Report to Council of the Society of American Archivists Task Force on Continuing Education

May 1, 2000

Richard J. Cox, Chair
Paul Conway
Susan Davis
Tim Ericson
Susan Fox, ex officio
David Haury
Bill Landis
Reneta Webb, SAA Education Officer
Wilda Logan Willis

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. The SAA Council established the Task Force on Continuing Education to evaluate and make recommendations regarding the future of the Society's education program and the position of an Education Officer. The Task Force deliberated through the Fall of 1999 and much of the Winter of 2000, culminating in a meeting in Chicago on March 10-11, 2000. The Task Force recommends a major shift in the Society's education program, primarily supporting a move from offering basic workshops to offering online courses. This report describes the change of focus, the cost factors related to online course offerings, the support of an Education Officer position, and the matter of educational goals and their ongoing evaluation. A number of appendices of data have been provided for the use of Council in its deliberations and reflecting information the Task Force considered and/or generated.

CHANGING THE FOCUS OF THE SAA CONTINUING EDUCATION PROGRAM. The Task Force recommends that the Society shift its education program focus to deal with critical and challenging continuing education issues. In order to accomplish this objective, the Task Force recommends that the Society do the following:

Develop the means to help all individuals in the records professions better determine their education needs and identify where and how they can meet their education and training needs. The Society needs both to recognize that it cannot meet the needs of all members of the archival profession and that many other venues and groups have emerged that can provide basic and remedial training. The Society needs to focus on all other educational objectives, better reflecting the experience and education of its membership. Developing the means to do this suggests the Society helping to develop and support a clearinghouse of information where individuals can go to find training and education opportunities (from basic, entry training workshops to comprehensive graduate education programs). The Society's online education directory and publications catalog already represent a substantial part of such a clearinghouse and the Society's support of both continuing education and Masters in Archival Studies guidelines provides a foundation for such an objective. The Society's good working relationship with regional archival associations, state archives and historical societies, and other organizations providing continuing education is another strength that the Society can draw on for accomplishing this objective. Developing a closer relationship with these groups not only recognizes the present reality of archival continuing education, but it creates the possibility of helping the Society to play a creative role in improving continuing education and to be more strategic with its own objectives and resources.

Stress the needs of the changing parameters of the Society's membership, re-focusing its education program to support archivists and other records professionals who possess substantial graduate education and/or experience. As recent evaluations of the Society's membership have discovered, the members are getting older, better educated, more experienced, and better paid. The Society, while concerned with the overall state of the archival profession, needs to focus its education program on the particular needs of these kinds of better-educated and more experienced professionals. This is especially important as graduates of MA/MLS/MAS programs represent a new breed of 'early career archivists' needing challenging and critical continuing education offerings. Such a focus will not only assist the Society to use its limited resources more strategically, but it will help the Society to nurture the leadership of the field. These kinds of objectives are part of the original, historical foundations of the Society.

Work with the people and key groups and partners who train archivists and other records professionals. Over the past twenty years or more, the number of people and groups interested in the education of records professionals has grown substantially. There are literally hundreds of potential players in the training of records professionals, from professional associations to colleges and universities to consulting groups to informal working alliances of professionals. The Society now has the opportunity to be more strategic in educational offerings by working with these individuals and groups both to develop educational objectives and to deliver training. The Society can also play a leadership role in setting education agendas and in providing tools, from traditional publications to online courses, for the training of records professionals. This more strategic role also provides the opportunity to challenge certain records creators, such as corporations, to provide better care for their archival records. National associations, such as the Society, are the best (and, in some cases, the only) groups to take such a leadership role.

Stress critical and challenging areas in professional education. There is no denying the many rapid changes in society, organizations, information technologies, and recordkeeping systems affecting the modern archivist and records manager. A key to any agenda for professional continuing education must be the ability of the discipline to create and support the means to provide education equipping records professionals to cope with and solve the modern challenges. The Society must be able to offer excellent training in emerging techniques, such as represented by Encoded Archival Description and digital libraries. The Society needs to target critically important sectors creating records, such as is represented by corporations. And the Society must be able to assist the profession to work on larger issues through education, such as represented by the issues generating from the archiving of electronic mail and Web sites. This objective is probably the most important responsibility for the Society, and the role it might best be able to play in the broader profession.

