EDUCATION USING DIGITAL LIBRARIES IN THE UNITED STATES

This section summarizes what was found in the literature search, and indiscussions with some educators at the University of Southern California, byanswering the following questions:

  1. What are the roles that digital libraries can play in education?
  2. What are some unique characteristics of online materials and some importantreasons for excitement about digital libraries and education?
  3. Will digital libraries mean education and learning as usual; or, candigital libraries change the ways in which people are educated?
  4. Are there fundamental questions regarding guidelines and design standardsfor teaching and learning materials to support inquiry using digital libraries,or through other online resources?
  5. What are the technical problems that need to be overcome to make educationusing digital libraries a reality?
  6. Are there any cautionary messages?

While some would argue that the Web is not equivalent to digital libraries,it is generally agreed that the Web is and will be the deliverer of digitallibraries to people; hence, at some point the distinction between digitallibraries and the Web blurs. This is especially true when the definition ofdigital libraries is broadened to include digitized materials not found in any"conventional" library, e.g., NASA's remote sensing records, student-generatedarticles that result from using already-existing digital libraries, etc. Hence,some of the following comments are taken from articles that focus a lot on theWeb and digital libraries.

What Are the Roles That Digital Libraries Can Play In Education?

There seems to be general agreement that digital libraries can play threeroles in education (e.g., Masullo and Mack 1996):

What Are Some Unique Characteristics Of Online Materials and Some ImportantReasons for Excitement About Digital Libraries and Education?

The University of Michigan Digital Library Web page (UMDL n.d.) and Wallace,et al. (1996) succinctly summarize the following six important features ofdigital libraries that make them significantly different from traditionallibraries in ways which support student learners:

To this list can be added re-use of teaching resources. This is the featurebeing focused on by the EduPort project, whose goal is to support re-use ofteaching resources by reflecting teachers' experiences with materials acquiredfrom digital libraries (Masullo and Mack 1996). Masullo and Mack maintain that"real value added comes from reuse. Teachers do excellent work of bridgingmaterials to create rich learning experiences. It is very difficult, however,to share the results with other teachers, and only a handful of studentsreceive the benefits of unique exemplary teaching in each case. Opened andnetworked digital libraries offer that opportunity."

Hoadley and Bell (1996) maintain that "... structuring Web pages based on'content' (through keywords or topics) and 'context' (e.g., social group whoproduced it, discussion that gave rise to the ideas) may prove to be one of themost important features digital libraries could afford. Currently, traditionallibraries and social networks coexist, but are not the same, intersectingprimarily through authors' names. In the future, these information networks andsocial networks may be more deeply integrated, allowing us not only to followour favorite author, but trace works that have influenced him or her,institutions that an individual participates in, and so on."

Edelson and Gordin (1996) mention that "NASA ... has a number of ongoingefforts to make their extensive online databases of remote sensing data into avaluable resource available to education at all levels." They then ask thequestion, "Why would [this] be good for education?" Their answerincludes:

According to Edelson and Gordin, the "goal ... of the adaptation of expertresources for learners is: Take resources that enable experts to extendtheir knowledge and turn them into resources that enable learners to developsome of the knowledge possessed by experts by performing personally meaningfultasks."

So we see there are many reasons to be excited about the interplay betweendigital libraries and education.

Will Digital Libraries Mean Education and Learning as Usual; or, CanDigital Libraries Change the Ways in Which People are Educated?

The National Research Council's 1996 report, National Science EducationStandards, states that "Inquiry into authentic questions generated fromstudent experiences is [should be] the central strategy for teaching science."Constructivists (Honbein 1996) maintain that this should be the basis forteaching just about everything. Wallace et al. (1996) state: "Digital librariesoffer a unique and unprecedented resource through which teachers can facilitatestudent inquiry." In the recent National Research Council publication quotedabove, "... emphasis on inquiry is pervasive. Yet, when it comes to textbooksand curricula as they exist today, the clear emphasis is on learning sciencecontent disconnected from experience. Although digital libraries can't changepedagogy or textbooks, they can make it possible for students to have access toscientific information and data which interests them, a fundamental requirementfor authentic inquiry. Digital libraries can provide teachers with a feasibleway to let students pursue their own interests within the bounds of thecurriculum and without creating an enormous amount of extra work in providingstudents with materials to support their investigations."

The Wallace article explores the ways in which digital libraries can supportinquiry learning. It concludes "... in themselves, digital libraries will notmake a change in education without changes in the tasks students are asked toperform and in the support provided to students and teachers." The UMDL Webpage (UMDL n.d.) also claims that online inquiry materials may also share thefollowing important learning characteristics with inquiry based materials:authentic questions (i.e., the questions must be meaningful and important tothe student for learning), flexible questions, and open-ended and divergentanswers.

