to this history minor from Wake
Team Leader for Public Services Forest.
·The Forest Lover, by Susan Vreeland. I loved her nested
When I was growing up, summer was issued in with an stories in Girl in Hyacinth Blue; this is her latest novel, focusing
eight-hour drive through Mississippi to the Gulf Coast of Florida, on the Canadian painter Emily Carr.
where we would spend a week gorging on shellfish, roasting ·The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by
our backsides, and tossing a Frisbee on the sand. My dad had Mark Haddon. How can you not be curious about this book,
the fishing poles strapped down to the top of the van, and my whose 15-year-old autistic narrator is accused of murdering a
mom had the cooler filled with soft drinks (as well as Dramamine neighbor’s dog with a fork?
in reserve for later). Each of us kids had an unmarked paper ·Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire. This biography
sack filled with fresh coloring books and crayons, chocolate of a Cuban immigrant, who was one of 14,000 children removed
bars (which we had to eat by 8am to prevent melting, right?), from Cuba in 1962 when Castro came into power, won the
travel Bingo or Yahtzee, and those workbooks with invisible ink National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2003.
pens. But the best part was the money we were given the
week before leaving to spend on what my mother called “beach READING ALOUD
books.” This was before Amazon.com, so we would go to the I know of many families who are proponents of reading a
local bookstores and spend an hour making book aloud for everyone to hear, discuss,
our selections. Some were duds, most were and share. The Moore household seems to
average, but a few were real treasures that always be too busy in the evenings to get
live on in my mind even now, twenty-something- everyone together— before they are
years later. comatose, but after they’re fed and clean.
Perhaps that “beach reading” is in part But I want to try this for seven (OK, maybe
responsible for my being a librarian. I love six) evenings while we are at the beach—
children’s books and classics, middle school there’s no homework in Florida, no grass
novels and the cutting edge of young adult to mow, even the laundry piles seem
literature. I also love adult fiction, biography, smaller.
historical novels, and mysteries. By now, I To that end, I have been collecting the
realize that most individuals are not as titles of some possible reads for our family
addicted to books as I am, and that’s OK. (Joey, 11; Amelia, 4½ going on 15; and Sophie, 3):
But even non-readers usually take a book to the beach. What · Summer with the Moodys, by Sarah Maxwell
will you read this summer? And how will you read it? · The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
· The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
READING ALONE (though they’ve seen the BBC film version, so that may not be
I keep a list of books that I want to read. Some are from the right one to start with)
reviews I read that sound good, others are recommendations · Wise Words, by Peter Leithart
from fellow readers of “must reads.” I browse sale tables The reader in me really wants to pursue this idea, in part
throughout the year, looking for beach reads. When I feel because the books we’ve used as part of family devotions (such
especially poor (or fiscally wise), I will check the “What’s as Big Truths for Little Kids and My ABC Bible Verses) have
Available to Review” lists with the journals I review for and see succeeded in teaching truth and building a communal pool of
if they have something I want for free. (Of course, that’s a catch- vicarious experiences. If any of you have books that are favorites
22: it’s a review book, so it’s work and I’m not really on vacation in your family, please share the titles with me!
