It’s likely that your college or university is suddenly holding many classes online that were previously in person. The switch doesn’t affect all classes evenly—some classes were already online, for example, so the “new normal” won’t be as new for them. Just as not all classes are affected in the same way, not all students are impacted the same, either. Some student groups needed targeted help while they learned within the school’s walls, and their distinct needs haven’t gone away just because they’re working at home.
To take one example, veterans who study at your school shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. Of course, even within this group, needs vary—a veteran who is in your first-year program will likely need more assistance with navigating online school than someone who’s close to graduation, for example. Still, a look at a few ideas for helping students who are veterans is a way to help your planning for that group and perhaps for other populations at your school that need a hand. Remember that many students have intersecting needs, so as well as offering library-related information to your school’s office to help veterans, also “visit” (contact) other offices on campus that veterans might use, such as any department that assists international students or your colleagues who work with students who are disabled.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) guidelines state that you can’t reach out to students yourself, but you can create a LibGuide or other area on your website that houses information for veterans. For example, some schools are now holding online study groups. These can be as simple as a Zoom call, the details for which are posted on your LibGuide for veterans. If you have particular library materials or even collections that you know have been popular with veterans in the past, highlight them on your LibGuide, too. The library’s design decisions—quiet areas, for example—that accommodate students with PTSD should be mirrored in your web presence. If your library has a UX professional, they should be able to help with this. Otherwise, read about “trauma-informed” design, one aspect of which is accessibility for people with anxiety and panic disorders.
In your library’s online classes, consider an approach that takes nontraditional students, including veterans, into account.In your library’s online classes, consider an approach that takes nontraditional students, including veterans, into account. One size doesn’t fit all in any class, but—especially when you are dealing with students who have significant life experiences under their belts, perhaps including some harrowing experiences—teaching them in the same way you would a student fresh out of high school just won’t work for you or them. For example, it’s likely that veterans won’t respond well to the deficit model of education in which the teacher is viewed as the only expert in the room and the students as having a deficit or “hole” in their knowledge for the teacher to fill. This approach is increasingly viewed as outmoded for any audience, but especially with older students, it’s worth trying to dispel. The opposite is to lean on students’ strengths as a way to further learning, an approach examined by Pashkova-Balkenhol, Lenker, Cox, and Kocevar in this Journal of Information Literacy article last year.
Do you have particular practices or ideas that have worked well with veterans or other nontraditional students in your library?