emerging technologies in instruction, instruction section, acrl

July 2004 Site of the Month

Learn to Use the Citation Linker, Choosing a Database, Searching Using AND, OR, NOT (Boolean Searching), Combining AND, OR, NOT (Advanced Boolean)


Author: Michelle Mach, Digital Projects Librarian , Colorado State University
Interviewer: Jennifer Knievel


These four brief Flash tutorials teach students and faculty how to select a database, combine terms with AND, OR, and NOT, and use Citation Linker, a tool that links users to all available delivery options for a particular journal article. The learning objectives include learning when and how to use appropriate research tools, as well as how to access them and what information is required. Users control the direction of portions of the tutorials by selecting options about which they would like more information.

Interview with tutorial author:

Q: What was your motivation for creating the tutorials?

A: In 1999, CSU created an online tutorial called The Data Game, which taught research skills to students in the first year seminar program. It was a successful project, popular with the instructors, that also received a campus instruction award. Student testing showed that it was an effective learning tool. However, the Data Game was made in Macromedia Authorware, and was very difficult to update. It contained large amounts of animation and voices, and was designed in large pieces, rather than in small independent sections. These problems meant that it needed to be replaced, and these tutorials were the solution.

Q: How long did it take to create them?

A: The time required varied. Some with lots of original animation and complicated Flash programming, like the Boolean operators tutorials, required as long as a month. Others that have more screen shots and were among the last to be built, took only a week or two. CSU hired an excellent programmer / graphic designer who was a former student.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced?

A: This set of tutorials was actually developed to answer some of the challenges of the original tutorial. Students seemed to prefer to learn shorter concepts at their time of need. The existing tutorial was modeled on a traditional 50 minute session, and covered many topics all at once. The existing tutorial was not flexible enough to be easily parceled out into smaller concepts if a student only needed a portion of it, or an instructor only wanted to assign part of it. CSU's response was to create many smaller tutorials that taught smaller concepts, allowing students to learn specific skills at their time of need. For the current tutorials, the major challenge is that the programmer / graphic designer who built them is gone. Librarians have been trained to provide updates and maintenance, however, Flash is difficult to learn and the updates and changes have presented a challenge. The librarians are very comfortable with text and screen shot updates, but changes to animated animals may not even be possible without more training and experience with Flash.

Q: What support, if any, did you have in creating the tutorials?

A: The library received some support from the university that allowed them to hire two students, one at a time, who had graphic design / programming skills. One student created some of the tutorials, and the second student created the rest. In addition, the CSU flood of 1997 allowed some insurance funds to be dedicated to support of the tutorials. Several librarians and staff volunteered to contribute content for individual tutorials. In addition, departments around campus, such as the English department, have been very supportive in creating links to the tutorials on different pages of the library Web site. This helps get the tutorials to the students at the point of need.

Q: What technologies did you use to create the tutorial?

A: They were created mostly with Flash. In addition, the tutorials were built with some graphic programs like Photoshop and Fireworks, and Soundforge for music.

Q: What are your future plans for the project?

A: This summer, CSU is adding some quiz functions that will tie tutorials together. They hope to package certain groups of tutorials. For example, a set of five tutorials may be targeted to incoming freshmen. So far, twenty tutorials have been created, including the four evaluated for this round of PRIMO. Instructors really liked the quizzing function in the earlier tutorial, the Data Game, which emailed students' quiz grades to the instructors. The instruction librarian, Cathy Cranston, is assisting with creation of the content for the quizzes. She'll also be the primary one marketing these tutorials to the instructors of the freshman writing course. The quizzing function is being built using mySQL and PHP, by Kevin Cullen, a CSU librarian with an additional Master's in Computer Information Systems. They are hoping to use the quizzing function in the fall of 2004 for at least for one course. An added benefit of a quizzing function will be assessment of students who are coming in for instruction. In particular, the freshman writing seminar students can take the quizzes to help instructors recognize potential library skills needs, and to help the librarians know where to focus the sessions in the library. Other future plans include continuing to distribute tutorials via an open source agreement, where any library or school can request the tutorial source code and modify tutorials to suit their audience.

To contact the author of Learn to Use the Citation Linker, Choosing a Database, Searching Using AND, OR, NOT (Boolean Searching), and Combining AND, OR, NOT (Advanced Boolean), please write or call:

Name: Michelle Mach
Email: mmach@lib.colostate.edu
Phone: 970-491-2286