While some of the above objectives can be met through the traditional means of short-term, onsite workshops — the norm for the Society's education program — the Society needs to refocus the main thrust of its education program toward more comprehensive courses offered in an online environment.


The Task Force believes that the year 2000 presents an opportune moment to reorient its education program — now directed primarily but not exclusively toward SAA members — to take advantage of the rapidly maturing technology of distance education.

Since its inception, SAA's continuing education programs have relied nearly exclusively on the workshop format. Education specialists define the workshop as "a relatively short-term, intensive, problem-focused learning experience that actively involves participants in the identification and analysis of problems and in the development and evaluation of solutions." They contrast the strengths and limitations of the workshop with other formats, including seminars, institutes, and in particular short courses, which are abbreviated, more focused versions of the classes typically found in colleges and universities. Designed to update or deepen the knowledge of those in a particular field, the expert dominates the sessions because the short course focuses on communication and on acquisition of information within a short time." See Appendix One for a description of the workshop format.

A careful shift over a two to three year period from a nearly exclusive focus on one- and two-day workshops to delivering challenging short-courses in an online environment has at least four distinctive advantages for the Society.

Educational Goals. Because distance education is a relatively new phenomenon, SAA has the opportunity in adopting the format to make a clean break with its past efforts and define its educational goals clearly for participants. As its online program develops, SAA can move away from the simple ideas of "basic" or "advanced" offerings to a multi-faceted definition of "challenging" that emphasizes the respective role of the learner, the teacher, the content, and the format. SAA may need to target its offerings to members new to a given topic and attempt to assemble participant groups that are homogeneous in terms of familiarity with a given topic. SAA will probably need to recruit experienced teachers or train them in teaching methodologies and equip them with techniques for generalizing from the particular.

Economics. There is a compelling economic argument that supports the aggressive development of online course offerings. The long-standing goal of economic self-sufficiency notwithstanding, SAA's educational program has depended on grant funds for development and has always run a significant deficit when managed without the benefit of soft money sources. The Task Force developed a sequence of income and expense models for one-day workshops, two-day workshops, and online courses. The three models demonstrate that conclusively that SAA will most likely never be able to balance income and expenses if it relies exclusively on one- and two-day workshops. SAA would have to provide 32 one-day courses per year with an average of 22 people paying $375 per course in order to break even. SAA would have to provide 12 two-day courses per year with an average of 22 people paying $750 per course in order to break even. This price structure is outside the bounds of most SAA members; the pace of program development, especially in domain of one-day workshops, is likely outside the capability of the SAA office and its cadre of instructors.

In the online environment, SAA's overhead costs drop dramatically since there is no need to support instructor travel, local technology costs, and course support materials. Similarly, the opportunity for increased enrollment and higher course fees increases because participants do not need to incur travel costs. In order to break even, SAA needs to provide only eight online courses per year with an average of 50 people paying $375 per course.

See Appendix Two for the details on the economic models.

Relevancy. Educational surveys of SAA members have consistently shown that SAA members want and need educational offerings on pressing current topics that contain state-of-the art information. The Task Force believes that SAA's online educational program should identify cutting edge content and strive for deep coverage of the subject matter, even if this means risking criticism for favoring the trendy over the tried-and-true.

Technology Leveraging. In a recent survey of SAA members, technology-oriented training surfaced as a principal need across all categories of survey respondents. Because online courses are by nature technologically centered, the format provides the opportunity to marry the medium and the message; the content of the course and the mechanism of its delivery can be intimately entwined. Additionally, the online environment allows SAA to take maximum advantage of the interpersonal networking capability that is the very essence of the Internet.

In the short-run, the distinctive advantages to the Society may be partially offset by challenges that will require the Society to devote sufficient time, resources, and focused energy to program development, implementation, and evaluation.

Expectations. SAA members may need to abandon (over time) their expectation that SAA will continue to provide basic workshops and introductory-level training that either compensates for the lack of formal archival education or provides refresher information for seasoned professionals. SAA will need to encourage members to find basic workshops in other venues, including regional archival associations, by forming educational alliances with the regionals.

