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Virginia Libraries

Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis, Editor
John Connolly, Assistant Editor

January/February/March, 2006
Volume 52, Number 1

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Collaborating to Improve
CMS-Based Courses

by Christine Stinson and George Loveland

Christine Stinson

The proliferation of online resources has changed the practice of higher education markedly for both teaching faculty and librarians. Throughout the last century, faculty often based their class materials on the texts and articles they read and used while they were in graduate school. For teaching faculty, the widespread adoption of coursemanagement software (CMS) such as WebCT, Blackboard, ANGEL, Sakai, and other CMS products has changed how many faculty teach. With CMS, it is much easier to incorporate into course materials information such as URLs, online documents, videos, graphic images, computer-readable text, etc. However, because of the rapid proliferation of online materials, faculty members are often not aware of the important computer-accessible materials currently available in their subject areas. Indeed, teaching faculty may not even be aware of how much they don’t know, and the task of politely informing this ignorance creates a new service opportunity for research librarians.

Parallel changes have affected the daily work of librarians. As much as thirty years ago, Guy R. Lyle marveled at the “enormous change” that the twentieth century had brought to American college libraries. As evidence, he cited the changing role of the college librarian, who, in the late nineteenth century, was

…usually a member of the teaching faculty upon whom fell the added responsibility of caring for the library, [and whose duties] were largely custodial. He carried the key to the room where the books were kept and saw to it that the room was tightly locked except during the few periods of the week when students were permitted to use the books.1

Lyle, one of the most respected and accomplished librarians of the mid-twentieth century, did not suspect that he was observing the early stages of a revolution in information science that would make the changes he described seem inconsequential. For while the professional forms evolved, librarians continued to function as the “keepers of the key” until the early 1990s. Now, because every student or faculty member potentially accesses tens of thousands of electronic full-text monographs and journals, government documents, and other material once tightly controlled by the librarian, and often from the comfort of her dorm room or office, the technological revolution has made the library’s locks and keys irrelevant, or has at least placed a copy of the master key in every patron’s hands.

Collaborations between faculty, librarians, and instructional design staff can facilitate the successful incorporation of this new material into a WebCT-based course.

Facilitating the Collaboration

In order to create a successful three-way collaboration, the librarian’s (and instructional technology designer’s) availability can be publicized throughout the academic institution, but because ownership and responsibility for the course reside with the faculty member, the collaborative effort probably needs to be initiated by the faculty member (possibly in response to a new awareness of the librarian’s availability). In our experience, the faculty member describes the class as it currently exists and as she envisions it developing. After this initial meeting, the librarian searches for new, supportive materials (URLs, ebooks, physical texts, etc.) as well as new sources for older materials. Throughout this collaboration, the instructional design specialist can make design suggestions (e.g., by pointing to already- successful faculty projects).

One successful example involves an upper level investing class from Ferrum College’s business program. During the fall 2005 semester, a faculty member (Stinson) approached a librarian (Loveland) to ask for assistance in finding online materials to support an already-existing, senior-level tradi-business course in investments. This course reviews the investment and financial-planning decisions individuals make over their lives. Each student’s seminal project in this course is to prepare a comprehensive (60–80 page) individual financial plan, which covers the rest of his or her life (including current balance sheet, annual budget for life, retirement goals, annual budgeted savings, investment vehicles, insurance planning, and a will). Preparing this financial plan involves six major steps for each student:

… the technological
revolution has made
the library’s locks and
keys irrelevant ….

(1) How much do you want per year after you retire? How many years will you live? Do you want anything left over (for family gifts, for charity) after you die?

(2) Calculate how much you need to save by the time you retire (i.e., determine the present value of your retirement annuity payments at the date of your retirement).

(3) Prepare an annual budget for each year of your working life. What job will you have after you graduate? Where will you live? How much will you owe in taxes? What will your monthly expenses be for groceries, gasoline, utilities, clothing, and entertainment? How much will it cost for the health, disability, and life insurance that you need? Based on this budget, are your retirement needs reasonable? (If not, revise [1] and [2]).

(4) Now, how much can you save each year?

(5) What rate of return can you expect on your investments? What investment opportunities do you have? What investment opportunities are you comfortable with? Will you use IRA, 401(k), etc.?

(6) Do your annual savings in your investments build up to the amount you need in (2) (i.e., calculate the future value of the annuity that is your annual savings on the date of your retirement)? If “Yes,” congratulations! You have a financial plan. If not, increase your savings (3), increase your rate of return (4), or lower your retirement goals (1) and recalculate.

