Online IL Instruction: Describing the Evolution of Instructional Librarianship by Paul Clayton Campbell

As an instructional librarian working at a non-residential campus, I find that more and more students opt for taking courses online instead of traditional, face-to-face courses. This trend is neither anything new nor is it limited to my campus. As a whole, higher education is in the midst of major growth in online course offerings. Moore (2011) refers to this growth as “The Great Migration” where courses that were once offered solely face-to-face are now being offered online (p. 21).

Data in higher education only offers further evidence of the growth in online course offerings. In their report, Allen and Seaman (2014) provided insight into the growth of online course offerings over the last decade.  This report shows that the number of college students taking at least one online course has grown from 9.6% in the fall of 2002 to 33.5% in the fall of 2012 (p. 15).  These data show that the movement toward online education in the context of higher education is not only growing by leaps and bounds but is here to stay (Merry & Newby, 2014, p.9).

Academic librarians should see these statistics as a way to further develop the library’s relevance to the larger academic mission of the institution they serve. Online course offerings should be seen by librarians as an opportunity for growth for information literacy (IL) instruction programs.  Providing IL instruction for online courses just as we do for traditional face-to-face courses is the logical next step in the evolution of academic librarianship.  As instructional librarians we need to serve our students where ever they might be and not expect that students will always come to us.  Expecting that robust LibGuides are going to be sufficient to meet information needs of online students is no longer valid.  Although LibGuides are a great tool for outlining library resources, they may not be effective at providing the instruction needed in order to use said resources effectively.

The Allen and Seaman report not only shows that overall online course offerings are increasing but schools with larger student populations will likely offer online courses (p. 14).  From an instruction librarian’s point-of-view, this growth in online education should be seen as a golden opportunity to expand the library’s reach in serving all patrons.

Even with librarians scattered between the disciplines through the use of subject liaison responsibilities, it would be unrealistic for a single librarian to provide face-to-face IL instruction for all courses within their assigned subject areas.  It would, however, be much more feasible for a liaison librarian to provide asynchronous (or even synchronous) information literacy instruction through the campus learning management system (LMS).   I believe that serving online students should be incorporated into the current job descriptions of all librarians with instructional responsibilities.  Serving online students, just as we do our face-to-face students, is simply just part of the changing nature of our profession.  And we should welcome it.

Just as we do with other changes in our profession, there are challenges we have to face and overcome.  For instance, Nichols Hess (2014) compared face-to-face versus online IL instruction in upper-level sociology undergraduates.  She found that there was no measurable differences in student learning between the two delivery methods.  However, she did find that students preferred the human connection in the face-to-face instruction while the online students more fully understood the importance of the library in regards to their research.  Finding a solution to this catch-22 would go a long way in helping the library meet the needs of the increasing online courses.

Malone (2015) may have found a possible solution to this riddle.  Malone recently published an article (2015) outlining his work in providing synchronous IL instruction through the campus LMS.  Providing synchronous IL instruction not only provides the human connection that Nichols Hess wrote about but it also establishes a library presence in online courses.  In Malone’s case, his campus uses Canvas as the LMS.  Canvas offers live-video conferencing, Bigblutbotton, a feature that allows librarians to broadcast synchronous instruction for online courses.  One downside is that scheduling a time for the librarian and the students to meet virtually can be difficult.

My institution, Ohio University, does not use Canvas, so the Bigbluebutton option is not available.  However, Ohio University does use Blackboard where there are similar options available.  I hope to go live in the spring 2016 with a pilot program for offering online asynchronous IL instruction utilizing the tools available through Blackboard.

Librarians at Ohio University have access to Blackboard in order to develop asynchronous learning modules that can easily be exported to any course within the system.  Within the Content area of a shell course, I am able to develop a Learning Module that is catered to the assignment at hand. The Learning Module feature of Blackboard seems to work splendidly for online asynchronous IL instruction.  Through the creation of short tutorials and small quizzes interwoven in the Learning Module, I am then able use the “Adaptive Release” functions of Blackboard in order to measure the progress of the student.  After the Learning Module is created, it can be exported and uploaded to the course in Blackboard for which it was intended.

For example, only after students complete the initial quiz assessing their library research skills will the first tutorial appear.  After watching this tutorial they then need to complete a quiz on the content from the tutorial.  Only after students complete this quiz with an 80% or higher are they able to view the next tutorial.  This can happen again and again.  Students are unable to progress through the Blackboard Learning Module until they meet each of the requirements as set out by the librarian in the Adaptive Release settings.

As discussed above, the benefits of online synchronous IL instruction is the possibility for the important personal connection between the librarian and the student.  However, one of the drawbacks is that it goes back to heavily taxing the time of the librarian in order to schedule several sessions for each course.  There are some benefits of an asynchronous IL instruction.  First, it is self-paced and the student is able to complete it at a time that best fits his or her schedule.  Secondly, because of the many short quizzes throughout the Learning Module, the librarian is able to pull assessment data that would show how much learning is actually taking place as a result of this Learning Module.

There are distinct pros and cons in utilizing either type of instruction online: asynchronous or synchronous.  The type of instruction to be used will depend on what online instructional tools are available to the librarian and what would work best with each specific course.  Regardless of which type of instruction is utilized, the key victories in transitioning IL instruction to an online format are two-fold: 1). The library is able to meet the needs of the growing online student population. 2). A teaching partnership is formed between the librarian and the faculty member.  In order for online IL instruction to be successful, the librarian and the faculty member need develop a partnership in seeking to integrate IL instruction as learning outcome of the individual course.


Allen, I.E., & Seaman, J. (2014). Grade change: Tracking online education in the United States.  Babsom Park, MA: Babson Survey Research.

Malone, D. (2015). Using synchronous video within a learning management system for library and information literacy instruction. Public Services Quarterly, 11(3), 208-216. doi:10.1080/15228959.2015.1060146.

Mery, Y., & Newby, J. (2014). Online by design: The essentials of creating information literacy courses. Lanham, Maryland.

Moore, D. (2011). Using collaborative online discussion effectively for teaching. Journal of Applied Learning Technology, 1(4), 19-23.

Nichols Hess, A. (2014). Online and face-to-face library instruction: Assessing the impact on upper-level sociology undergraduates. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 33(3), 132-147. doi:10.1080/01639269.2014.934122.


Paul Clayton Campbell is the instructional librarian at Ohio University Lancaster.   His academic interests are with the relationship between instructional design and library instruction.

This entry was posted in Distance, Featured Blogger, Information Literacy, Pedagogy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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