Startup. Startup costs will be high. SAA will need to invest in its technology and network infrastructure (servers, storage systems, redundant network connections, etc.), the creation of course materials, the recruitment and training of instructors, publicity, pilot programs, and initial evaluation. Additionally, SAA will need to plan on coping with declining income from traditional workshops as energy shifts to creation of online content.

Instructor Approach. The mindset and commitment of instructors may need to move away from a tendency toward canned presentations, not fully formulated content, and significant variety in the level of interactivity between instructor and participants to a more rigorously developed content that is closer to the cutting edge, more interactive, and more amenable to regular updating.

Technology Limitations. The technology of distance education is not fully developed. Network connections can be faulty and interactivity may be limited by the choice of technologies that are commonly available rather than state-of-the-art. Participants in distance education programs, whether they take the form of online courses or video teleconferencing, tend to complain about the impersonal nature of the medium and the limitations that private study on the Internet place on interpersonal networking. SAA must understand the technological limitations of distance education and online courses and take measures to offset these limitations wherever possible.

SAA's transition to a distance education model that takes maximum advantage of emerging information technologies will not be easy. The following are the Task Force's recommendations for easing the transition.

  • Phase in the new online course model deliberately over a two or three year period.
  • Seek significant outside funding to offset startup costs. Such costs include the early recruitment and retention of an SAA education officer to lead the development of the new program, the recruitment and consulting fees of the people who will develop course content, and the subsidy (ca. 50% of real cost) of initial course enrollment fees to encourage participation by SAA members in the new program.
  • Link development of online courses to creation and distribution of supporting publications sold and distributed in hard copy and online formats.
  • Associate the development of online courses with the expertise of graduate archival educators.
  • Separate the development of SAA's online course program from the emergence of Master of Archival Studies (MAS) programs in universities. The fate of the MAS degree, either positive or negative, should not have a direct impact on the emergence of SAA's online course program.
  • Gradually increase the cost of online courses as the number, variety, and extent of participation in online courses increase.
  • Continue to offer traditional (but seriously challenging) workshops in declining numbers.

THE SOCIETY'S EDUCATION OFFICER. The Education Officer position dates back to the early-1980s and the Society's receiving a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant. The original concept of the position was to have it become self-supporting through revenue generated by workshop offerings and the selling of educational materials that could be used by others for training purposes. The individual, generally an experienced archivist, filling the Education Officer position in its early manifestations served as the resident archival expert on the Society staff. More recently, education experts have filled the Education Officer slot.

In evaluating the data assembled related to archival continuing education and the Society, the Task Force has determined that the Education Officer has been forced to play a role that is too broadly defined, ranging from Society staff support to trying to direct a continuing education program with responsibilities from basic to advanced workshops and liaison with other education provided from regional associations to graduate education programs.

The Task Force recommends that the Education Officer position be continued, and that the position be filled by an education expert who can best carry out the new focus (described above) on critical and challenging continuing education issues. The Education Officer needs to assume the following responsibilities:

Steering the Education Program. The Education Officer needs to stress the role of guiding the education program to meet the critical and challenging continuing education issues. This requires an individual who can learn about the nature of these issues and develop venues for meeting such needs. Much of the responsibility of the newly defined Education Officer would be devoted to developing, coordinating the offering, and evaluating on new intensive online courses. This responsibility will also include playing the lead role in securing development funds for the online courses.

Advocating the Education Program. Another significant responsibility for the Education Officer will be that of coordinating continuing education offered by the Society with that offered by another education providers such as regional associations and colleges and universities. The Education Officer will need to be both a liaison to these other educational providers as well as a resource person for Society members and others interested in training for archival work. This role might also involve developing and supporting a more active clearinghouse about education and training, but this depends to a certain extent on the direction taken by the Council of State Historical Records Coordinators (COSHRC) and the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) following its National Forum on Archival Continuing Education (NFACE) project. At the least, the Education Officer will need to coordinate with whatever results from NFACE. All of this requires that the Education Officer have resources and time for marketing the program, especially to non-traditional audiences (e.g., the online basic electronic records course to the corporate world).