(7) Write your will. If you die unexpectedly, whom do you want to have your net assets?

Although the reference librarian was not trained in investments or financial planning, he found a number of useful information sources that are now part of the online class materials (for easy student reference as they prepare their financial plans). Examples of supporting materials include the following:

(1) URLs and reference links for post-retirement health care costs, actuarial estimates of current life expectancy, and actuarial estimates of conditional life expectancy (when the student finally retires).

(2) URLs, links to ebooks, links to physical library reference materials, and full-text articles on salaries (and salary growth) for different careers; projected demand for different occupations; typical household costs for groceries, utilities, and other expenses; cost-of-living indices for different regions of the country; and consumer guidance on factors to consider when purchasing health insurance, disability insurance, and life insurance.

(3) URLs, links to library-purchased databases, and full-text articles on money-market mutual funds, bond mutual funds, domestic stock mutual funds, global stock mutual funds, “balanced” mutual funds, Standard & Poor’s data on individual stocks and bonds, traditional and Roth IRAs, 401(k) pension plans, investment scams, and balancing (and rebalancing) your investment portfolio.

(4) URLs and links to Nolo Press, LawDepot Legal Forms, and A Beginner’s Guide to Wills.

The faculty collaborator (Stinson) has been very pleased with the focus these resources add to her students’ efforts. As she is also the administrator for Ferrum’s course management software, she is regularly involved in course design and thus able to use her experiences from this collaboration in encouraging other faculty to work with library staff in developing courses.

Lessons for Faculty

Why might faculty benefit from faculty-librarian-designer collaborations? (Librarians and instructional- design specialists may want to use these points when encouraging faculty to consider working with the librarian and designer.) CMS allows new ways of delivering both old and new information. Faculty may not be up-to-date on new sources of information; librarians are. Faculty may benefit from course design suggestions; designers can help here. If a faculty member is willing to approach others for help in the area of her specialty, she may be shown materials that help develop a significantly better course. One of us (Stinson) found that librarians could efficiently find materials that helped develop a better class. Collaboration saves time.

Lessons for Librarians

In addition to the obvious changes in how “information literacy” is regarded, librarians must now become more familiar with the actual subject content that their faculty colleagues research and teach. For at least the last ten years, it has no longer been enough to sit down twice a year with teaching faculty and a pile of publishers’ catalogs to discuss how book budgets will be spent. Now librarians discover valuable online resources nearly every day, and they don’t have the luxury of waiting for input from teaching faculty before sharing these resources with students. To be effective in this evolving role, librarians must develop their own research talents in specific disciplines, and they must develop more meaningful and sustained collaborative relationships with other teaching and research faculty.

Start with one or two
adventuresome faculty to create success stories…

What lessons have we learned from our collaboration that might help other librarians planning to encourage faculty to seek assistance from librarians in course development? For the librarian, the increasing use of CMS software offers an opportunity to be involved in course redesign. If collaborations aren’t common on your campus, explicitly publicize your availability to the teaching faculty, especially those who are developing or redesigning courses. Work with your CMS administrator and instructional designers to get the word out. Start with one or two adventuresome faculty to create success stories that will advertise themselves by word of mouth. You will probably discover, as we did, that collaboration is interesting and fun.

Lessons for Instructional-Design Specialists

What lessons have we learned that might help CMS administrators and instructional designers? Just as with librarians, you will probably need to publicize your availability, but wait for faculty to come to you. Once faculty members have approached you with a request for assistance, focus primarily on what the faculty member wants to accomplish. Allow faculty to proceed at their pace. Use successful faculty projects as examples of what can be done with CMS; let the technology advertise itself.


Collaborations between faculty, librarians, and instructional technology staff can facilitate the successful incorporation of new material into courses using CMS. However, these collaborations require a willingness to seek outside assistance on the part of faculty, an exploratory zeal on the part of reference librarians, and an openness to working with others from the instructional technology staff. In our experience, collaboration is fun, it’s interesting, and it works. Good luck!


1. Guy R. Lyle, The Administration of the College Library, 4th ed. (New York: H.W. Wilson, 1974), 2. VL


Pictured above, Christine Stinson is both Associate Professor of Accounting and Business and Director of the Center for Instructional Design and Technology at Ferrum College. She can be reached at George Loveland is Associate Professor of Library Science at Ferrum College. Email him at

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