Developments in information and communication technology have already transformed the way we live, work and educate. The new networked electronic environment has deeply affected the world of information and has an immediate impact on the role of information professionals. The networked environment has also changed the way libraries and librarians serve readers and this new environment professionalism will necessary entail a much higher level of technical knowledge. Training information professionals to cope with the extended responsibilities has become a challenging task for library and information studies programs. The only way for any educational institution to come out a winner in this new environment is to be prepared for the future and for changes.
The Department of Information Studies of the Tallinn Pedagogical University has risen to the challenge of restructuring its curriculum to meet the requirements of these new realities. Teaching, learning and learner support activity in the Department has moved increasingly toward the new educational space created by electronic networks. Distance learning as a new method of education has an important role in the Departments activities. The Internet has been used as a source of information, a medium of communication, a teaching tool in university education and continuing education, a way of doing research, a publishing tool and a mean of professional development in the Department. The paper will report on the current state of development and activities in the Department.
The skills required on the labour market in the year 2000 and beyond will be quite different from much of what is taught in today’s academic programs. The information technology is continuously posing new challenges for education and especially for library and information science (LIS) education. The skills to handle multimedia technologies and work with network resources will be in high demand. The librarian will need to be aware of and how to use local holdings and resources, but they will also have to know how to locate, access, and effectively import resources from thousands of points across the network. The new information environment and rapidly changing information and communication technology demand frequent changes in library and information science curriculum and in the contents of courses.
Teaching, learning and learner support activity in higher education is moving increasingly into the new educational space created by electronic networks. A new mode of learning - network learning - is set to become a basic feature of higher education environment (Levy, Fowell 1995).
The Internet has become an essential medium of communication and a source of information for academic and research institutions as well as businesses in Estonia. In Estonia the link to the Internet was created in 1991, but real Internet access did not become available until 1992 when several institutes of the Estonian Academy of Science were connected to the Nordic Internet networks. As a result, the Estonian Academy of Sciences Library was the first library in the former Soviet Union with a dedicated connection to the Internet. Other major Estonian research libraries (i.e. the National Library of Estonia (1992), the Tartu University Library (1993) etc.) were connected later. The Tallinn Pedagogical University (TPU) Library got full access to the Internet in autumn 1993, before that time our University used only e-mail possibilities. Networking in three Baltic states began largely thanks to the individual initiative of Baltic scholars and to the support from abroad (UNESCO, European Community, Soros Foundation etc.).
The amount of Internet users is growing rapidly: in 1992 there were 23 computers with Internet connection in Estonia, in March 1997, 9991 computers were connected to Internet. After the short starting period when the users were only network specialists, new non computer users and even non technical users appeared. Librarians were among the early users of Internet in Estonia.
The first official Internet course in Estonia was held in the Tallinn Pedagogical Univer-sity in Novem-ber 1993 by Dawn Mann (Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty) under an IREX Special Project Grant and was meant for librarians and other information workers. At that time the Tallinn Pedagogical University Library was the only place in Estonia where it was possible to use the Internet through public terminals so widely. In other li-braries there were only some workplaces in different de-part-ments with Internet connection. After that course several courses were organized at the Tallinn Pedagogical University Library for the staff of our Univer-sity (mainly for the master students) and for the librari-ans of Esto-nian academic librar-ies.
The Internet training was added to the curriculum of the Department of Information Studies of the Tallinn Pedagogical University in 1993. The use of Internet has formed a part of courses called "Introduction to Information Technology" and "Information Systems and Networks". In 1996 "Hypertext Systems" was added to the curriculum as elective course and "Information Seeking and Retrieval in Internet" was offered as required course for students of the whole Faculty of Social Sciences. In March 1997 a new LIS curriculum was accepted in the TPU and "Hypermedia" course was added to the curriculum as a required course. Some students from other Universities of Estonia has also registered to the Internet courses in the Tallinn Pedagogical University.
Internet resources and services are likely to play an increasing part in other courses within the LIS curriculum as well. At present Internet is being used as a teaching tool in courses such as "Information Sources", "User Education", "Public Relations and Marketing, etc. Students are also encouraged to subscribe to discussion lists related to their course works and they pose questions for lecturers and communicate with them by e-mail as well.
In order to help information professionals to keep abreast of the rapidly changing environment and to cope with growing continuing education needs, the Centre for Information Work was established within the Department of Information Studies at the Tallinn Pedagogical University in June 1995. Internet courses have been very popular in the Center and in addition to information professionals also teachers, school leaders, different business people, etc. have registered to Internet courses. "Internet for Beginners" (16 hours), "Information Seeking and Retrieval in Internet" (16 hours) and "Hypertext" (8 hours) have been offered in the Center for Information Work.
Distance education is an important field within the overall development of continuing professional education. Distance higher education in Europe is at the beginning of the third phase in its evolution, but the ideas of modern distance education started to spread in Estonia in 1993. The study process of modern distance education started in the Department of Information Studies of the TPU in 1994. For the transition from conventional learning to flexible learning, specially targeted pilot projects have been used in the Centre. In May 1996 the experimental application of distance education started in continuing professional education of library and information professionals. The distance education pilot project for school librarians is the first project in the Centre for Information Work in the Department of Information Studies adopting flexible learning methods. Steps in the design and development of courses, identification of areas of need, selection of appropriate learning media, etc. began in 1995.
The aim of the project is to bring quality in service and continuing education to school librarians in Estonia. This project also aims to enable participants to become aware of the potential of network possibilities, to gain some basic skills about network information seeking and retrieval, publishing on the Internet via the World Wide Web, public relations and marketing, user education, etc. The participants of the project do hope that school library will play an active part in the educational process of every school in Estonia and will support the work of teachers and students showing how to make use of the modern information sources available to them, helping to convert information into knowledge, to avoid information overload and to identify the best sources for the specific needs and abilities of each learner.
