- Online learning and teamwork can feel like this.
- Or it can feel like this, depending on your preparedness. (Imagine my brother on right has an exhausted smile from having to work in a team. Darn it! He just could not cooperate for this photo that I would be using in my blog over six months after taking it!)
After a week of this introductory online class, I am confident that I made the right decision in choosing to earn my MLIS from SJSU’s School of Library and Information Science. Library 203 is the first course a student takes at SLIS and prepares that student for online learning. One valuable unit in this class that could have been easily overlooked in the setup of this class is the section regarding personal assessment and teamwork. The first half of the unit challenges the student examine whether online learning is the correct path for that student both from a personal and practical standpoint. The second half of the unit addresses the benefits and issues of working in teams and the important role teamwork will play in a student’s success at SLIS.
Being from that lucky generation to have had a life devoid of the technologies we see today in the early part of my childhood and filled with technology later (Okay, I was still a kid when this transition occurred; and my husband says my family adopted computers earlier than the average household since we had a family-owned business that required computer-use; but I still count myself as part of that generation since we started out on DOS systems) made me more than computer literate. My family’s first home computer was a Tandy 1000. If I wanted to use the Sesame Street Word Processor or play Space Invaders, I had to know how to navigate the system. If I inserted a disk, the program wouldn’t just run automatically with a magical setup wizard. I had to be disciplined and independent enough to figure out how to run it. As I got older, and computers wove themselves seamlessly into everybody’s lives, I continued that independence and self-discipline. At various jobs, I was the designated geek that fixed everything from the computer, printer, and phone to the coffee machine and toilet (yes, tragically, I cannot turn down even the dirtiest of challenges). Library 203’s unit on personal assessment confirmed for me that these skills and traits would serve me well as an online student.
A few more virtues ascribed to a successful online learner, time-management, organization, and self-motivation, were not necessarily my strong points in undergraduate school, however. I loved my time studying at KU and living in Lawrence, Kansas; but as a young person, I think I often juggled too much at once–full course load, full-time job, and full social calendar. Thankfully, six years of working in “the real world,” traveling, and (don’t laugh but, surprisingly) planning my wedding (while living in another state) have ironed out my issues with those three attributes.
I’ve stubbed my toe on some of the practical requirements online learning, most notably the need for a Windows operating system. I made the switch over to Mac OS X and Linux systems after a poor experience with Windows Vista at my previous job (worst OS ever!); but I’ll make it work. I do like some of the practical tips suggested in this unit, such as using an online calendar, logging in to the system daily, and creating a folder system on my computer.
I also like how they mention the differences between reading online and reading books. I know that much reading has an effect on eyes in general. One my jobs involved working at an optometry practice. We had patients come in with excellent vision one year, then need vision correction the next year because they had started law school or some other graduate program with an intensive reading workload. Little tip from me: be sure to take mini-breaks: look away from your book or computer screen at something in the distance. Give yourself a stretch by standing up, too. This forces you to remember to look away for a bit. Your eyes (and your wallet b/c vision correction can be expensive) will thank you.
I’m glad this particular module included teamwork, as well. I think the ability to work in a team is a valuable tool to successful online learning and to working/volunteering at a job. I like the pairing of both personal assessment and teamwork into one section because I think you have to know yourself before you can work in a team.
This idea was confirmed in Dr. Ken Haycock’s lecture on teamwork, which I was required to watch for the class. He says you should first assess your own strengths (e.g. taking notes) and weaknesses (e.g. getting upset by a certain group member’s behavior). After this initial assessment, he says it’s important to examine what aspects are compatible with and/or inappropriate for the group.
Dr. Haycock also stresses the importance of setting up “ground rules” by coming to a consensus on the team’s goals, responsibilities and accountability. This is a step I have skipped in the past, and it has always resulted in an unproductive work environment or worse. I think my most terrible failures have stemmed from poor teamwork, especially in vertical teams where there were different levels of authority. Discussing ground rules are implied/expected or just avoided because there is this added element of “this person is my boss, so he/she should have more responsibility in this area of the project” or “I’m to busy dealing with x, y, and z; so these people should know that I won’t be doing that part of the project”. Setting up boundaries early on and having the accountability put in place before any roadblocks arrived would have saved a lot of heartache.
That’s the other thing I liked about this lecture. Dr. Haycock admits that there will be roadblocks. He says every team will go through a process of “forming, storming, norming, and performing” (easy to remember when it rhymes, right?). A team begins by clarifying its goals and personal and group responsibilities and accountability. That way it’s prepared when it hits some roadblocks, such as one person taking over the project and steamrolling everybody else, or the group keeps going off on tangents. Every team goes through these bumps, and if it learns how to manage these problems before they start, they can hopeful get to a normalizing phase that helps them to become productive.
I was also required to watch part-time SLIS faculty member Enid Erwin’s lecture on teamwork entitled, “The Monster Inside Library School: Student Teams”. Much of her lecture covers the same issues but in a slightly different way. The two main nuggets I took from her lecture are to have the right attitude about teamwork and that it might actually be easier working with teams in an online environment than a traditional classroom environment, which is something she found to be true in her own studies.
I think I will end up agreeing with her on this notion because I am already finding that I am much more productive and participatory in an online course than I was in a regular classroom setting. I feel more involved in the process. I also like that much of my correspondence has to be visual and not auditory. It’s easier for me to communicate what I actually want to say when I write it than when I say it. My family and friends will tell you that my storytelling is much more concise on a page then out of my mouth.