Saturday, April 9, 2011

Going the Distance: Finding Community across a Digital Divide

By Kim Galloway

As students in a distance education program, we may find the idea of community to be an unfamiliar concept fraught with pitfalls and missteps. Many of us, coming from more traditional school models of face-to-face interactions in classroom settings, get by without the familiarity of friends and social networks. We may not question why this is the order of things. Yet we long to belong to a group, a wider community, a sense that we are not alone even as we sit in front of our computer screens alone. So how do we build that sense of community? How do we reach across the digital chasm?

The answer is quite literally at our fingertips. The SJSU MLIS program has provided its students with many opportunities to connect. There is no need to build a community from scratch, there is already one waiting for those wanting to join. From live Elluminate sessions where you can meet with classmates and instructors, to student organizations and gatherings, colloquia and workshops available both virtually and physically, there is something for everyone interested.

While many of the courses in the MLIS program do not require Elluminate sessions, professors still plan and execute non-mandatory sessions where students can log on and meet with the instructor and fellow students in a real-time interaction. These sessions can be as simple as a white board presentation and chat session, or include web cams and video streaming. It is here that you can find group mates for presentations, a buddy to bounce ideas off of, and future colleagues in your chosen field. Another great way to plug in to the greater community is to join one of the student groups on campus. Among the organizations representing on and off campus are: the American Library Association Student Chapter (ALASC), the Society of American Archivists Student Chapter (SAASC) and the Library and Information Science Students to Encourage Networking (LISSTEN). These organizations offer a way to get more actively involved in networking, publication, governance and leadership while fostering a sense of commitment and belonging. The benefits are tangible; participants discover that they stand out from a crowd of other qualified applicants when it comes time to find jobs and scholarships.

Any exploration of community building endeavors would not be complete without the mention of the many workshops and colloquia podcasts that are held regularly throughout the semester. Offered in both physical and virtual formats, these programs are designed to foster networking while building skills and presenting information and ideas that are leading the way in today’s libraries. Interested students can learn how to build a resume and rehearse interview skills, listen to professionals in the field talk about the past, present and future of their profession, and attend a host of other useful and informative presentations and team-building gatherings. For those looking to socialize and befriend like-minded individuals, there are social gatherings on campus, in caf├ęs and restaurants and in outlying communities or via internet on Second Life, a virtual game world where a user builds an avatar and “travels” to different locations like San Jose State’s own virtual library and meet with other people in a synchronous environment. These venues are a fantastic way to network and build long-lasting professional and inter-personal relationships.

So if you are looking to get out there and mix it up, become part of a community and build strong personal, educational, and professional relationships that will sustain you throughout your school experience and beyond, reach beyond your computer screen, stop simply putting in the school hours and start experiencing them first hand. You will not be disappointed in what you find.

Kim Galloway is in her first semester as co-editor of The Call Number

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