13 April 2006

Anecdote of an online library tutorial overhaul; when, why, how and who says?

Quote of the week - “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
~ Walt Disney

Anecdote of an online library tutorial overhaul; when, why, how and who says?

When – In October 2003, the initial planning began. (I must add that I began this ‘project’ knowing that I was most likely leaving the organisation. I had concerns about whether any of what I was doing would come to fruition. Did it happen? read on).

Who says – Simple simon
I was instrumental in commencing an overhaul of an online library skills tutorial in an academic library. It came about due to a request for me to present something at an in-house library teaching team meeting. So, we (my supervisor & I) agreed to a presentation regarding the online tutorial as I knew there were major issues which needed addressing. The idea was to elicit feedback and responses from the Liaison Librarians and other members of the teaching team and compile these and commence work on the overhaul.

Why – Issues with original tutorial
 It became problematic as it had a lot of ‘search tool’ instructions and screen captures and therefore very quickly became dated when there were upgrades to Virtua catalogue, or to online journal databases.
 Duplication of some concepts.
 Interface clunky and non-adherence to online design principles, students could not return to the ‘Home’ page easily. This is an extremely important online design principle. {The original design was due to the fact that librarians were at the time ‘on their own’ with technological and instructional support so it was rudimentary of necessity, but over time, we gained instructional designer and most importantly senior management support to give this tutorial the professional presentation, as well as ongoing maintenance that it deserved}.
 components were added to this tutorial which were not ‘vetted’ by the teaching team and therefore the tutorial was also growing beyond ‘manageability’ and needed to be weeded. (sounds like collection development doesn’t it).
 It was found over time, that not many students were using this wonderful resource, based on hit rates. Why? because it wasn’t a user friendly interface? or because they don’t want to do an online tutorial, they want a ‘real person’ to explain it to them.
 Support - I think there were some who wanted to see this tutorial ‘deleted’, but as a Liaison librarian responsible for a large proportion of ‘flex’ or distance students, I was an advocate for keeping it, but overhauling it. Librarians spent a lot of time going over and over the same concepts with multiple distance students, how wonderful to get them started with an online tutorial when you established that they really had no idea where to start. {Again this was due to technology constraints at the initial ‘birth’ of the tutorial and probably higher levels of management didn’t 'appreciate' the merits of an online tutorial for distance students, not to mention the other advantages}.
 There were no assessment or evaluation items included. Self tests are important so that students can ‘check’ they have fully grasped the concepts. Evaluation or Feedback from students is also extremely important, so that ‘improvement’ can be made, because let’s face it, nothing is perfect, first time round. As librarians, we learn very early that most things we do are ‘evolutionary’, not ‘revolutionary’.

The teaching team provided excellent feedback and thus began the planning stage with a small (3) member taskgroup.

HOW – Initial planning of the overhaul
1. Use powerpoint to complete a ‘storyboard’ of levels and content. I started ‘mapping’ using Excel the sections we would include, the content we already had, removed duplicate content and the terminology. This became tedious, so began, step two.
2. Content formulation based on the ANZIL and CAUL information literacy standards. The ‘question posing’ formula came about due to many years of student questions, and my recollection of these. I had also developed a 'word' guide which I regularly emailed to Off-campus students, which was titled: Where do I start? The students often commented how useful this was, and the guide content was eventually incorporated into the website. Also another issue was that ‘librarian-ese’ or library science jargon was not helping us ‘bridge’ the gaps for first year University students. It also came from a personal viewpoint that in a library we rarely asked the students what would help them (due to time and money constraints to conduct focus groups or similar). So, without the advantage of this, the next best was to try to think like a '‘newbie’ and use questions that students would ask us, either at the desk or individually, rather than use the traditional ‘heading’ format.
For example:

Using/Searching the catalogue [changed to] How do I find books?

Search tools [changed to] What tools do I use to find information? A sub-menu was:
Why would I use one tool and not another?
Ask the following questions to assist in selecting search tools: What is the Content? What is the purpose? What is the scope? And so on.

Analyse your topic [changed to] How do I start researching for information?

Using/Searching journal databases [changed to] How do I find journal articles?

Searching the Web [changed to] How do I find good web documents?

Evaluation Criteria [changed to] How do I know the information I have is good?

Primary/secondary/tertiary information sources [changed to] What level of information should I use?

And so on. I also consulted with other librarians to elicit feedback.
3. Interface - My vision was to use a structure similar to the ANZIL template that my institution played a key role in designing at the time, or rather the Electronic services Librarian spent many hours in consultation with Instructional designers. This was launched early 2003. We Liaison librarians also provided feedback regarding this template. I consulted with the Electronic Services librarian as to the feasibility of the library using a similar template for the ‘New’ tutorial and this was given the thumbs up and positively accepted. To have a look at the type of interface, visit the Anziil website - http://www.anziil.org/ It was to have 'breadcrumbs' also, so that students could see at what section they were currently, and easily return one step, or 2 steps if they needed.
4. The design was to be modular so that particular ‘sections’ or modules could be ‘slotted’ into online courses which use an online course management software such as Blackboard.
5. Assess student learning or ‘self tests’ attached to each section so that students could practice what they had learned while completing the tutorial, or at any point.
6. Online evaluation form - to elicit student responses, not the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ variety of evaluation, but blank box for student feedback to each question as well as a ‘picture’ of the respondent. The principle here is to develop a reasonably brief form so that students will respond and to also acknowledge each student that responds, by way of a ‘thank you for your submission’ or similar.
This next one comes from further reflecting on this post.
7. Interactivity? Is there any mechanism for giving patrons interactivity? What about a Tutorial Blog. Students can see what others are saying and the 'Comments' posted by librarians.

Did it happen? Yes it did. Congratulations to the librarians who persevered and made it happen!

Next post: online evaluation content - a sample.


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