Soloway (1996) mentions that as of 1996, the National Research Council's newstandards for science education resonate with those recently put forth by theAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science, namely: "the emphasis inscience classrooms needs to be on inquiry, rather than on didactic instructionand memorization; rather than being exposed to a broad range of contentmaterials, students need to pursue a few science topics in depth." He then goeson to say that "... the still evolving concept of a digital library maywell be the missing piece [for accomplishing this], bringing networkedcollections of digital resources (e.g., primary sources, current information,multimedia formats) together within a coherent and accessible framework. Stillfurther, unlike their physical cousins, digital libraries affordstudents the highly motivating opportunity to publish their findings for all toreview."

Although a lot of research into how digital libraries can be used ineducation is directed at science, there is also a substantial effort directedtowards the humanities. Tally (1996) states that "the Library [of Congress] hasasked [the] CCT [Center for Children and Technology] researchers and curriculumdesigners to help them understand what roles these kinds of online resourcescan play in history and social studies classrooms, and what kinds of supportteachers and students need to use them well." He notes that "On-line historicalarchives invite teachers and students to confront new kinds of materials, newperspectives on historical events, and a new need for historical context.Ultimately, using these resources to advance a more dynamic, inquiry-basedapproach to history teaching and learning will require creative teachers tocollaborate with each other3/4perhaps using the Web itself3/4and share lessonplans, teaching approaches, and assessment methods."

Humanities Web sites have been collected (http://edsitement.neh.fed.us) on "TopHumanities Web sites," where they are cataloged under four categories:literature, art history, foreign language, and history. Many of the Web sitesthat appear under each category are cross-listed in two or more categories.History, for example, had a list of 16 Web sites as of April 15, 1998,including one called The Digital Classroom, established by the NationalArchives and Records Administration (NARA). Its stated purpose is "to encourageteachers of students at all levels to use archival documents in the classroom."It "... provides materials from NARA, methods for teaching with primarysources, and sample lesson plans."

Are There Fundamental Questions Regarding Guidelines and Design Standardsfor Teaching and Learning Materials to Support Inquiry Using Digital Libraries,or Through Other Online Resources?

According to the UMDC Web site "The University of Michigan Digital Library(UMDL) Project provides guidelines and design standards for teaching andlearning materials to support science inquiry through on-line resources." (Foradditional discussions on the UMDL approaches to inquiry-based learning seeAtkins et al. 1996). Although their work seems directed at public schools andpublic libraries, and science education, they raise questions that are sofundamental that this author believes they are applicable to all levels andtypes of education (K-12, higher education, and continuing education) and alltypes of libraries. The questions are grouped into four categories: structureof the online materials, student learning, teacher use, and implementationissues. Because of the fundamental nature of these questions, they arerepeated, slightly modified, here (as given in UDML n.d.). In some of thequestions parentheses have been added around the word "science." Doing thisdoes not seem to change the fundamental nature of these questions.

Structure of the Online Materials

Digital resources provide students with unprecedented access to information,but unstructured material may result in information overload; hence, thesequestions must be considered:

  1. How are the large amounts of information structured in the digital libraryin order for students to take the most advantage of it?
  2. How can information searching be embedded as part of a learning environmentto promote inquiry?
  3. What kind of information is best represented in various media?
  4. How do the media complement each other to help students learn?
  5. What are the types of scaffolding that are most appropriate for digitallibrary technology?
  6. What are the issues in developing interfaces that implement suchscaffolding strategies?
  7. When should scaffolding be folded as student expertise in using the digitallibrary increases?
  8. How does one avoid the exponential learning curve typical oftechnology?
  9. Because the digital library will be used as an integral part of classroomactivities, what scaffolds are needed to make this use effective?
  10. How are students enabled to publish their own documents in the digitallibrary and share them with others?

Student Learning

One needs to study carefully the influence of using the digital library onstudent learning; hence, the following questions:
  1. Does the use of online teaching materials help students develop deepunderstanding of (science) content and process?
  2. What understanding of (science) concepts do students develop by using thedigital library?
  3. How does student motivation toward learning (science) change by using thedigital library?
  4. How does student thoughtfulness change by using the digital library?
  5. How do students use online learning materials?
  6. What types of artifacts are created and published on a digitallibrary?
  7. What types of interactions occur as a result of online publishing and whattypes of changes result?

