Dr. Kim Becnel, assistant professor and program director for the library science program, and Master of Library Science graduate Debbie Whitehead discuss the MLS program at Appalachian State University.
Kim Becnel: Hi, everybody! My name is Kim Becnel. I am the program director for the Library Science program at Appalachian State University.
Debbie Whitehead: I’m Debbie Whitehead. I’m currently a media coordinator and just finished the MLS program through App State.
KB: Our Master’s degree program at ASU is a distance education program. It’s one that’s conducted entirely online, so we have students from across the state of North Carolina, and some neighboring states as well who can take advantage of our program from the convenience of their own home. We cover school libraries, we focus on school libraries and public libraries, and so our classes cover everything you need to know to be able to work in and/or run one of those types of libraries successfully. So, collection management, reference, administration, children and youth literature, and classes like that.
DW: I just finished the two year program through App State. One of my favorite things, which actually in the beginning was what terrified me when I first started--you know I’m in my fifties so I don’t have a lot of experience with online worlds and virtual aspect of it, and so when I started that really did scare me. But that’s the part I loved the most, because when you are in that virtual world, I got to hear Dr. B’s voice, so when I met her I recognized her by her voice, I recognized other people who were in the classes, it just developed a camaraderie with that type of setting. Actually, some of the technology that I was involved in through App State has made me more comfortable to do something like this over Google Chat, also I’ve used some of the technology that I’ve learned through App State with some of my students in the library position. So it’s given me a little more comfort with a lot of different things that I had never tried before. One of the things that I loved is that there aren’t a lot of professors in this program, so most of the professors I had more than once. Dr. B I had for two different classes, and she was involved in some of the other classes I was in, so they were always available through any of the forums either online or through emails. I even got text messages from some of them, so yeah, the availability was always there.
KB: One of the things I love most about teaching here at App is the small nature--the intimate nature--of the program and of the classes, and we really work hard at social constructivism. So, we work hard at establishing community in the classroom, community between and among professors and all of our students, and that’s a real focus for us. So, that makes it incredibly rewarding. We get to develop relationships with students, we see them grow throughout the program, we follow them after graduation and support them as much as we can, and it’s just a wonderful place to be and a good, supportive environment for teachers and students alike.
DW: Going back to school, I did look at other institutions, other different online--I knew I needed an online forum because of the flexibility--so when I looked at other programs, they were online based, but they were more blackboard based where you would watch a video and then respond through other forums, and that didn’t seem--there didn’t seem to be the connection that I wanted. So, when I talked to several other former students through App State, they talked about how much they enjoyed the online forum of App State, and how much more collaboration there was in that forum.
KB: In some cases when folks consider online programs, they’re thinking about something that’s completely asynchronous. So they’re thinking about coursework, that they can kind of do readings and take exams and that sort of thing, and that can be good for some people, but a lot of people find that very isolating and intimidating. So our approach is different, we work with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous work, so our students meet together in online forums regularly, many times a semester. We get together and that allows us to have that communication and that community, so we have those discussions that you can have in small groups and as a whole class. That can be missing in other forms of online education. So that is one reason why our program is appealing to students. Another thing that makes us strong is our focus. We, in contrast to lots of other options of other different library schools, we focus very specifically on school media centers and public libraries, and that specific focus gives us the chance to cover a lot in our curriculum related to these institutions that can be missing out when you’re trying to cover such a wide range of other institutions, so that focus--if you’re looking for a public library and especially school media focused degree, then it’s really hard to beat our curriculum and our program.
DW: Looking back over the last couple years, I have absolutely no regrets of going through App State. They have really prepared me, and one of the things Dr. B said earlier is that they continue with students even after the program, and I feel like I have developed relationships with the teachers that if I had a question about my current job, I feel like I could call Dr. B or any of the other professors I had, and feel comfortable that they would give me the advice I need because I’m still learning.