Publishing Materials for the Education Program. While the Education Officer has been connected to Society publications, the newly recommended focus expands the publishing role to include all media. The Education Officer would be responsible for the development and maintenance of online course materials (hopefully with the assistance of a newly created Webmaster position), along with the development of other publications ranging from CD-ROM products to traditional manuals and other publications. The Education Officer would work more closely with the Publications Officer in order to expand and market the Society's publications catalog. The Education Officer also would be responsible for identifying existing published (again in all media) materials that might be useful for new courses in the ever-changing priorities formed by seeking to meet the critical and challenging continuing education issues.

Teaching in the Education Program. Given that one of the new responsibilities for the refocused Education Program is to work with the people and key groups and partners who train archivists and other records professionals, the Education Officer will also need to assume a new role for teaching within the Society's education program. With the recommendation of the Task Force that the Education Officer continue to be staffed by an education expert, this individual could and should develop and teach workshops and courses enabling individuals with subject expertise to prepare new online, CD-ROM, and traditional venue courses. The Education Officer could also develop courses and workshops supporting the work of other education providers, especially regional associations, emphasizing such matters as workshop and course design, evaluation, development of learning objectives, and other educational issues appropriate to the expertise of an educational specialist.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES, EDUCATIONAL GOALS, AND EVALUATION. A critical component to the success of any future continuing education program or offerings are clearly articulated learning objectives, measurable goals, and meaningful evaluation. These components have been present only sporadically in the Society's past continuing education activities and, as a result, the Society itself has not been able to learn from past successes and failures. Furthermore, the Society has been unable to tap into such information to ensure the development of a robust continuing education program that both supports itself financially and responds to and successfully addresses the evolving continuing education needs of all facets of SAA membership.

In order to better secure the success of future efforts in the area of continuing professional education, the Task Force recommends that the Society do the following:

Articulate a coherent continuing education framework of which all SAA courses and workshops are components. Too often in the past the development of continuing education offerings has been at the instigation of willing members or in response to short-term opportunities. Several workshop presenters in the field of archival description, in an e-mail discussion prior to the meeting of this Task Force, expressed frustration at the varying levels of preparedness for their courses of the enrollees. They frequently face workshop participants who do not have the fundamental preparation in either archival theory or practice to successfully complete the workshop at the level at which it is being offered, or who sign up for a workshop because it is the only one being offered at a particular time and not because it meets their specific educational needs. Of course, this leads to workshops being taught to the lowest common denominator and, frequently and to the detriment of all enrollees, in the full range of material not being covered during the workshop. This situation, while perhaps in the short-term getting more bodies into seats at continuing education workshops, undermines the long-term success and health of the Society's continuing education program. The Education Officer should, in conjunction with CEPD, facilitate the development of a clear framework of courses and course progressions and, in conjunction with course and workshop developer(s), articulate minimum levels of professional practice and preparatory education for courses whose content is structured to challenge and educate mid-career archivists. As a part of a more robust and proactive clearinghouse function for archival continuing education offerings, discussed earlier in this report, the Society's continuing education web site should assist potential enrollees who aren't adequately prepared for a particular SAA course or workshop in finding a continuing education offering elsewhere that is more appropriate for their level of experience, academic preparation, and professional need.

Articulate clear, measurable learning objectives for each continuing education offering. As part of curriculum development for each continuing education course or workshop, the Education Officer must work with the course or workshop developer(s) to establish clear, measurable learning objectives. The Education Officer should be the catalyst for involving SAA committees, sections, and roundtables as appropriate in constructively critiquing these objectives as the syllabus for a course or workshop is developed. Learning objectives should be used in formulating advertising for the Society's continuing professional education offerings in order that members and others know prior to enrolling what they can expect to learn and, just as importantly, what they are expected to know coming into the course or workshop. For example, will enrollees in a particular course gain new techniques that they can apply to the solution of particular problems faced in their jobs, or will they have a less tangible but equally important increased understanding of a concept or theory that will generally enhance their practice as records professionals?

Separate development and instruction for the Society's courses and workshops. It has largely been past practice for the developer of a particular SAA workshop also to teach that workshop. There have been several successful instances in the area of description courses of a Íhand-off' from the original instructor to a new person, a model on which the Education Officer can build. In the future, the Society should fund the development of new courses and workshops absent the expectation that the developer will necessarily be the instructor. The Education Officer should take the lead in steering the development of new curricular offerings, and these should be reviewed by a group of members with appropriate expertise prior to being offered for the first time. Intellectual property in SAA courses and workshops must clearly belong to the Society and not individual content developers. Course content should be periodically evaluated by someone with appropriate expertise other than the instructor(s).

