Interview with iSchool Director of Online Learning Debbie Faires


Published: April 15, 2021 by Debbie Faires

[iSchool Director of Online Learning Debbie Faires will be retiring after spring 2021. CIRI had the great pleasure to have interviewed Debbie about her research experience and reflections during all these years working at iSchool.]

Please tell us a bit about your role at iSchool.

As the director of online learning, I work with faculty and students to continually improve teaching and learning in the online environment. I help new faculty members learn principles of online course design and pedagogy. I support continuing faculty in learning teaching techniques and the use of instructional technology. To support students, the school offers INFO 203 as the first required course. As the course coordinator, I work with a team of faculty members and peer mentors. We strive to provide an excellent experience for new students to help them learn to use the tools and strategies that will contribute to their success.

Can you share with us some of the research projects you have worked on over the years? What were they about? What were some interesting findings?

The research projects I have worked on have been collaborative experiences. I have worked with some excellent researchers and I learned much from them in addition to discovering information about the topics we studied. Here are two project examples.

In 2013, I worked with Dr. Sandy Hirsh, director of our school, and Dr. Alice Hines, associate dean in our college, to study readiness for launching e-learning in the LIS program at Vietnam National University. Through interviews and focus groups on-site in Vietnam, we learned how cultural practices as well as economic and technical challenges influence adoption of online learning. The faculty members and students were excited to enjoy the flexibility and convenience of online learning. Their concerns centered on social interaction and student self-motivation as well as convenient access to wifi and applications such as learning management systems. I remember one faculty member who dreamed of a time when he might be able to teach online from his home. I would love to return and repeat that study to see how e-learning has developed since the time we did our study, especially during the pandemic.

We reported our findings in the following publication:

Hirsh, S., Hines, A., & Faires, D. (2014). Perceptions and viability of launching LIS eLearning programs in developing countries: A Vietnam case study. In In J. T. Du, Q. Zhu, and A. Koronios (Eds.), Library and Information Science Research in Asia-Oceania: Theory and Practice. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

In the past year, I worked with Dr. Michael Stephens and iSchool student Nikki Rudiger to study how students in our program use mobile devices for their school work. It was fascinating to analyze the results of the survey we conducted. (Thank you to all of the students who responded to our call for participation.) 88% of our survey respondents reported that they use mobile phones for at least some portion of their school-related activity. 79% shared that they use the Canvas app and most were pleased with it for many tasks (e.g., notifications). Students pointed out that some tasks are not well suited for mobile devices. These included writing papers and navigating lengthy Canvas discussion boards. We asked what faculty members can do to support students who are using mobile devices. Tools such as Panopto and YouTube videos earned praise for how they work regardless of screen size. Our findings will be published later this year in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science.

You have worked with students a lot – can you provide some suggestions for them to engage in research and to use research to improve professional practice?

I encourage students to recognize that research isn’t just for “experts” to conduct. Curiosity can open the door to inquiry and lead to interesting insights that inspire change. Students can take the required INFO 285 Research Methods class early in their degree programs and then look for opportunities to apply what they learn.

What is your most memorable experience at iSchool?

It was probably the faculty meeting when we voted on the proposal to move our MLIS program to 100% online delivery. When I was a student in the program in 1999, I was hired as a student assistant to work with faculty member Ken Dowlin on exploring the development of online classes. Just ten years later, I was involved in the discussion to determine the online future of the entire program. I was fortunate to have been involved in the progress as we moved from offering our first hybrid and all-online courses through the gradual transition to a completely online program.

Do you mind sharing with us your plans after retirement?

I’m looking forward to having more time for family, travel (including visits to libraries), music (both playing and enjoying performances), hiking, cycling, family history, and doing research in all of those library databases I’ve never had time to explore.


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