A word about being an older student: Itís not a big deal. My friends ask about this from time to time, and my experience is, in short, that the classroom is ageless. Iíd say most of my classmates at GSLIS West, at any rate, are in their late 20s to early 40s, and I gather at least one is early 60s. Iím pushing 50 and was last in school in 1989, right on the cusp of the internet revolution, so thereís been a very steep learning curve there ó what do you mean my syllabus is online! Or my reading, or significant class discussion? And thatís for face to face classes. Itís not that I donít know how to use the internet, itís just that this context is new, Iím using it in different ways, and thereís an expectation of students having a certain level of competency. I like it; Iím developing a sense of ownership of the internet in a way I havenít had after nearly two decades of extensive use. And I feel like I have a front-row seat to the information revolution weíre living through.
Certainly, my cultural references are different from someone 20+ years younger, and I have a greater wealth of experience to draw from, but that doesnít necessarily give me an edge, except in the sense that library science seems to be one of those fields where all outside experience comes in handy. I was an older undergrad too, so to be in class with a variety of ages and experiences is familiar territory. What Iíve learned is that academically, intellectually, the classroom is the great leveling field and itís important not to think either that you know it all or that you know nothing. Socially, I look for people to laugh with, and who are serious about their work, and not too cynical, so at Simmons my closest friend is a 30-year-old philosophy-computer geek whoís in both my classes. The 20-year difference is pretty irrelevant. I also gravitate toward the parents, especially parents of tweens, and thereís at least one in each of my classes. The big difference seems to be more about time and responsibilities, and thereís every permutation of that at GSLIS West. I can fall into jealously about my younger classmates, who tend not to have families. But then I remember they have full-time jobs, internships, huge undergraduate loans, and other responsibilities. Many classmates have long commutes: The geography draw is pretty wideóone comes from Albany, thereís several from the Berkshires, Brattleboro, Worcester, and northern and eastern Connecticut. Some classmates are parents and work and have significant commutes and I donít envy them one bit. All in all, I feel grateful that I just live 20 minutes away, that I donít have a full-time job, which gives me time to focus on my schoolwork, and that I am picking up some hours at my local public library. So while some think the grass is always greener, Iíve heard it said that if a group of people put all their troubles in the middle of a room and described them, everyone would leave with their own, they wouldnít take someone elseís.
So that leaves technology. About that use of the web: Interesting to note that of my two professors this semester, the younger professor uses the web much more for the practicalities of class than the older one. The younger one uses Moodle (Simmons also uses eLearning) to post handouts, her weekly Powerpoints, and for various class discussions. Homework is often posted to the discussion list. She also uses a wiki for our resources. All incoming students are required to take a non-credit technology review, called the TOR ó I recommend completing it before classes start, as you may not have time during the semester and youíll use the skills you learn right away ó so I knew vaguely about creating and editing a wiki page. The teacher just said, hereís the source wiki, Iíll assign everyone resources to review and youíll be responsible for updating it in a timely fashion. And implicit was the understanding that if we knew how to do that, and if we didnít, we were going to learn. (Fortunately, Simmons also has terrific resources for students, including workshops, and a technology fellow who helped me enormously in the beginning of the semester.)
My older professor uses the eLearning site for class, but in a different way, and not as extensively. Thereís a discussion list but no one uses it. He lectures from handwritten notes, god bless him, so thereís no Powerpoints to print out, although he uses lots of PDFs, which he helpfully posts to the site. Heís not computer-phobic: Our work in that class involves extensive use of certain websites, so weíre online a lot in class and for homework. Itís just a different approach to teaching that I think is not unrelated to the age factor. Watching them, and watching my own experience, gives me a perspective on the big picture, the vastness and enormity of the internet revolution. These are tremendous times weíre living through, and as librarians we are on the cusp of it.
I share that age factor, personally. I am not particularly interested in the technical aspects of being a librarian. I donít want to be designing web pages and fancy subject guides and taking classes in XML or whatever. At least, thatís not where my interests lie now, close to the end of my first semester. I also know that could all change, especially once I take the required courses in technology and evaluation. Who knew Iíd love reference and want to take more? Thatís the great thing about school, the world just opens up in amazing, unexpected ways.