March 2005

Authors: Janet H. Clarke and Godlind Johnson
Institution: Stony Brook University Libraries

Interviewer: Corey Johnson

Author’s description:
This is a tutorial using the ACRL Information Literacy Standards as a theoretical framework. The tutorial is aimed at incoming undergraduate students, but can be used by graduate students, faculty, as well as any independent researcher. We want students to learn the research process while also having fun; and we want them to have access to the tutorial 24/7. Using Western Michigan University’s Searchpath and IUPUI’s Inflite as examples, we added greater navigation (local as well as global) and interaction and adapted it to our needs at SBU. Our tutorial has 6 free-standing modules: Choosing a Topic; Identifying Sources; Using STARS [the online catalog]; Finding Articles; Using the Web; and Citing Sources. We designed the tutorial to be flexible in its uses: as an exercise required before instruction by a librarian; as an assignment by a classroom instructor; as a reference tool to help remote users; or as a tool discovered by inquisitive, proactive students on their own; to be used in its entirety to learn the research process; or to learn or re-learn an aspect of the process at the point of need.


Q. What were your reasons for creating a tutorial?
A. We needed an alternative to classroom instruction for several reasons: The increasing demand for teaching cannot be handled with existing staff; even with sufficient teaching librarians we only reach a fraction of the student body through classroom instruction; we wanted instructions at the point of use and 24/7; we wanted to “help students help themselves” and make it a positive, fun experience at the same time; an existing tutorial needed updating for the web environment and with Information Literacy Standards as a guideline; we thought it would be desirable in our virtual reference work to be able to give the link to the tutorial rather than reinventing these instructions on the fly.

Q. How long did the process take, who worked on it, what technology was used?
A. The entire process took 11 months. Two librarians, the Head of Instruction and a reference librarian, spent at least 10-15% of their time on the project together with a hired web developer/MLS student who worked an average of 10 hours/week for 8 months. This site was created with Dreamweaver using HTML, Cascading Style Sheets, and Javascript. Flash was also used to create several animated games and graphics. The survey is hosted by We are also indebted to the people behind “Searchpath” (U Western Michigan) “Inflite” (IUPUI) and “TILT” (U of Texas System Digital Library) for permission to adapt various screens from those tutorials.

Q. What challenges did you experience?
A. The biggest challenges were hiring appropriate personnel; finding the large blocks of time required from the two librarians; and some technical limitations, e.g. with using Flash. We suffered setbacks because we started out with Computer Science grad students who may have had the technical skills, but lacked aesthetic sensibilities and understanding of our vision. After we found that the MLS student we had hired to design the content, was well suited to do the technical implementation, the two librarians had to get deeply involved in designing the content. This required much more time than we had originally planned, since we were not relieved of any of our other duties. Thirdly, because of technical limitations we were not able to achieve animation and interactivity to the degree we had hoped.

Q. What support, if any, did you have in creating the project?
A. Financial support came from a grant award from Stony Brook University’s Innovative Teaching Projects. The funds were used for salary for the part-time web developer, software purchases, and online instruction book acquisitions. We intend to spend the rest of the funds on workshops on teaching and/or information literacy.
Technical support came from the University Libraries’ Webmaster who gave valuable input on usability issues during the construction of the tutorial.

Q. What kind of feedback, either formal or informal, have you received from students or faculty?
A. Formally, the tutorial has a 10-question perpetual survey that users have used to give us feedback. The Libraries has been approached for permission to use the tutorial in whole or in part by other libraries or authors, either to adapt for their own use or to show as examples of web-based instruction.
During the construction phase, the Libraries conducted an informal focus group to test usability. This produced a wealth of information and prompted some key changes to the tutorial, such as redesigning local and global navigation, before going live. In addition, the Libraries has received emails and personal communication from faculty who find the tutorial useful and have incorporated it into their curriculum in various ways (from suggestion to course requirement).

Q. What are your future plans for the project?
A. We hope to make it more interactive with the help of a webmaster; we want to add some subject- or course-specific modules; we would like to develop a short version of the tutorial, like an online clickable handout that students can use quickly; we are currently making a virtual tour module that will accompany the tutorial; we want to develop an assessment tool to gauge the tutorial’s usefulness and impact on student research skills; and we want to improve marketing so that it gets wider use across campus.