emerging technologies in instruction, instruction section, acrl

January 2004 Site of the Month

Finding Articles Online Tutorial

Authors: Scott McLaren and Maura Matesic
Interviewer: Melissa Prescott

The Finding Articles Online Tutorial focuses on demonstrating the skills needed to search the WebSPIRS family of databases. When students have completed the tutorial, they will know how to select databases, form practical keyword searches, locate print and electronic journals, print and e-mail citations and abstracts, and limit searches to a single journal. This tutorial requires a JavaScript enabled browser.

Interview with tutorial author:

Q: What was the motivation for creating your Finding Articles Tutorial?

A: There were two main reasons for creating the tutorial. One was the fact that several of our periodical databases were available through the WebSPIRS interface. We didn't like what WebSPIRS offered in terms of online help and wanted to do a tutorial on our own. We thought we'd get more "bang for our buck" by choosing a family of indexes. Secondly, we offer workshops at the beginning of each term but some students inevitably want a workshop later in the semester when our librarians aren't able to offer them. By creating an online tutorial, we could ensure that students don't fall through the cracks of our library instruction schedule.

Q: How long did the entire creation process take? Who was involved? What technology did you use?

A: The creation process took six months. Only two people, both librarians, were involved. We received no technical help. We used FrontPage with a lot of JavaScript. We picked up JavaScript coding from public domain web sites and adapted it for use in our tutorial.

Q: What were some of the challenges (technological or other) you faced?

A: We faced some technical challenges including making the tutorial work in different versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers. We wanted to use streaming audio and video but did not have the appropriate server or equipment available in the library. We had to back off of those technologies for this tutorial.

Q: How has the tutorial contributed to or influenced your library's instructional services?

A: The tutorial helps to ensure that students do not fall through the cracks by missing face-to-face instruction. It also helps with our distance education efforts. Faculty can link to the tutorial from WebCT or Blackboard. Even during face-to-face instruction, librarians can refer to the tutorial as something students can use on their own to clarify or strengthen what they learned in class.

Q: What are the plans for the tutorial?

A: We had a very good response from inside and outside the library (including ACRL and the Internet Education Project). The WebSPIRS interface is changing and the current version of the tutorial will eventually need updating. Updating the tutorial would be difficult as all of the coding would need to be rewritten. The WebSPIRS built-in tutorials have improved so we may not find it necessary to create an updated version of the tutorial.

Q: If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently (or the same)?

A: I would work in a very small group again (no more than three people) as work gets done much quicker this way. Something different I would is build into the tutorial a mechanism for updating it without having to rewrite it.

To contact the authors of the Finding Articles Online Tutorial, please write:

Scott McLaren

Maura Matesic