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October 2005 Site of the Month

How To Read A Newspaper – a Minute Module

Designated contact persons: Content: Debora Cheney, Larry and Ellen Foster Communications Librarian and
Head, The News and Microforms and The Social Sciences Libraries;
Technical issues: Sylvia M. DeSantis, Multimedia Instructional Designer;
Institution: The Pennsylvania State University

Interview with Sylvia M. DeSantis and Debora Cheney
Interviewer: Kate Adams

Description: The News Minute Module focuses on how to read a newspaper, rather than why read a newspaper or how to locate newspaper articles. It is designed to complement the University Libraries’ News Room collections and the University’s Newspaper Readership Program.

Q. What was the motivation for creating the tutorial?
A. (Debora) We created the “How To Read A Newspaper” tutorial in 2004 in order to enhance the News Room at Pattee Library at The Pennsylvania State University, and to reinforce for students the accessibility to news sources in a variety of formats. When students think of newspapers, they generally think of hard-copy print editions when, in actuality, newspaper stories may be obtained from any number of venues online. Within this context it made sense to also develop an instructional piece to ensure that students really understand how to read a newspaper—that there is a structure to a newspaper that allows readers to read their daily newspaper in a more thoughtful and purposeful way, if they choose to do so. In addition, of course, the News Room at Pattee Library complements the University’s very successful Newspaper Readership Program.

Our goal was to be sure, if we were encouraging students to read the newspaper, that we also taught them how to do so, in keeping with principles of information literacy. Many tutorials focus on how to find newspaper content, but we felt there was a more basic and interesting tutorial on how to read a newspaper, particularly in today’s online environment. We wanted to encourage the reading of daily newspapers, separate from encouraging the activity of using news sources for research and information gathering.

Q. How long did the development process take? Who was involved?
A. (Sylvia) Debora Cheney, Foster Communications Librarian and Head, The News and Microforms and The Social Sciences Libraries, created the content with assistance from Ellysa Cahoy, Information Literacy Librarian. As the Multimedia Instructional Designer for Instructional Programs, the instructional unit within Penn State University Libraries, I worked with my development team in designing a framework for the tutorial and reformulating the content for online usability. Designing for students involves careful consideration of how many concepts should appear on each screen, how those concepts should be pedagogically approached, what examples best represent the concept, and how to pack all concepts, images, and text into a tutorial that promises its users brevity and still delivers an educational value. The process of creating for an online medium, including content development and multimedia development, took us approximately nine months.

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. (Sylvia) Instructional Programs traditionally utilizes the Macromedia MX Suite for our multimedia work. This suite provides excellent usability and functionality for the kind of animated and graphic-heavy designs we create. While other products do work interchangeably with Macromedia’s web editor (Dreamweaver), graphic design software (Fireworks), and animation software (Flash), the suite is specifically built to intercommunicate, making development easier, faster, and seamless. Occasionally, if our developers feel like they require a different kind of graphics capability, they will use Adobe PhotoShop.

Q. What support, if any, did you get to assist you in the creation of the tutorial?
A. (Sylvia) The content developers took on this project as an additional initiative, without any release time from other duties. Ellysa Cahoy, Information Literacy Librarian, provided content and examples using her knowledge of rhetoric and speech communication and the role of newspapers in the Communication, Arts, and Sciences curriculum at Penn State. Since as Multimedia Instructional Designer I am charged specifically with creating online educational products for the University Libraries, financial support came from Instructional Programs, allowing me to map a time frame and work it into our project queue.

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. (Debora and Sylvia) The Module is linked from Instructional Programs’ web site as well as the Penn State Newspaper Readership Program web pages, which provides the tutorial additional visibility. Since the tutorial is in a formative beta phase at present, we intend to promote it more widely to specific classes on the Penn State campuses after current summative revisions have been completed this Fall.

Q. What kind of feedback, either formal or informal, have you received from students or faculty?
A. (Debora) The Larry and Ellen Foster Professor of Communications provided valuable insights into how newspapers are put together, which helped with content development. Gene Foreman, former Managing Editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, critiqued the tutorial with comments that are informing our summative review and revision. We will consider formal assessment after revisions have been completed.

Q. What were some of the challenges (technological or other) that you faced?
A. (Sylvia) A significant challenge at the onset of design and development was finding usable graphics, specifically front pages of vintage newspapers that could be scanned clearly since we wanted to open the tutorial with a brief “Then and Now” timeline. We finally chose to utilize images from New York Times Historical Digital Archive.

A pedagogical challenge included uncovering appropriate newspaper components that best demonstrated the concept we were trying to teach; this was often difficult because the newspaper’s content had to be engaging to our users, the graphics had to be clear (for scanning), and the concept had to be in place and apparent—e.g., a recognizable editorial—so we could reference it in the teaching moment.

Q. How has the tutorial contributed to or influenced your library’s instructional services?
A. (Sylvia) When other Libraries’ faculty recognize that they can create a short and specific tutorial that has very cogent applications in both the classroom and beyond, they begin to consider the kind of “sound byte” tutorials they might be interested in creating for their own subject areas. This kind of revised thinking regarding what a tutorial might look like broadens Instructional Programs’ marketability and range of services.

Although we often create long, extremely complex tutorials that focus on specific student populations and/or databases, the Minute Modules tutorial approach is an ongoing project fueled by the mission of creating short online materials that encourage the development of information-literate citizens and students. The “What’s a Journal?” Minute Module explains the fundamental differences between journals, magazines, and newspapers.

Q. What are your future plans for the tutorial?
A. (Debora and Sylvia) Students may not always understand the role of the newspaper in American civic discourse, particularly when they are inundated with a wide range of electronic news sources. Keeping this in mind, we look forward to extending our content and research to another Minute Module tutorial that focuses on why a student should or might read a newspaper.

October 2005 PRIMO Site of the Month