Virtual Field Experiences: What Works?

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Brief Abstract

How do you provide educational field experiences when schools are closed? This session focuses on pre-service school librarian field experiences, and effective efforts that preparation faculty and school sites make to provide valuable virtual experiences. 

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Dr. Lesley Farmer, Professor at California State University Long Beach, coordinates the Librarianship program. She earned her M.S. in Library Science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and received her doctorate in Adult Education from Temple University. Dr. Farmer has worked as a teacher-librarian in K-12 school settings as well as in public, special and academic libraries. She chairs the IFLA's School Libraries Section. A frequent presenter and writer for the profession, she won American Library Association's 2011 Phi Beta Mu Award for library education and the 2015 Library Instruction Round Table Librarian Recognition Award. Dr. Farmer's research interests include digital citizenship, information literacy, collaboration, assessment and data analysis; she is also a Fulbright scholar. Her most recent books are Information and Digital Literacies: A Curricular Guide for Middle and High School Librarians (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).

Extended Abstract

Library/ information schools are all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In most cases, classes need to transfer to an online environment. As educational information professionals, creating these accommodations is usually not too difficult. Most school librarians have teaching experience and know how to design and deliver instruction, they know how to access and curate relevant resources, and they know how to integrate technology meaningfully.

                This situation also highlights one specific challenge in maintaining student progress in their school library programs: field experience. How do students get real-life experience running a school library if that library – and the school – are closed? As much as possible, schools want students to keep on learning. School librarians can mirror what library educators are doing: adjusting instruction to online delivery, using alternative telecommunications means such as phones, creating information products such as websites and tutorials, coaching other teachers on transforming instruction online, helping their peers and students with information and media literacy, reaching out to families and other community members with suggestions for reading and other learning activities, and networking with other librarians to share ideas and resources. Pre-service school librarians can collaborate with their pre-assigned site school librarian supervisors in discussing how their school operates in times of emergencies, and how the library can serve as a vital player in such situations. Pre-service school librarians can help create information and instructional products, and can work with a classroom teacher in providing a library-related learning experience for that class’s students.

                Library educators can use this situation to model responsive iterative instructional design for their students, sharing the process used to provide ongoing education. Library educators can also provide students and colleagues with online resources that can help educators adjust instruction to deal with remote learners in cases of pandemics and other emergencies. They can also create and disseminate online tutorials such as screencasts that show how to use technology tools – or leverage whatever resources they have on hand – to continue to provide learning experiences. Beyond that, as information professionals, library educators can keep an eye for relevant informational resources about the emergency as the basis for developing and maintaining webliographies about pandemics and other disasters for communities at large; these websites can include health information, local emergency contact information, and alternative learning activities. One such example is my website on COVID-19 resources for education and libraries: As Helen Boelens suggested, school librarians can pool their knowledge using collaborative tools, and then disseminate their ideas online. Indeed, all of these actions showcase the expertise of library educators – and librarians in general. They can serve as leaders and guides on the sides for educators in general.       

                All of these library experiences provide great learning opportunities because they concretely highlight the need to plan for emergencies instead of just responding, and they show how librarian expertise can provide a repertoire of strategies to keep librarians flexible and responsive in a timely manner. Since at least fifteen years ago, when heavy rainstorms have pounded Hong Kong, schools implement their alternative educational plans. Library education in these emergency times can reveal great expertise and its vital contribution to education. It also highlights the importance of networking with librarian peers to optimize strategies to address issues. And, most importantly, it provides a unique opportunity for pre-service school librarians to prepare and weather the storms that can hit at any time.