iSchool Distance Learning Fosters In-Person Connections

Left to right: Caroline Cousins, Alora Cummings, Michelle Kudelka, Cynthia Moving and Eric Cirignano

As FSU School of Information (iSchool) prepares to celebrate 25 years of online learning during the 2021-2022 academic year, we are once again reminded of how the flexibility of learning from anywhere helps connect individuals with similar passions. In late June, a group of students in the completely online Master of Information (MSI) program met in person after bonding over their interest in cryptids.

Michelle Kudelka is on the thesis track for the MSI program and helped organize the meetup in Tampa, a central location for everyone as they live in various cities on the West Coast and in central Florida.

“What I love about FSU’s iSchool is this ability to connect with people from all over the state–and country/world–who are passionate about the same things you are,” said Kudelka. “I think a lot of people who hear the school is virtual have this preconceived notion that they won’t form bonds or be able to network, but I think one of the best things about that is that you can meet people from all over the state and potentially change your life.”

The group was formed on the first day of the LIS 5472 Digital Libraries course, taught by Dr. Marcia A. Mardis, Professor and Associate Dean for Research at FSU College of Communication and Information. Kudelka responded to a discussion board post to assemble groups based on the content students wished to focus on for their digital libraries, saying she wanted to do cryptids, animals that are believed to exist but never proven to exist (like Bigfoot). A Discord created for the class started out as sending memes and chatting about coursework but soon evolved to discussing more than just class assignments.

“We have expanded into a group that shares our good news, less-than-good news, interesting job postings and games together,” said Kudelka. “We had united based on a common interest and that fueled what I hope are lifelong bonds.”

“These students are just wonderful,” said Mardis. “The story seemed like a nice antidote to the doom and gloom we’ve been hearing about the last year.”

The group was thrilled to be able to meet in person after they were all fully vaccinated for a day at the Florida Aquarium and exploring Ybor City, and a few of the students plan to take classes together during the upcoming Fall semester.

“I met people from class to class and names were familiar, but I really didn’t think I would have long-lasting friendships from any of these classes as they were all remote/online,” said group member Caroline Cousins. “However, I was surprised and very fortunate to have found the friendships that this program opened me up to. I look forward to future meme-ing and deepening friendships from my librarian friends!”

With experience offering online courses since 1996, the iSchool’s faculty are experts at providing the resources and tools for students to succeed with a completely remote education. The MSI program provides students with a solid foundation in areas such as general librarianship, information architecture and technology, information needs and services, and youth information needs and services to help them succeed in the field of Information Studies.

“I didn’t expect to develop such close friendships from an online learning environment like the iSchool, but I’m so glad my expectations were blown away,” said Alora Cummings, another member of the cryptids group. “The iSchool fosters a wonderful learning environment that gives you the opportunity to meet incredible people and I’m so fortunate to have been a part of it.”

Learn more about the iSchool’s MSI program here.