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Volume 45, Number 1

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Going the Distance: Instructional and Reference Services in Distance Learning

by Kay A. Cutler, Beth Blanton-Kent, and Judy Jordan

In recent years much has been written about distance learning and digital libraries; however, there is a shortage of articles focusing on the role of reference and library instruction services in this environment. Most of these articles center on a model for distance education referred to as one-to-many: one teacher instructs many students. The teacher is either on-site or she is videotaped and the lesson delivered by a satellite link-up to students who are geographically separated from the instructor. In some instances, the teacher's lesson is taped and played at a later time to the students. The library's presence is evident in the electronic library resources provided to these students such as Internet reference tools and access to databases to which the teacher may refer during her lecture. Yet, involvement of the library staff and availability of library services are noticeably absent in many cases.

Technology is facilitating the adoption of different models for distance learning, and these new models provide many opportunities for librarians to participate. The University of Virginia (UVa) library staff is taking a proactive stance and is participating in several models that support a variety of teaching methods including the following.

One-to-Many Instruction Enhanced by Library Support

Students enrolled in the UVa Curry School of Education can attend classes on-Grounds or in one of our regional continuing education centers in Virginia. An instructor who is either on- or off-site teaches these classes. The UVa University Library created a new position in 1997 explicitly to handle the library services offered to students attending these centers. Esther Bishop was hired and continues to serve in this position. To date she has: traveled to the centers to meet with faculty, students, and administrators; taught instructional classes on site; established an 800 number and email reference service to provide assistance with reference questions and instructional needs; started a document delivery service using FEDEX to send books to the student's home, office, or closest UVa regional center; begun faxing or mailing photocopies of articles to students; implemented the library's new method of providing course materials full text via the web; and created a web site, A Guide to Library Services and Resources for off-Grounds Students at UVa. She is very involved in developing policies and procedures to better serve the needs of these students and faculty.

Case Method of Instruction

Faculty, students, and a librarian at the UVa Curry School of Education are involved in a second model of distance learning. CaseNET is a set of courses using the case method of instruction to bridge educational theory and real-life practice in schools. Currently, ten universities in the United States, Canada, and Europe provide CaseNET courses to pre-service teachers enrolled in their teacher education programs. UVa also provides course credit to in-service teachers and school administrators at five high schools in the United States. Students and instructors meet in a regular classroom setting at their university or high school site. The instructors use the World Wide Web, video conferencing, discussion groups, email, videotapes, and print materials to deliver the course. Cases are posted full text on the Web and include video and sound clips. Kay Cutler, Instructional Services Librarian for the UVa Education Library, serves as the virtual librarian for CaseNet. The virtual library provides full text course readings, links to library resources such as the ERIC database, email reference service, instructional handouts, and links to web sites and other resources that support the various cases. The virtual librarian also participates in workshops for the new faculty involved in learning the tools of CaseNet prior to the start of classes.

Collaborative Instruction

In 1997 the Center for Technology and Teacher Education (CTTE) was established at the Curry School of Education. The Center is a cross-disciplinary group of faculty and students working together to develop appropriate uses of technology in teacher education, to prepare the next generation of technology leaders, and to influence educational technology policy. The Center's vision includes a richer, more diverse model of distance learning that supports interaction and collaborative teaching and learning with both K-12 sites and other universities. To further realize this vision, flexible equipment and room configurations are needed to support a variety of teaching and learning styles. The UVa Education Library staff has always enjoyed a strong relationship with the School of Education and is involved in many liaison activities and programs with the faculty and students. From the beginning days of CTTE, members of the library staff were considered key affiliates and have been involved in designing a new distance learning model, developing an electronic classroom, and planning and teaching classes.

At publication time, several universities in Virginia offering Teacher Education are planning to implement electronic instruction classrooms. Once the classrooms are established, participants in these sites plan to offer classes with each other and with K-12 sites. We have outlined three options (Figure 1.1) to provide an overview of supporting technologies that could be implemented and their costs.


Designing a Collaborative Education Classroom (Three Options)

Supporting Technologies


Low Cost

Moderate Cost


NetMeeting Software Whiteboard (free)

Graphics Tablet ($200)

Electronic Whiteboard ($2,000 and up)

Real-time Audio

NetMeeting Internet Audio (free)

Full-duplex Conference Phone ($300)

Conference Phone with Wireless Mike ($1,000)


Scan Converter ($300)

LCD Tablet ($1,000)

Projector ($3,000)

Real-time Video


NetMeeting + Video Digitizer ($70) and Video Camera ($150)

NetMeeting + Video Digitizer ($70) and Camera & Tripod ($1,000)

Document Camera


Adapted Video Camera (no additional expense)

Video Digitizer + Video Switch ($20) + Document Camera ($1,000)

Streaming Audio


SoundBlaster ($60) + Sound Recorder Software (free) + NetShow

SoundBlaster ($60) + Sound Editing Software ($50) + NetShow

Discussion Group


Internet Discussion Group (Collabra) � (free)

Internet Discussion Group (Collabra) � (free)


> $500

> $2,000

> $10,000

In a typical session, a UVa faculty member and students are in the classroom at UVa while a faculty member and students at another site, for this example Iowa State, are in a similar classroom. The two classrooms are taught simultaneously (Figure 1.2). Using digital cameras, conference telephones, and Microsoft NetMeeting software in both locations, all participants can see and speak with each other. To lead off the class, the UVa faculty member displays the course web page on the electronic whiteboards at both locations. She then clicks on the hyperlink for the class's Course Readings, enters the class password, and pulls up a list of the class e-reserves. The instructor displays the assigned reading for the week and the class discusses it. Next, the UVa instructional services librarian demonstrates how to use the ERIC database to find additional readings by the author of the e-reserve article as well as additional articles on the topic being discussed. She then guides them to the link on the web page listing their assignment for the following week that involves creating an effective search strategy, completing an ERIC database search, and printing out three relevant citations. As a final class activity, students from both sites use the collaborative features of NetMeeting to compose and word process a draft of a paper for submission to the National Council for the Study of Social Studies conference about the infusion of technology in the social studies classroom.

Summary: These models introduce an array of potentially inexpensive collaborative technologies that both K-12 schools and university teacher education programs can afford. The inclusion of library staff in programs such as these increases the visibility of the library and its programs to the library's community of users. It also influences their perception and expectations about the library and the staff. As new models for distance learning continue to be developed and implemented, the roles library staff undertake will need to continue to change and evolve, yet the central purpose remains the same-- helping students to learn to use the library resources and services effectively.

"Finis saeculi novam faciem apparuit." Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz

(A new order of things appears with the end of the century.)

Kay A. Cutler is Information Services Librarian, University of Virginia Education Library, Beth Blanton-Kent is Reference Assistant, University of Virginia Education Library and Judy Jordan is CTTE Digital Media Specialist, University of Virginia Curry School of Education.
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