after all, but it was free and I have money for key lime pie to eat
while I read.) I’ve been accumulating a small stack of books READING AFTER
this year that will make their way into my beach bag this If you can build a family of readers, one of the many benefits
summer: is reading after each other. You live with other readers, who
·Wicked, by Gregory Maguire. I love thoughtful retellings delight in the experience, and you want to read what they are
and extensions of fairy tales, like those by Donna Jo Napoli. reading. Our dinner table conversations are frequently littered
This adult novel tells us the “real story” of the Wicked Witch of with references to the books we are reading (or have just
the West, when she was a little green girl in Oz
· Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and
Livingstone, by Martin Dugard. Very well-reviewed biography of continued on Page 4
Page 4 The Compass
continued from Page 3 SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
This June, I will be the mom packing the cooler and buying
finished), and before you know it, someone else in the family the Dramamine. My husband will be packing board games
wants to read that book. Our son has been known to leave instead of fishing poles, since he prefers acquiring monopolies
(temporarily) fried chicken and fresh corn in order to get a book to catching red snapper. I will lead the pack in tossing the
from his room and share an excerpt with the rest of us. I must Frisbee and eating grilled shrimp. My three children will be in
confess, there are mornings when I am bleary-eyed because the back of the van with their brown paper bags of goodies,
of reading into the early hours of the morning. My children will purchased by yours truly at K-Mart. But you can be certain
ask me (in between spoonfuls of Frosted Flakes) why did I that, a week before departing, we will descend on Books-A-
stay up so late? What was so good about that book? My mother Million and spend an hour looking for the right “beach books” to
and I have traded books countless times because of this type go in our suitcases. Lucky for them, my children have a mom
of interaction. The enthusiasm for what we are reading is who reads, so that the “beach books” will be a family beach
contagious, producing more readers, and it also promotes a experience. We will share ideas, and characters, and story
community of experiences (and sometimes even common lines, and in the process make some Florida memories all our
phrases) that serve to undergird relationships in the home. own.
continued from Page 1
JEANNIE: Overall, I have been pleased with my experiences.
JEANNIE: There is an inevitable loss of connection with any I have met some wonderful people through the program. Our
distance program; however, many of my professors display initial 2-day orientation allowed me to meet all the professors
their love of learning and their enthusiasm for their discipline and the other students. That face-to-face contact was
in their lessons. They work hard to make the students feel instrumental in launching many of the friendships which have
part of the learning process. The only thing we cannot do in developed since then. Most every class has had a group
my virtual classes is see one another, and there are some project, and I have worked closely with many of the students
advantages to that! You can come to class in your sweats or in such projects. I feel just as connected to these students
munch snacks on the side, and no one cares! You can’t pre- as any I have worked with in traditional programs. On the
judge anyone by appearance. We use chat text to “pass negative side, some professors have not been as successful
notes” during class and even throw an occasional “virtual in using the technology or in communicating effectively. One
airplane” or two! professor has frustrated an entire class by her poor
communication skills. In a traditional classroom, we might
VALERIE: I believe that is what I miss about the traditional be able to clarify some points after class, but she limited our
classroom experience—the face-to-face contact. In the access to her because of her hesitancy to use the available
beginning you don’t feel connected to the professor. However, technology to communicate. I have heard that another
I believe that throughout the semester you may feel more professor refuses to use the audio component of our program
comfortable, especially if you email them personally. In the because it uses Microsoft resources, and she is boycotting
classroom experience, you are able to put a name with a Microsoft! Also, when the technology doesn’t work, it can be
face, you have greater opportunity to become familiar with a real problem. When I had dial-up service, I would
the professor and vice versa. You know with an online course sometimes get thrown out of class (disconnected) and have
that the professor may not know you from Adam when there to reconnect; with my new cable modem, that has not
are 49 other students. As for my relationship with fellow happened.
classmates…at the University of Memphis, there was a core
group of us who took many of the same classes. You were VALERIE: Communication is a big factor. For the most part, I
able to talk on a regular basis about the classes and have been pleased with the level and quality of
assignments. You were also able to get to know them more communication. You have to learn some patience such as
personally. You may not necessarily have that with when waiting to hear back from a message on the
classmates online. I have become familiar with some of them discussion board or an email response. In a traditional
through group assignments, but it’s not the same as face-to- classroom setting, you can ask questions and get a quick
face interaction. answer. I’ve had a couple of experiences that could be
considered negative: for example, my professor had several
Q: Communication always garners attention when we start assignments listed on the syllabus. We had fallen behind on
looking at online environments versus classroom the class schedule and never heard more details about one
experiences. Have you been satisfied with the quality of particular assignment. It was finally revealed that it had been
communication with your professors and classmates? Any
remarkable experiences, positive or negative? continued on Page 5
The Compass Page 5
Q: So why are you spending your money and your time
Front Lines pursuing this degree anyway?
