Students who wish to work independently, gain skills in web analytics and have more freedom over their schedule may be interested in the University’s new online-only minor in digital studies.
The new field of study, launching in fall 2019, requires only 15 hours, with three main courses and two elective courses. The program will especially appeal to those in major programs requiring a minor, such as general business administration and mass communication, although associate professor of School of Library & Information Science Boryung Ju, who helped develop the minor program, said the skills taught are transferable to nearly every professional field.
“Whatever major you have, it enhances,” Ju said.
Required courses include Intro to Information & Society, Information & Internet Environments and Foundations of Digital Information Organization. Examples of some electives students can choose from include Information Architecture, Information Techniques for Social Media and Special Topics in Library and Information Science.
Courses aim to train students in an array of modern skills to enhance their major skills. While the program exists at some other institutions, Ju said she believes LSU is offering the first of its kind in the region. As of now, they are expecting around 20-30 students to enter the program in the fall.
School of Library and Information Science associate professor Carol Barry said the program’s development is part of the University’s broader movement toward “Da Vinci Degrees,” or degrees incorporating liberal arts and technological skills.
“Liberal arts by itself isn’t enough and technology by itself isn’t enough,” Barry said. “Someone with a humanities degree or social sciences degree can enhance their options by having some of these skills that employers are looking for.”
Barry used the example of an English major who can write their own website content along with designing the website itself being more marketable to employers than just having the English degree. While she said humanities degrees are useful, they are not always the most hirable. A technological minor will calm the nerves of parents concerned over their child’s major choice.
“Many times today, universities are selling to the parents as much as they are to the students,” Barry said. “If you want to be a philosophy major, more power to you. We need philosophers. But if the parents can see a minor like this, they’ll say, ‘Oh, ok, they might actually get a job.”
The minor is in the School of Library and Information Science, which currently offers another online-only undergraduate minor in Library Science and online Masters of Library Science degrees. The school currently does not have any undergraduate major programs, although School of Library and Information Science associate professor Brenton Stewart says the ultimate goal is expanding digital studies into a full fledged major degree program. Stewart also said the minor’s online aspect was intentionally chosen to adapt to the changing culture of college students.
“I think students today are just involved in more than they were 30 years ago,” Stewart said. “They’re doing more on campus, working multiple jobs, and still wanting to spend time with family while trying to get their schoolwork done.”
Stewart said feedback from his students indicated they appreciated flexibility in their schedule. The online aspect is attractive to non-traditional students and students with children or older family members to care for at home.
Although the online classes may make things easier for students, Ju said she thinks it actually takes more effort for the professors teaching the classes.
“It is more time consuming,” Ju said. “When you teach in a traditional classroom, everything happens there. In online classes, its continuous interactions. But this is what a lot of students want, and we are here for the students.”
Two of the courses are currently only offered in alternating spring semesters. All courses are taught by fully tenured faculty members rather than associate professors, so Barry said it was difficult to find time slots. However, faculty is working to make the classes available more frequently.
Those who are concerned with limiting social interactions will be comforted by the professors’ availability, the option to participate in group work and the increased amount of information exchange online as opposed to in person. Stewart said, in his experience, students are more likely to contribute ideas digitally than in the sometimes anxiety inducing atmosphere of the classroom setting. In both undergraduate and graduate classes, he has noticed a trend of students unwilling to vocally participate.
“When you ask for participation in the classroom, you always see the same hands go up,” Stewart said. “Students will share more and interact more in an online environment. You don’t lose social interaction. If anything, you will gain something you are missing out on in that traditional classroom setting.”