Editor’s Note: This is a thoughtful, well researched study to determine the effectiveness of online facilitation for internships in Library Science. Online teaching is vindicated as a positive learning experience within a key teaching/learning arena.
A Paradigm Shift in 21st Century Education:
Year of Graduation
Number of Graduates
Number of Student Interns
Number of Responses to Survey
Survey questions were designed to analyze the impact of the online facilitated internship experience on successful competency development of prospective school librarians. Specifically the questions examined the relationship between the student’s perceptions of preparedness and the Library Science Internship experience. Critical background, professional, and demographic questions were included.
The evolving demands of librarianship including increased accountability, advanced technological skills, improved services for special needs, in addition to ever increasing diversity have compelled those concerned with the library profession to focus on specific competences and skills (Neely & Winston, 1999, Shannon, 2002). Eight themes emerged in a discussion of competences for school librarians from a review of the literature (see Figure 1). Also as a matter of some significance for this study, as the majority of these graduates would likely practice in North Carolina, a review of the North Carolina Media Coordinator’s Performance Appraisal Instrument (NCMCPAI, 2003) proved to be closely aligned with these eight themes.
Practicing librarians were asked to report their perceptions in the development of these identified competences through their online internship experience. Survey questions were designed to incorporate each of the following identified competences.
Assessment of information needs
Mentoring practices and behaviors in the use of
Modeling best practices and behaviors in the use of information and instructional technology
The finding that over 68% of respondents had been classroom teachers prior to the internship experience reflected current literature (Mardis, 07). Of those respondents who were classroom teachers prior to the library internship experience, responses indicated that 28.4% represented primary level teaching experience, while 25.0% represented intermediate level teaching experience, while only 14.8% had experience as secondary level teachers (see Table 2).
Respondents were asked to list the professional roles held in their teaching experience. The roles reported were coded and grouped in categories to accommodate for the many different titles used for similar roles, for example, all who reported serving as chair of the School Leadership Team, were grouped with those who reported serving as chair of the School Accreditation Team or School Improvement Team. Similarly those who reported roles as chair of special groups, for example: Battle of the Books, Geography Bee, or Spelling Bee were reported as School Activity Chair. Team Leader was listed by many but there was no clear indication as to what specific position was held, therefore Team Leader responses were grouped with the School Activity Chair responses. All who reported service specifically on Media or Technology team or Media Advisory Board were grouped together. Three major trends relating to librarians’ role(s) appeared when examining the coded data.
The first trend exposed a wide variety of activities reported by librarians across all years of graduation coded under the heading of School Activity Chair. The activities represented many of the general programs and concepts that schools routinely support, such as Quiz Bowl, Spelling Bee, new teacher mentors, peer helper programs, and parent teacher organizations. Librarians reported numerous roles and responsibilities under the heading, School Activity Chair, indicating the wide range of involvement school librarians enjoy within the school community.
A second trend that was apparent when examining the data was the role that librarians fill as members of media and technology committees or technology leaders and program advocates. Reported evidence of this trend supported the literature in regard to the creative leadership role and competences of librarians in advocating for the incorporation of technology and all forms of media into the daily program (Phipps, 2005). The involvement indicated by participants in this category was not as great as the involvement indicated in the School Activity Chair category. The literature pointed to the importance of advocacy for one’s program through participation on Media and Technology Advisory Boards and Committees and additionally, this area is integrated as a specific focus of the preparatory coursework for librarians. However, respondents in this study are apparently less engaged in membership on advisory boards and committees, indicating a potential need for expanded focus in order to align the preparation of the students more solidly with the mandates of the profession.
A total of 71.6% of respondents agreed that the internship was adequate for preparation for librarianship with only 8.0% reporting perceptions of inadequacy in terms of length of internship, as can be seen in Table 3.
An important consideration for the success of an online facilitated internship is linked to the support perceived by participants. Collected data clearly affirmed that program university supervisors and site supervisors had served as the primary sources of support for interns, as reported by 50-52% of respondents to this survey. Further, respondents reported that during the internship they had opportunities to observe site supervisors’ role in leading long-range planning, communicating with stakeholders within the school community, performing daily librarian activities, and generally serving as advocates for the library program. Respondents reported that they were able to see the theory taught in coursework applied through the site supervisor’s actions in the field. Site supervisors encouraged, involved, and provided opportunities for interns to see the reality of practice. One respondent, however, added, “I had a lot of support from the university (online) during my internship but not from the advising media coordinator,” indicating the importance of the communication roles of the university supervisor as well as the site supervisor, as a source of support in the online environment. Overall Table 4 indicates that interns positively perceived the roles of both program/university and site supervision. Additional interaction between site supervisor and university professional could serve as the crucible for strengthening the connection between coursework and the practical experience through more in-depth guidance and involvement. One respondent stated that “it would be nice to have more frequent communication with the university supervisor, with more detailed guidance for what I should be doing to help my intern.” Clearly supported in the literature (DeWitt and Rogers, 2009) and further verified in this study, frequent communication between intern and university supervisor is a key component in an online facilitated internship.
