In this feature post, Shannon Elkins describes her experiences studying as a distance learning student of the Centre for Archive and Information Studies at the University of Dundee.
For the past two and a half years I have been studying Archives and Records Management via distance learning through The Centre of Archives and Information Studies (CAIS) at the University of Dundee.
I chose to study via distance learning primarily because of financial reasons. In order to afford the tuition fees I was unable to give up work, which I would have had to do if I studied full time. I chose the course at the University of Dundee in particular because I was volunteering at the Lancashire Archives and many people there had already studied the same programme and recommended it. I was also offered support in the form of a ‘mentor’. This was very important because CAIS requires each student to have a mentor to support them while they are undertaking their studies. It also gives you a chance to discuss the work, have topical discussions and bring up any difficulties you may have with the subjects so you do not feel you are on your own.
Before starting the course I was required to attend a four day study school at the University of Dundee. Throughout the study school we were introduced to the course material in more detail and guided on what to expect. Guest speakers from the university, local archives and the National Archives introduced us to the some of the modules and subjects available to study. Overall I found it to be a helpful experience; it gave me the opportunity to meet the staff at CAIS who would be supporting me, other students who I would be working with and make new friends. Having been out of education for a number of years, this was a good chance to get back into study mode.
Each programme provided by CAIS is slightly different and all are accredited by the Archives and Records Association UK and Ireland and the Records and Information Management Professionals Australia. Depending on what path you are taking will depend on what modules you study. I was required to take 4 core modules on the Theory and Context of Recordkeeping, Archive Management, Archives Services, Access and Preservation and the Principles and Practice of Records Management. I then took an additional two modules which you choose from a list of 25 different subjects relating to archives and records management, everything from family history to digital preservation. This is overwhelming as they are all interesting, but I was advised by my mentor to take into account the experience and skills I had gained during my employment when choosing my elective modules and to ultimately go with my strength’s. Therefore I chose to study Palaeography and Strategic Management for Information Professionals. Now, after completing six modules, I have chosen to exit the course at this point and graduate with a post graduate diploma, but you can go on to submit a dissertation to receive the MLitt qualification.
Each Module is taught by a dedicated and knowledgeable tutor. There is frequent communication with both your tutor and other students via email, discussion board forums and sometimes by Skype. Study material is provided through a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) where you can access reading materials, guidance and additional information. Modules are broken down into manageable units and you are required to complete assessed tasks every couple of weeks for each unit. This ensures you keep on track and are kept motivated throughout the module.
Studying via distance learning has been very difficult at times. I was working part time for an accountancy practice and volunteering at Lancashire Archives whilst I was studying and it was sometimes very hard finding the time and motivation to do the work. It can also be very lonely because you don’t go to a class where you get to see and talk to other students. However I was very lucky to have the support from my mentor and several other people at Lancashire Archives who got on to the same course after I did. We found we all had different interests and strengths which meant we could help each other out. The tutors were also always on hand to help and always understood if you were struggling and needed extra help.
Distance learning did have its advantages though; because you didn’t have classes you could work at your own pace. The course also gave you the flexibility to work around your life, for example you could take a semester out of studying if you had other things on. Another good thing about a distance learning course, opposed to a full time course, is that it gives you the opportunity to work or volunteer at an archive and get hands on experience. It was helpful being to learn from real life situations and to put what I was studying into practice.
Further information about CAIS and the courses available can be found on their website.