Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More Curricular Matters: Balancing Required and Elective Classes

In my last post, I described the required Capstone that all of our MSIS students complete. How do they arrive at the point where they are ready for a Capstone?

In our 40 graduate credit hour MSIS degree, students complete thirteen 3-credit courses and one 1-credit survey or introductory course. Of the thirteen 3-credit courses, five classes are required, covering the core areas of organization, management, understanding/serving users, research, and the Capstone. How do students acquire general mastery of content areas while developing a strength, possibly even a specialty--all within 8 courses? Given a rich curriculum, with over 100 courses offered within the iSchool and a larger number of possible electives in other departments on campus, the issue is usually not one of locating relevant coursework but one of choosing among many options.

At Orientation, students are challenged to think broadly, investigate new areas, consider new career paths. Students then schedule individualized sessions with a faculty member who, more often than not, advises him or her to seek a focus and plan a program of studies around it. Students in some career paths have clear directives. Those preparing for school librarianship select their coursework with the aim of meeting the standards required for the Standard School Librarian Certificate and prepare to take a state-wide required examination, all on top of their school certification and two-years of class-room teaching. Preservation and conservation students likewise have clear course sequencing. How do other students choose among the course offerings that range from Competitive Intelligence Resources and Strategies, Introduction to Usability, Semantic Web, Survey of Digitization, and Collection Management?

The best answer to this question, is to consider each student individually. We learn, together, the most likely career path and work setting. Some students enter programs with library related experience. With an increasing number of students under 25 years old, fewer have much life experience. In this case, students often spend one or two semesters completing their required coursework while setting the stage for more focused electives. Along the way, we identify at least three strongly connected courses that help define a student's preparation, select a second tier of courses that support this focus, and consider one outlier course that is just too tempting to resist. We consider aptitude, ability to relocate, desire to focus versus interest in preparing for a wide range of employment options. The best course advising is predicated on mutual responsibility. The student must reflect deeply, explore options, and place him/herself in close proximity with working professionals. The faculty member must guide, suggest, and listen.

At a future time, I'll talk about another time of advising: professionalization. Each year I work with a number of students on joint publications, presentations, and professional service opportunities. The iSchool provides non-course related opportunities for socialization and skills acquisition. MSIS students twice recommended a faculty member for an excellence in advising award; I was honored to receive this award both times.

Reading Circle:

I picked up a non-fiction title while in Canada in September. Warren Goulding's "Just Another Indian: A Serial Killer and Canada's Indifference," introduces the lives--and deaths--of four Native women. The stories of these crimes are only more shocking when it becomes apparent that some were assaulted under the gaze of the police and that their deaths were largely ignored by the media. As Goulding writes ... "we have to ask ourselves 'what is news?' And 'who determines whom and what we care about?"