In reference to skills developed in articulating and defining a vision of the organization, respondents to the survey expressed positively, at over 70% that they could both define and communicate the vision of the media center to stakeholders as a result of their internship experience. Survey respondents’ perception of competences related to program administration, specifically decision making, assessment of information needs and collection development, respondents reported 83.3% agreeing or strongly agreeing, confirming positive findings for the effectiveness of the online program. Results for the competency regarding the intern’s perception of ability to organize the library media collection, showed over 80% either agreeing or strongly agreeing. Similarly, the intern’s perception of competency in budgetary management and decision making was positive at over 73%. The intern’s perception of ability to conduct assessment of school wide needs for the school library media center again showed over 70% either agreeing or strongly agreeing. Survey respondents reported a strong measure of confidence in ability to make informed decisions regarding assessment, collection evaluation, and budgetary decisions gained through the online experience, affirming the effectiveness of the format.
Librarians also expressed confidence in their competence regarding communication, mentoring, and modeling appropriate uses of media resources. Over 80% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed regarding perception of ability to promote the appropriate uses of technology and media center resources through effective communication (via paper, electronic, or public speaking) with staff and administration regarding the school media program activities and events.
One area that librarians’ responses were more conservative was in the competency regarding the intern’s perception of ability to design staff development and in-service opportunities for faculty. Approximately 60% reported strong agreement in this area. This is reasonable as staff development is often designed by professionals with years of experience upon which to draw.
Similarly, results revealed, regarding intern’s perception of ability to participate in regional, state-level, or system level meetings, 63.9% either agreeing or strongly agreeing, while over 25% reported that they did not feel competent in this area. Again this is not surprising, as it is reasonable to conclude that interns may not have had many opportunities, during the defined internship hours, to attend regional, state-level meetings or conferences.
Overwhelmingly interns indicated that they felt prepared for the professional role of a librarian after completing the online facilitated internship. In the areas of making informed decisions in the processes of collection evaluation/development and organizing the collection, respondents reported high levels of confidence. Similarly a number of respondents reported confidence in areas of promoting appropriate uses of resources and technology and also in communicating with staff and administration. Several interns, in the open-ended section, reported receiving encouragement and positive comments which provided the confidence needed to step into the professional position.
After completing my internship, I felt prepared to …
Contribute to long-range planning and goal setting for the media center
Communicate the vision of the media center to stakeholders
Make informed decision in the process of collection evaluation and development
Make informed decisions in the process of organizing the library media collection
Make informed budgetary decisions for the school media center
Conduct assessment of school wide needs for the school library media center
Promote the appropriate uses of technology and media center resources
Communicate with staff and administration regarding the school media program activities and events
Design staff development and in-service opportunities for faculty
Participate in regional, state-level, or system level meetings
Interact with external stakeholders and patrons to communicate the needs of the school media center
It should be noted by planners of online programs, however, that respondents indicated challenges in their preparation, with 14% reporting strong disagreement, in regard to planning; conducting assessment of school wide needs for the school library media center; and also in participating in regional and state-level meetings. Increased attention to these areas during the course of the internship may be needed.
Positive open-ended comments from respondents generally indicated the significance of the online facilitated internship in the preparation of librarians for school librarianship. Examples of open-ended comments included, “before my internship. I felt completely unprepared. However, after my internship, my confidence level was very high,” and “the hands on experience I got during my internship made it all meaningful for me. My internship showed me that I had what it takes to be a successful school librarian.”
While few rigorous research studies have been published on the effectiveness of online facilitated internships, the results found in this study were positive. Clearly the internship experience, dependent upon distance facilitation, can support opportunities for professional growth and practical experience. Results from this study reflect the findings from the literature that program change and improvement is an ongoing process in the evolution of online learning (Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, Orr, & Cohen, 2007; Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009). Technologies available today are being improved, updated and should serve to make education in the virtual environment even more effective and efficient.
The strong relationship between skills developed in the internship and emphasis of the site supervisor is evident, reinforcing findings from a review of the literature and further validating the theoretical significance of an internship in development of needed competences for librarians. The statistical findings of this study reinforced the significance of the lived internship praxis demonstrating a strong relationship between students’ perceptions of preparedness and the library science internship experience. Insights from open-ended questions seemed consistent with the main findings from the survey sections as well. Even so, a small percentage of open-ended responses indicated that at times librarians felt they could have been involved in more meaningful activities during the internship. This may point to a need for more vigilant interaction and communication on the part of the university supervisor with the site supervisor in guiding the activities during the internship. Overall findings, however, indicated that school librarians believed the internship experience prepared them for their professional roles.
The qualitative and quantitative data collected in this study strongly indicate that an online facilitated internship can be effective and rewarding and further, offer a model for programs to build upon. According to practicing librarians, the internship, facilitated from a distance, as a lived experience, does permit future professionals to see and understand the reality of practice, leading to the development of professional identity. Although respondents reported positively on the subject, this study was limited to one major library science program, therefore replication of the study in other programs is recommended. This study did not address difference in competency development between online programs and onsite programs and that, too, remains an avenue for future study.
In order to provide the most effective online programs possible it is essential that professionals in the field continue to self-assess, evaluate curriculum goals and objectives, and incorporate measures of quality into the assessment as suggested by the literature. This study provides a model by which to do that. As university programs strive to provide authentic experiences for interns poised on the threshold of professional involvement, emerging technologies offer an avenue for further expansion of successful programs.
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Dr. Kaye Dotson currently serves as an Assistant Professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, teaching graduate level students in the College of Education’s Department of Library Science. Research interests include improving the library science curriculum with a focus upon internships and leadership development. Dr. Dotson focuses specifically on skill development through practical, hands-on experiences in an ongoing examination to inspire innovative teaching and learning experiences.