Today, the designer of distance learning programs has a lot of choices ranging from synchronous to asynchronous delivery systems. The choice of media will depend on the nature of the subject matter and skills to be covered, the knowledge level and prior skills of the learners, and the learners’ and instructors’ access to equipment. The choice of instructional media also depends greatly upon the budget of course developers. Given the relatively high degree of access which schools have to computing facilities, the Internet has an important role in the promotion of distance education to school librarians in Estonia. Many schools possess computers and our schools are much more better equipped with information technology than our public libraries. The online aspect of distance education will continue to grow as the number of schools equipped with telecommunications equipment and computers increase and costs of such equipment decreases. There is a project called the "Tiger Leap" for school computerisation in Estonia. During the first step of the "Tiger Leap" project in 1997-1999 it is planned to supply all Estonian schools with computers (one computer with Internet connection per 10 to 20 students). Delivering distance education through Internet is also relatively inexpensive compared with other media in Estonia and teachers of informatics in schools may also support school librarians in they network learning activity.
Computer communication has been used to deliver course materials and in the area of communication between teacher and learner and between learners in different locations. We have used synchronous communication possibilities such as talk and asynchronous communication possibilities such as electronic mail, listserves and WWW, telnet, ftp, gopher. Learning material have been distributed as ordinary mail (as ASCII-files) or as attachments (for formatted documents) to learners. The learning materials also appear in the form of World-Wide-Web (WWW) pages accessible over the Internet and students are encouraged to explore the local and global networked information resources as well. A set of Web pages for the course with pointers to some useful information sources for school librarians have been set up.
In order to offer common communication during a course, when all the group members shall receive the same information, KR-LIST has been created for school librarians. It enables course discussions and sending questions or comments to teaching faculty. Students submit written assignments to teaching faculty through e-mail, and assignments are returned with comments and suggestions in the same fashion.
As a result of this pilot project the long-term project on distance education for library and information professionals entitled Information technology in libraries started in autumn 1996. The aim of the project is to deliver continuing professional education for library and information professionals using distance education methods in order to promote the realisation of the development plan of the Estonian Library Information System. The distance education project "Information Technology in Libraries" is planned for the period 1996-2000 and will include three stages:
The project includes different modules: basic computer skills, integrated library systems, Internet basic tools, information seeking and retrieval in Internet and in commercial databases, generation of databases, electronic publishing, methods of analysing of information, Estonian information resources in the network environment, user education and consulting, etc.
The distance education projects for librarians and information professionals have indicated the obvious distance education advantages of Internet, the difficulties in using this rapidly changing technology and has given us experience to improve the quality of distance learning in the Department of Information Studies of the TPU in future. Through the projects the technology has been tested and evaluated in order to develop methods for future use (Virkus 1996, 1997).
The Internet has also been used as a research tool and as a research object in the Department of Information Studies of the TPU. In 1994 the author carried out an electronic mail survey about using Internet in academic community. The research was described in a paper for the 3rd International BOBCATSSS Symposium in Budapest (Virkus 1995). The aim of that survey was to find out how the user of our University uses networked elec-tronic resources. We consid-ered our Library users attitude to the new forms of informa-tion services, their ability to acquire neces-sary skills for this work and to define their informa-tion needs. We tried to find out why do people use the Internet and what do they use it for, what kind of databases and possibilities they use, their favorite sources of informa-tion on the Internet etc. The purpose of that questionnaire was to get a better idea of our Uni-versity li-brary users and find the ways how our Library can help the academic researchers find their way in the net-work in a more efficient way. The research about using the Internet in academic environment is now being extended to all Estonian universities.
To obtain an overall picture of the actual use of business information and business information services in Estonia, including network resources, a team from the TPU and the National Library of Estonia carried out a questionnaire survey in 1995 (Virkus, Tamre 1995). In spring 1997 an electronic mail survey of the use of the Internet by Estonian business firms in Estonia is being carried out by the Department.
Electronic books and journals are becoming commonplace in the modern information world and are essential part of the virtual library. The number of electronic journals is increasing in the field of library and information science as well. Infofoorum, the electronic journal, started as an idea in autumn 1995 in the Department of Information Studies of the TPU within the course of "Contemporary Problems of Information Sciences". Analysing the content, scope and development of information sciences in Estonia it appeared that there is a huge need for a new professional journal stimulating the integration between various information sciences. An electronic journal seemed to us the best form reflecting the rapid changes in information and communication technology and its impact to library and information field. Infofoorum is published quarterly by the Department of Information Studies and it also has an English version.
Infofoorum is a forum for:
Many of the traditional techniques of professional development has expanded in scope and speeded up by incorporating the Internet into the process. (Monty, Warren-Wenk 1995). Electronic networking has greatly enhanced the research process and professional development in the Department of Information Studies of TPU as well. By subscribing to electronic journals, discussion groups, and current awareness services educators have extend the boundaries of the information they receive and through electronic communication the Internet has provided easy access to experts and to expertise in the field as well.
This paper presents a brief overview how educators in the Department of Information Studies of the TPU have tried to respond the challenges that the network environment has spawn. The Department of Information Studies is currently exploring and developing new pedagogic models for learning, using electronic support and learner-centred approaches. Our Department has taken a great interest in the use of network possibilities for distance learning purposes. The Internet has been used as a source of information, a medium of communication, a teaching tool in university education and continuing education, a way of doing research, a publishing tool and a mean of professional development in the Department.