Offering MSIM online is all about access

October 12, 2021

Before most of us had heard the word “coronavirus,” the Information School was embracing the new, hybrid world of working and learning. As we have with our Library and Information Science program for more than 20 years, we were preparing to offer entirely online options for our Information Management master’s program when the pandemic struck.

Why? It comes down to one word: Access.

Access means meeting people where they are. When we began offering the MSIM online in the spring, it opened doors to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend, whether the barrier is distance, work, child care or other life circumstances.

Access means fulfilling our mission as a public university and helping people in our state and region improve their professional prospects. A significant number of students enrolled in our online MSIM tracks so far are University of Washington alumni, many of them liberal-arts graduates looking to add a master’s degree that will make them highly sought-after in their chosen fields.

Access means providing opportunities for historically minoritized populations. More than 100 students have enrolled in the online modes in our first few cohorts, and 28 percent of them are from underrepresented minority groups. I’ve been thrilled to see us exceed our expectations so far, in terms of enrollment, diversity and the quality of students we’ve attracted to the program. Those students have given us enthusiastic feedback about the interactive community they’ve built, which is exciting to see.

Our mission to increase access isn’t limited to the MSIM program. Our Informatics program, which has long turned away too many qualified students, is growing quickly to serve more of them. We are now accepting close to 300 new undergraduates annually, with plans to double that number in the next few years. We’ve also increased the size and diversity of our Ph.D. cohorts dramatically. And while our MLIS cohorts aren’t growing as rapidly, we have a strong focus on creating pathways for BIPOC students to join us, and our commitment to Native and Indigenous scholarship is stronger than ever.

Launching and running the MSIM program online is a huge undertaking, so we have worked behind the scenes with Noodle Partners, an education technology company, to help us operate it. But unlike many higher-education programs in the online space, we have kept all our instruction in-house. Our success is a testament to the hard work of faculty, who have worked with instructional designers to optimize their classes for teaching online. Teaching Professor Sean McGann conceived the program, and Program Chair Hala Annabi has gone above and beyond to see it to fruition. Communications Director Maggie Foote and MSIM Program Manager Rebecca Alhadeff have worked tirelessly with Noodle, and other Student Services and Academic Services staff have overperformed to ensure a great student experience.

We’ll soon be able to invite online students who are within range of campus to come here regularly for meetups and events, and I can’t wait. Access means the ability to be part of our welcoming, inclusive iSchool community, whether you’re a residential student or online. If the past couple years have taught us anything, it’s how vital those personal connections truly are.

Anind K. Dey, Dean and Professor Autumn 2021