The library’s information retrieval courses work online as well
The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down our work at the university library, even though the library premises are in very limited use at the moment. When the university and the library buildings were closed down in a hurry over a year ago, the library staff were equally quick to create substitute processes for face-to-face services. You can reach all of the library specialists online just like before, and search the Volter database for resources that are ever more increasingly available online in electronic format.
Online courses have been used for some time in the library’s information retrieval courses and other trainings, but in spring 2020 all face-to-face lessons had to be moved online. We asked information specialists Leena Tonttila and Anu Valtari from the library’s Information Services and Education Team to recount their experiences of the situation.
Leena Tonttila teaches information retrieval to students in the Faculty of Education and Teacher Education in Turku and Rauma. Anu Valtari’s specialty is teaching information retrieval to students in the School of Economics. Leena also instructs and helps people with Open Access publishing and research data, while Anu is a member of the library’s Metrics and Evaluation Services Team. The Metrics Team is currently busy with the library’s portion of the university’s ongoing Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).
Online teaching teaches its creators
- In the School of Economics most of the information retrieval courses the library offers are independent-study courses in Moodle, but we do have online lectures as well, Anu Valtari tells us. - First year students use the ViLLE learning platform in their courses.
The students in the Faculty of Education and Teacher Education use the same learning platforms. Extensive face-to-face classes have changed to interacting online.
Both information specialists feel that their day-to-day work has not changed very much, even though chance encounters with students and staff in the libraries and classrooms has disappeared during the pandemic.
- We offer courses and give advice on information retrieval same as before; only the tools and environment are different, the specialists note.
Online teaching requires more effort from teachers at the start, which means that during the pandemic we have been actively learning to use new teaching tools at the library. This is what both Leena and Anu feel is a wholly welcome task.
- For example in order to create instructional videos we’ve had to learn more thoroughly how to use lots of different recording, editing, and captioning programs. In online lectures we decided to explore the inner workings of Zoom to make the most of it. The more familiar tools like Moodle and Seafile have also offered new things to learn, because we have been using them more than before, Anu and Leena reflect.
Face-to-face classes and online courses
Face-to-face classes and online courses have their pros and cons.
- In a classroom I’m in direct contact with students and they can ask questions there and then. During the pandemic, students have been working on assignments independently in online courses, where I’m better able to see with every student whether they have understood everything. I also feel that I’ve been clearer and more efficient in explaining things in the instruction videos and that’s given the students well-defined packages to learn, Leena Tonttila ponders.
- I also think online courses have been really effective and more flexible for students than face-to-face classes, Anu Valtari concurs. - Before it must have been difficult to attend classes for students that don’t live in Turku or who are already busy at their jobs. Nevertheless, learning is achieved just as well studying independently online.
Both specialists think different forms of distance learning gives the needed space to different types of learners. On the one hand, in online lectures students can concentrate on listening or they can take part in the discussion. On the other hand, independent-study courses can be completed flexibly on the students’ own schedule and they can take their time revising everything in the study materials. In fact, the students have praised the library's online courses.
For teachers, giving a lecture online can sometimes be challenging, especially if you cannot see the listeners' reactions. It may also be more difficult to form a sense of the group online than in a classroom. Sometimes it might be more challenging to achieve the same type of variation in Zoom lectures as in face-to-face teaching situations. Of course there are ways to activate the students, such as using breakout rooms for discussions in smaller groups or using different kinds of polls or quizzes.
- An ideal course format could be a mix of face-to-face and online teaching, based on the situation and what is needed, Leena and Anu sum up.
Takeaways for teaching in the future
Both information specialists believe the pandemic has had a permanent effect on teaching.
- All the skills and tools are worth using in the future too. It’s clear now that information retrieval can be taught online just as well, or in some ways maybe even better, Leena Tonttila says.
- I assume in the future we’ll be teaching online more and more, Anu Valtari reckons as well. - Online courses could open new possibilities to the way people study at a university in Finland, where distances can be long. Maybe we should take the studies to the people, instead of expecting people to come to the studies, so to speak.
The biggest drawbacks of remote-work have been not being able to bump into people the same way at the university and the decrease in individual contact with students, because the libraries have been closed. Leena, Anu, and all the rest of the library's information specialists will gladly answer any messages and questions you might have. Please send them to the team's service address email@example.com.