Online v. Face-to-Face: Whither the Future?

Wow – this past week’s readings were jam-packed! We read a chapter from How People Learn with examples of particularly effective instructional techniques from a number of diverse disciplines, an article on embedded librarianship (both virtual and face-to-face) (Matos et. al., 2010), an article on online webinars and embedded librarianship (Montgomery, 2010), and (we watched/evaluated) our own choice of online webinar (I watched a webinar with Douglas Rushkoff on his book Program or be Programmed from NYU).


The common theme in several of these “readings” seems to be webinars, but I want to focus on a different aspect of this discussion: the need to maintain (and improve) the face-to-face interaction. This focus surprised me, a bit, as I want to work with digital library resources as I move forward in my career – however, I also realized, as I was doing these readings (and thinking about last week’s workshops – see my last blog post), that one of the main reasons I gravitated towards librarianship was for the face-to-face interactions with users. I have worked in a customer service position, both part-time and full-time, for the past eight years. The company I work for, Trader Joe’s, has been painfully slow to embrace new technologies and communication methods. However, I think this has also contributed to the company’s strength – shoppers actually engage with, and trust, most any employee in the store. They know that we are approachable, helpful, and knowledgeable. They not only trust as a resource for getting stuff, but also as a resource for learning stuff.


As libraries move forward into the digital world, it has been pointed out in many places that we no longer have a monopoly on being the place to get stuff. We need to embrace as many resources as possible for getting people to realize that we are also a place to learn stuff (that’s what a lot of SI 643 is about!). While we do explore and practice many online methods for teaching our users, from screencasting and webinars to Twitter, I think it is important to recognize that several of our explorations still center on face-to-face interactions like book clubs and one-shot workshops. It is clear that online learning is becoming a “big thing” – but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing or the only thing. Online learning technologies are still in development: they are imperfect, they are not accessible by all of our users, and they are still, in many instances, controlled by corporations who have their own interests in mind.

In his webinar talk, and in Program or be Programmed, Rushkoff states, as one of his “10 commands for a Digital Age,” that we “live in person.” Technology, he points out, is biased towards long-distance communication – it’s great at that. Too often, however, we seem to be jumping on the technology bandwagon and using it when we could just be talking to people. I’m sure many of us have had the experience of getting a text message or an IM chat from someone who is in the same room – what kinds of wonderful communication modalities are we missing out on in such an instance? If it’s text-based, we’re missing out on body language, facial expression, and tone-of-voice, just to mention a few. Even with a webcam, communication can be impaired by choppy video, low-resolution video (so that we cannot, for instance, truly see the other person’s eyes), or lack of body language (if the camera’s focus is only on the person’s face). These communication methods make up the majority of human communication. I forget where this figure actually comes from, but Rushkoff cites a claim that “93% of human communication is non-verbal.” What kinds of assessment opportunities are we missing by limiting our communications to the digital world?

In short, I think it is important that we don’t just jump on the techno-bandwagon just because we’re afraid it’s going to drive away without us. We need to make sure the technologies we are using for communicating with and instructing our students are the very best for the situation we are in. True, there are times when only a webinar will work to reach all of the students we are trying to teach. “In-person” style Twitter communication would be ridiculous. These technologies serve their purpose. Clearly, though, they do not serve every purpose. This, I think, is one of the most important takeaways I will get from this class, and from learning about all of these techniques – when each technique is taken on its own merits, and when we have a toolbox full of these different techniques, we can be selective about choosing the techniques we embrace for each situation, rather than just using something because it’s the hot new thing.


About rclement643

I am currently a graduate student at University of Michigan's School of Information. This blog is being kept as a place for reflections on the readings for the class
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1 Response to Online v. Face-to-Face: Whither the Future?

  1. Kelly says:

    “… when each technique is taken on its own merits, and when we have a toolbox full of these different techniques, we can be selective about choosing the techniques we embrace for each situation, rather than just using something because it’s the hot new thing.”

    Yep! Totally agree. Two of the big watchwords in my ed tech class last semester were integration and affordance — how is this technology working within a larger learning context, and what kind of interaction does it afford?

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