continued from Page 4
cancelled. Those who attended the face-to-face meeting JEANNIE: When I came to Union’s library from the
were told, but it was never announced on Blackboard. classroom almost two years ago, I felt that I had finally found
my niche. I know now that I want to work in an academic
Q: Jeannie, you are actually attending classes virtually, with library, so it only makes sense to me to pursue the terminal
special software you had to purchase, correct? How does degree in the field to better equip me to work in the technical
that work? Does your professor know if you are “in class”? services-side of the library world. I also recognize that, with
Are you ever directly asked questions? How would you rate the MSIS degree I will receive from UTK, I will have more
the quality of learning you have experienced thus far? opportunities to serve and to pursue professional
JEANNIE: The software is called Centra and it allows for a
virtual classroom experience. Class times are set and VALERIE: Mine was a similar situation. I came to work here
everyone attend online at that time. When you attend a in January 2001, and after working here for awhile, I realized
Centra classroom, you will see the names of everyone else that my career choice would be to work in the academic
who is connected in a list on the screen. Icons that library environment, though I am geared more towards the
represent applause, raising of hands, yes or no responses, public services-side. I would really like to work in Reference
and even smiling faces for laughter are used in class. If you and Information Literacy Instruction. The MLS from TWU will
wish to speak, you “raise your hand” and the teacher will call allow me to perform that kind of specialized library service,
on you (just like a traditional class) and you speak into your and while there are additional responsibilities that go with
microphone so everyone in the class can hear you. The being a library faculty member, there are also many
teacher can lecture, show PowerPoint presentations, take advantages.
the class on a Web Safari (where we surf the Web as a
group), or write notes on a whiteboard. The class can be Q: If there had been a local option to pursue an MLS in a
divided into groups for private discussions and then re-join traditional learning environment, would you have taken it?
the larger group for feedback. Another plus to the Centra
system—if you cannot attend a class, Centra records each JEANNIE: Wow, that’s a good question. I think the answer
session and you can listed to the recorded class you would be yes, simply because all I would have known at that
missed. When I was hospitalized, I had to miss a class, and point would have been the traditional classroom. The idea of
this is what I did. In addition to Centra (for which a small an online program was a little daunting initially. Now that I
technology fee is charged each semester), we use am eight months into the online program, though, I like the
Blackboard to access course documents and to “drop off” distance-learning option because of all the flexibility. The fact
our school work. I would give the program a superior quality that a local MLS was not available pushed me to examine
rating to date. I feel that I am getting a cutting-edge other options.
education in the field of information science.
VALERIE: I’m with Jeannie. I honestly don’t know what I
Q: Valerie, what about your experience? You are not in an would have done. The caliber of the local MLS program would
online classroom, though you have assignments due each certainly have been a factor in making the choice, but I would
week. Have your professors used chat rooms or message have liked the opportunity to develop greater camaraderie
boards? How would you rate the quality of learning in your with other students which a traditional program gives. Then
program thus far? again, I like the flexibility associated with the online program.
I’m just not sure.
VALERIE: I enjoy the fact that I don’t have to “meet” at a
certain time each week. The ability to work at my own pace
is extremely convenient. It’s possible that I could have a
more enriched experience with a virtual class meeting, but I
don’t feel I have lost anything. For the most part, my
professors have been organized and follow the syllabus, and
you are aware of the assignments that are due. Professors
use message boards to hold discussions about weekly
readings and notes. One of my professors has used a virtual
chat option. So far I have been satisfied with the quality of
learning. A lot of it depends on me…keeping up with the
readings, participating in the discussions. I believe that the
level of learning is the same as traditional classroom
Page 6 The Compass
Summar Library Celebrates
Peace, Love and Books
At the Annual Library Open House
April 19, 2004
Photos courtesy of