Develop standardized criteria for selecting instructors; evaluate instructors in a meaningful, on-going manner; and prepare multiple instructors for each course or workshop. The Education Officer should be responsible for organizing frequent evaluation of instructors above and beyond the collection of routine data on course evaluation forms. For online courses, this might involve periodically having an evaluator Ísit in' during an offering of the course. For workshops, this might involve the Education Officer randomly contacting workshop participants to administer an impartial evaluation interview. This data should be maintained by the Society's office in a confidential manner and, in redacted form, be available to instructors. Continuation of instructors annually should be based on a variety of evaluative data. If the Society hopes to market its continuing education courses beyond its immediate membership, it must be able to ensure the highest quality of instruction to course and workshop participants. Also, the Education Officer must be responsible for having back-up instructors prepared for each course and workshop so that the Society can market continuing education offerings based on demand and not on the availability of a particular instructor.

Develop a three-pronged evaluation scheme that will provide longitudinal data useful for the continuing development and refinement of a timely, responsive, challenging continuing education program to benefit both members of the Society, allied records professionals, and the organizations that employ them.

  1. Design a generic evaluation form for all courses and workshops that collects important data on, for example, enrollees' general reactions to the instructor, venue, and process, as well as on each enrollee's professional level, job responsibilities, continuing education funding source, and reasons for enrolling. If administration of evaluations is problematic, make payment of instructors contingent upon delivery of completed evaluations. As a part of this evaluation prong, it might be possible, for some courses and some enrollees, to collect data about expectations for changed institutional practices and behaviors based on enrollees' attendance at a continuing education workshop. Follow up studies by the Education Officer, even on a small pool of enrollees, may over time assist the Society in marketing select continuing education courses to targeted audiences, such as corporate or academic administrators and records professionals. Reports on this data should be submitted annually to Council by the Education Officer, with the expectation that over time these data will contribute to increasingly helpful demographic profiles of the Society's continuing education market.
  2. Administer course- and workshop-specific evaluations based directly on articulated learning objectives for each course or workshop. The Society must be able to answer a very basic question for each of its continuing education offerings: do enrollees learn what they are expected to? The Education Officer will have to work with course developers and instructors over time to refine methods for this type of evaluation, but collection of this type of data is critical for the Society if it hopes to attract external funding in the future in support of specific continuing education development.
  3. Engage in a regular 3-5 year cycle of external professional evaluation of the SAA membership's continuing education needs and response to changes in the Society's continuing education program. The Society might, additionally, engage in facilitating or sponsoring external professional evaluations of continuing education needs in certain targeted sectors where records professionals are employed as a means of better addressing courses and workshops to meet those needs. The Education Officer, in addition to being the key liaison for these studies, must actively evaluate the job done by the contracted professional evaluator in designing and administering survey instruments, and analyzing and presenting data in a way that is useful to the Education Officer, the Executive Director, and the elected leaders of the Society.

APPENDICES. The Task Force drew on a number of documents for its deliberations, and these have been assembled for perusal by the Council. The documents include:

Other documents, not included as appendices (because of their draft form, rough nature, or availability elsewhere), include the following:

  • Society of American Archivists, "Guidelines for the Development of Post-Appointment and Continuing Education and Training Programs," 1997.
  • Susan Davis, extracts from the Society's Archives about the origins and development of SAA's continuing education program and the Education Officer position.
  • Susan Fox and staff, "Analysis of Education Department Income & Expenses," March 2000. Supplemented by Paul Conway's annual budget model.
  • David Haury, with the assistance of Teresa Brinati, Society publications sales and statistics.
  • Bill Landis, analysis of SAA continuing education offerings, 1993-1999, various emails, September 1999 - March 2000, and spreadsheets.
  • National Forum on Continuing Archival Education (NFACE), various data about workshops, professional associations offering continuing education, and the like.
  • Society of American Archivists, Membership Survey and Education Assessments Study, 1997.
  • Reneta Webb, SAA Workshop Evaluations, 1994-present.

All of this material is available in the SAA offices.