The Loneliness of the Long-distance Learner.


This paper presents a case study focusing on community among students in a distance learning program, the Syracuse University (New York) Master of Library Science-Independent Study Degree Program (MLS-ISDP). During July 1998, the researcher conducted interviews with Syracuse University faculty and staff involved in developing and administering the program. MLS-ISDP participants were contacted via the MLS-ISDP listserv, which includes current students and alumni; 15 students from 1993-1998 cohorts participated. Results indicated that MLS-ISDP students felt a strong sense of community, although their cohorts were distributed across as many as 21 states and countries. Topics discussed include a program description and key terms; MLS-ISDP demographics; factors which foster and sustain community, such as “boot camp” (i.e., the initial 7-day residency), other required on-campus residencies, introductions and biographies, list of residence necessities, cohort directories, cohort photos, assigned “buddies” from previous cohorts, listservs, required class participation, group projects, and a suggestion for introducing new and returning students to each other; administrators’ perspectives on the beginning of the program and changes over time, residencies, group identity and rivalry, and listserva; and students’ perspectives on residencies, group identity, and rivalry. (DLS) Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made from the original document. The Loneliness of the Long-DistanCe Learner? Perspectives on the creation of community within Syracuse University’s Master of Library Science Independent Study Degree Program This case study focuses on community among students in a distance learning program. It is common to think that distance learners are isolated from their fellow students. Verduin and Clark (1991) write, “Distance education offers students an opportunity to study and learn in a peer-free environment, when and if they prefer it” (p. 27). Although some distance learners no doubt prefer to learn as independently as possible, others desire community with their peers. Further, there is evidence that communication and interaction among distance students is crucial to the learning experience. Carlson (1997) wrote that “in order for the online delivery method to be effective, the students must feel involved in the course, with the other students, and with the professor in order to succeed”(p. 3). Internet-based communications allow student interaction and dialogue in a variety of ways: one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many, within an online classroom, outside of the classroom, formally, casually, professionally, and personally. Online interactions can be an important and versatile factor in the creation and encouragement of a community of distance learners. This presentation describes a situation in which distance students feel a strong sense of community. Although these students earn the Master of Library Science in what is termed an “Independent Study Degree Program,” their descriptions of their academic and social experiences in the program show that interdependence is important to them. The MLS-ISDP community is formed during the students’ first in-person encounter in the program, is sustained by online contact, and even persists after graduation. About the project p. 2 Description of MLS-ISDP and key terms 13. 3 MLS-ISDP demographics p. 4 Fostering community P. 5 Administrators’ perspectives P. 7 Students’ perspectives 13. 9 Selected bibliography p. 12 These handouts and additional materials are available at: / linden/ educom/ loneliness.html U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION Office of Educational Research and Improvement EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES INFORMATION CENTER (ERIC) o This document has been reproduced as received from the person or organization originating it. O Minor changes have been made to improve reproduction quality. Points of view or opinions stated in this document do not necessarily represent official OERI position or policy. Julie Linden Research Library Resident W.E.B. Du Bois Library University of Massachusetts Amherst Amherst, MA 01003 (413) 577-2104 Graduate of Syracuse University’s Master of Library Science EDUCOM ’98 Poster Session Track 2 “Connecting Electronic Communities” October 13-16, 1998 Orlando, FL Independent Study Degree Program, 1998 © 1998, Julie Linden May be reproduced and distributed for educational, non-commercial purposes