Meeting the education and training needs of users of information resources in higher education is an increasingly challenging task. In a rich and complex networked environment, academic information services face widespread and diverse awareness-raising and also skills development needs. The rapid pace of change, including the emergence of new, networked methods of course delivery and support, means that academic liaison and learner support staff must engage in continuous up-dating and professional development activities tailored to their responsibilities and institutional circumstances. DEDICATE (Distance EDucation Information Courses with Access Through nEtworks) is an EU-funded project to develop a flexible model of networked professional development in information literacy and user education. The model will be piloted at four university libraries in Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania, and at the International Centre for Information Management, Systems, Services in Torun, Poland.
The project is being led by Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, in partnership with the University of Sheffield, UK, and the Universities of Technology at Linkoeping, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland. The course will be based largely on a number of Web-based user education and training resources developed by the EU Telematics for Libraries Third Framework project, EDUCATE (1994-7). The resources, called Into Info, are designed as self-paced learning materials in the selection and use of information sources in Physics, Energy and Electrical and Electronic Engineering. They can be used for self-instruction, as a resource for formal campus-based or distance learning courses, and as rapid access tools for information sources. Participants in the programme will draw on Into Info to enhance their own resource awareness and skills in information seeking, and will then consider how the programmes might be used within their own training initiatives, or might provide models for similar, "home grown" learning resources in other subject areas. The DEDICATE course will offer an initial induction period followed by three core modules extending over a four-month period, covering information resources and searching in a selected subject area, methods and models of information literacy support, and project work involving planning and design of an information literacy course for a specific user group. We anticipate that participants' courses will combine face-to-face and Web-based learning methods. Discussion, structured feedback and group projects offer collaborative activities. Groups at each of the five libraries will work, both face-to-face and on-line, on a number of small scale projects and on the design of their information literacy courses.
Sheffield's role in DEDICATE mainly involves input into curriculum design, the design of the Web site, selection and integration of conferencing facilities, and technical support for participants during the course. For all of these, we are drawing extensively on the experience of delivering a 17-week, distance learning, on-line professional development course on networked learner support, which was offered between September 1997 and February 1998 by the Sheffield-based eLib training and awareness project, NetLinkS. The pedagogic and technical design of the NetLinkS course was based on principles of distance and computer-supported collaborative learning, experiential learning, and constructivist approaches to Web-based instruction. Constructivism emphasises the importance of offering learners the chance to engage in active, self-directed, authentic learning activities, and in co-operative interaction with peers and tutors. A key concept underpinning the technical model for the NetLinkS course was support for active, collaborative and independent learning based on an integrated Web application, offering easy access to distributed facilities and resources. Stemming from this, key features of the DEDICATE course are: a frames-based Web environment, for easy orientation and navigation within the site. The frames interface also provides a conceptual "anchor" for participants, and helps reduce the problems of "getting lost in hyperspace" which are frequently encountered on the Web; access to conferencing facilities for group discussion and tutorial and technical support. The main discussion facility will be Focus, a UK Web product which supports Web-based, asynchronous conferencing and e-mail messaging. A Web-based, synchronous chat facility will also be offered as synchronous conferencing is especially suited to co-ordination of tasks between distributed group members, updating and tutorial sessions, and brainstorming; access to the Into Info programs and to a structured knowledge base, comprising annotated links to external Web documents with links to full-text recommended readings held on the DEDICATE project servers, and references to off-line documents; access to technical support in the form of links to information about using the discussion tools and other technical aspects of participating in the course, as well as e-mail links to the technical support team; easy access to all individual participants, tutors, and groups, as well as to information about them, and to work generated by them during the course.
The DEDICATE course will run from October 1998 to March 1999. We hope that the professional development activity and creation of user education programmes at participant sites will stimulate wider-scale development of learner support initiatives within their countries, and that the DEDICATE model for networked professional development will be transferable to university library and information services throughout Europe. The team can be contacted at:
An evaluation of the NetLinkS course model can be found at: