June 2005


Author: Gwendolyn J. Reece, Access Services Librarian
Instruction Team: Melissa Becher, Mary Evangeliste, Clement Ho, Mary Mintz, Mike Tosko
Web Design: Tony Loffredo
Institution: American University

Interviewer: Melissa Kalpin Prescott

Description: Intended to establish a base-line set of information literacy competencies for students, the tutorial is designed to incorporate higher-order critical thinking skills.

Q. What was the motivation for creating the tutorial?

A. The tutorial is phase one of our Instruction Team’s Information Literacy Plan. Our intention with the tutorial was to determine what baseline information literacy skills we wanted all students, at every level and in every discipline, to gain during their time at American University. We determined learning outcomes and then created the tutorial based on them. Given the structure of the curriculum, tying information literacy instruction to a series of classes would always mean that there would be students who would fall through the cracks. One of the most powerful motivating factors in our desire to teach baseline skills via an online tutorial was that we would be able to spend our time in the upper level classes teaching field-specific information literacy skills.

Q. How long did the development process take? Who was involved?

A. The Instruction Team had been trying to develop a tutorial for about a year before I was asked to create the existing tutorial. Together we had come up with some of the framework that we wanted to use and had evaluated qualities we liked and disliked in other tutorials. However, because none of us were given any dedicated time (as with most librarians and library employees) and we already had more to do than can be reasonably accomplished in the work week, we were not making any real headway. I was Reference/Instruction/Web Librarian at the time. Our director decided to give me two months off of most other duties to focus on the tutorial. I created the entire tutorial in two months, using the Instruction Team as my editorial board. After that, I spent a semester beta-testing the tutorial with our College Writing classes. With the feedback I received, I spent about a month (without release from other duties) revising the tutorial. I did one more graphic redesign when our catalog changed its look. I should mention that I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Education and therefore had done a significant amount of research on critical thinking and computer-assisted-instruction design prior to the development of this tutorial. I had been working on this research for about a year and a half before I started the tutorial.

Q. Tell us about the technologies that were used to create the tutorial, and why you chose them. Were there others that you considered?

A. I used Dreamweaver with Coursebuilder. I did consider other technologies that could make the tutorial more visually appealing and flashier, but rejected them. This tutorial is fairly text-based and does not include any images that are not directly associated with the learning outcomes. My reason for this is that I am very concerned with accessibility for people with disabilities. This is a particular area of concern and interest for me. I find that even when sites and technologies claim to be accessible, they often are not understandable when run through a screen-reader. Especially since we envision this tutorial to be a significant part of the curriculum, I think it is essential that we provide an equivalent learning experience for students with disabilities. Furthermore, I view information literacy instruction as socialization into the culture of academia, which is heavily language-based. I think it is important for us to distinguish between academic language and library-field language. We are not necessarily trying to make students librarians, but we are trying to make them scholars. I think it is part of our job to expose them to academic language and modes of expression. One of the things that I often don’t like about a lot of tutorials is that I think the images detract from the language and the words.

Q. What support, if any, did you get to assist you in the creation of the tutorial?

A. I had the help and support of the Instruction Team as my editorial board and my Webmaster in creating some of the visual elements. I also had release time from my reference desk hours and most meetings. I was still teaching during this time and had a couple of meetings I needed to continue to attend. I can honestly say that if I had not been given blocks of time without interruption, I would not have been able to finish the tutorial.

Q. How is the tutorial currently used? Is it tied to any particular class as a requirement, or how do students and faculty learn about it?

A. Currently the tutorial is required by most of the faculty in the College Writing Program. We are trying, however, to get it required across the campus independently of any particular class. It is also linked on our website and we tell people about it in library instruction classes. It will only fulfill its goals, however, if it is required across the curriculum. Getting a university-wide requirement passed is a significant process and challenge.

Q. What kind of feedback, either formal or informal, have you received from students or faculty? Do you collect any response data from the assessment quizzes? How do you use the data?

A. I received extensive feedback from students and faculty in the College Writing classes during the beta-testing. I had a structured feedback form that also allowed for open-ended responses. Since then, the feedback has been more informal. I made a decision not to collect any response data from the quizzes that are part of the tutorial for a number of reasons. First of all, I want students to be able to take the tutorial without any fear of being wrong. Each incorrect answer provides corrective feedback and there are exercises that offer multiple opportunities to practice each skill. Secondly, if we require students to take the tutorial and we are collecting the response data, presumably we have to determine whether or not there is a threshold below which we would determine that the student has “failed.” If the student fails, we have to determine what impact that would have and what the student would need to do to rectify the situation. Lastly, although the quizzes are meant to provide an opportunity to practice skills, they have not been sufficiently tested to determine validity and reliability. A true psychometric analysis requires a much larger pool than I have available. This past year we participated in Project SAILS, which is an attempt to develop a valid and reliable assessment of information literacy skills. Assuming that this tool ends up being useful, the plan is to get the tutorial required and then use Project SAILS as our assessment piece.

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

A. The biggest technological challenge is that different browsers deal with layers in different ways. We are recommending IE as the browser, since that is the industry standard. However, in the past year some of our campus IT units have been recommending Firefox. Firefox does not handle layers well. The other challenge was getting blocks of time to work on the tutorial. I needed uninterrupted blocks of at least three hours to make substantial progress, especially when programming an exercise. Even when I was released from most other duties, time was still a challenge because of various interruptions. The fragmentation of our workday is the primary challenge to getting a project like this completed.

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

A. Thus far the tutorial has not yet been required across campus. It is in use in the College Writing classes and this has changed the nature of our in-person instruction. Basically, it allows instructors to cover material in more depth and enables students to ask better questions. We did also develop a series of workshops around the tutorial modules to provide another opportunity for students to get additional help on sections they did not understand. Once the tutorial is required, we will stop covering the material that is included in the tutorial and our upper level classes will focus on more discipline-specific skills.

Q. What are your future plans for the tutorial?

A. Our next step is to make the tutorial a university-wide requirement. Ideally it would be a requirement to take the tutorial before you can register for your second semester. The tutorial would not be graded or assigned for credit. With the tutorial required for first year students, we would be able to assume that all students in upper level classes had taken the tutorial and we would be able to focus on teaching other skills.

June 2005 PRIMO Site of the Month