Teacher Use

The use of digital resources has the potential to change classroom practiceand the way in which teachers go about the practice of teaching; hence, thefollowing questions:

  1. How do teachers use online teaching and learning materials?
  2. How do teachers make use of the various media and different parts of thedigital library?
  3. How does the digital library influence practice?
  4. How can online inquiry be embedded as part of inquiry-based learning?
  5. How does the use of online projects impact teaching?

    Implementation Issues

    Although the use of digital resources has the potential to changeclassrooms, past experience and research has shown that just giving teachersaccess to the materials or telling them how to use them is not enough.Teachers, too, need to be active learners in the process; hence, the followingquestions:

    1. What initial supports do teachers need to use online resources?
    2. What continued support is necessary for teachers to effectively use onlinematerials?
    3. What types of hardware configurations allow for effective use of onlineresources?

    Again, these 25 questions have been taken from UMDL Web page (n.d.).

    What are the Technical Problems that Need to be Overcome to Make EducationUsing Digital Libraries a Reality?

    According to Masullo and Mack (1996), "... key problems are capturing ...material in digital form (e.g., digitized videos, scanned text, descriptions ofvideos and images), organizing it so it can be found, and developing some levelof tools for re-using this material in new pedagogically relevant ways."Wallace et al. (1996) note that, "Current search engines and Web browsingsoftware are not adequate for learning environments. Web browsers encouragebreadth-first searches, and are often extremely frustrating for students."Tally (1996) states that "The most commonly discussed challenges of teachingwith online resources are practical3/4access to good quality information, speedof downloading, the time necessary to find and make good classroom use of thematerial. All of these hurdles must be faced with electronic primary sourcearchives."

    Other chapters in this report focus on all these technical issues, but do sooutside of the context of what is probably the most important application fordigital libraries: education. Education has its own special needs, as capturedby the 25 UMDL questions just given. Technical solutions for scanning texts,describing videos and images, etc., must therefore be driven by educationalrequirements.

    Edelson and Gordin (1996) state that "The value of digital libraries is inthe authentic activities that they can allow learners to engage in... Tocapitalize on their potential, these digital libraries need to be madeaccessible for learners through a variety of bridging strategies. ...supportive interfaces, activities design, resource selection and organization,and documentation ... designed to provide learners with enough of the hiddencontext and knowledge that experts bring to their tasks to enable students touse the digital resources as learning resources. These bridges requireadditional effort above and beyond the construction of experts' digitallibraries, but they take the form of value-added support that leverages theinitial investment. The addition of these bridges can transform these resourcesinto invaluable resources for education, and can make digital libraries acommon ground that provides a meaningful link between scientific researchers orother expert practitioners and the educational community. Creating such acommon ground will increase the likelihood that the graduates of oureducational system will be prepared to make sound decisions informed by resultsfrom the scientific community. ... The key to adapting digital librariesdesigned for experts is creating a bridge between the learner's goals,abilities, and knowledge, and the requirements for productive use of thedigital resources." Once again, the problems seem to involve a strong interplaybetween technology and education.

    Any Cautionary Messages?

    Wallace, et al. (1996) caution against using the digital libraries to answervery specific questions, because students become frustrated sifting throughlots of material looking for a single piece of information; these can beanswered more easily using an encyclopedia.

    As an aside about encyclopedias, some are already available either online orin CD-ROMs, and incorporate text, audio, graphics and video. They serve a veryuseful purpose, in that they present "knowledge" as distinct from"information." They also come in different varieties for different age groups.Their possible drawback is that some group has made the decision about what isknowledge versus what is information, and the group's extracted knowledge mayvery well be presented from its biases or those of the publisher of the digitalencyclopedia.

    Digital libraries may someday contain source materials from which anyonecould create a digital encyclopedia, although this may not be very practical.What may be more practical is for the companies that already have a digitalencyclopedia to tap into the vast resources of digital libraries, making theirexisting products even better, by including links into television sound-bytes,news reports, journal articles, etc.

    Hoadley and Bell (1996) note that "Multimedia representations did not leadstudents to cite more 'correct' scientific ideas, although it did encouragethem to cite more ideas in general, which can be helpful in encouraging a groupof students to brainstorm and consider alternative explanations forphenomenon."

    No doubt, there are other cautionary messages that can be found in theliterature, but the search performed did not find them. Certainly, one of themost important considerations is one already mentioned in Chapter 2 of thisreport by Raj Reddy: authenticity/veracity of material found on the Web.


    Published: February 1999; WTECHyper-Librarian