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April 2006 Site of the Month

InfoSkills Tutorial

Authors: Vicki Picasso and Debbie Booth
Institution: University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Interviewer: Jennifer Sharkey

InfoSkills is a self-paced online tutorial designed to introduce University of Newcastle undergraduate students to a range of information and research skills that will assist with finding, using, evaluating and managing information. The tutorial also identifies issues surrounding academic integrity, including plagiarism, and their significance at the University of Newcastle.

Q. The About section of the tutorial web site indicates this version of InfoSkills is a redevelopment to “embed academic integrity and ethics concepts.” Please expand on the motivations behind the redevelopment.
A. (Vicki): The University’s Management Action Plan identified the need for student education and involvement in resolving plagiarism issues and recommended the development of a self-paced training program for students dealing with the issues of academic ethics and plagiarism.

The previous year the Library developed InfoSkills as an information literacy tutorial. The recommendation by the Management Action Plan provided us with an ideal opportunity to redevelop and enhance InfoSkills enabling the embedding of academic integrity and ethics concepts. This provided us with an additional opportunity to redesign the look and feel of the tutorial as well as to review the content, ensuring that concepts were mapped to the Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework.

Q. The web site indicates there were ten people on the project team and the redevelopment was a collaborative effort among the Library, Network for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, and the Learning Skills Unit. How did this collaboration evolve and how did the team members become involved? What roles and responsibilities did each team member have?
A. (Debbie): The Library and the Network for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (NITL) had existing close ties; faculty and other librarians were organisationally located within the NITL structure at that time. There were also synergies with the Learning Skills unit with the learning advisers invited to participate in the project. The Learning Support advisers contributed the academic writing skills concepts and content. They also participated in the review group, along with project members.

All project members were involved in the planning stages which involved identifying the broad range of content and concepts. In addition to this planning, one project member developed the templates and navigation, six project members worked on the development of content using story boards with four of these further developing and translating the content to its present web format. The final phase involved the most significant amount of work.

Q. How long did the redevelopment process take and how was it funded?
A. (Vicki): The redevelopment occurred over a period of four months with all project team members contributing on a part-time basis for varying amounts of hours. In total there were approximately 450 hours of effort by the project team. There was no back-filling against substantive positions with all work related to the project carried out in addition to normal workloads.

The University’s Management Action Plan provided $A7000.00 which was used to pay for the contributions of staff outside the Library and NITL. For example, to pay for expenses relating to the consultants from the Learning Support Unit and the graphics work produced by the Media Unit.

Q. Tell us about the technologies that were used to create the tutorial and why you chose these. Were there others that you considered?
A. (Debbie): The main software used was Dreamweaver and Fireworks. Dreamweaver was an obvious choice as staff were already experienced Dreamweaver users. Those staff involved in the web development also up-skilled considerably during the development as we used new features of the software not previously used, such as javascipting. We also identified Robodemo as a tool for the development of small interactive opportunities though we are yet to include these, however it is on our list of enhancements for the near future.

Q. Since the tutorial redevelopment was done to support the recommendations of the Management Action Plan of the university, are students required to take it? If not, how has your library been promoting its use?
A. (Debbie): There was an initial pilot of InfoSkills in semester two 2004 which required students to work through InfoSkills and critique its usefulness in relation to their assessment item. They were to produce a 3000 word essay and an additional 500 words critiquing InfoSkills.

The ‘Embedding Information Literacy Project’ has identified specific courses within each Faculty to embed information literacy including InfoSkills. Each Faculty Librarian works with academic staff to determine the best approach for their students’ needs.

A. (Vicki): We started promoting InfoSkills prior to its launch. We did this by inviting academic staff to take part in the review process throughout development of the modules. They assisted with critiquing content in terms of usefulness to their students. Their students represented a broad mix including those undertaking bridging courses, international students programs, and mature age students.

The Student Academic Conduct Officers for each school were also invited to participate in the review groups with a particular emphasis on academic integrity and the concepts surrounding the student code of ethical academic conduct. Involving the academics at the review stage generated awareness within the schools at an early point, and also resulted in examples being offered for inclusion. When we launched InfoSkills we promoted the resource in a number of ways. These included: articles in our newsletter, promotion on the Library homepage, flyers, postcards, posters and guides. As part of our marketing campaign we also visited individual academic staff and made presentations at school committees. We promoted InfoSkills as a resource for undergraduate students and one which they could use to support formal course objectives or as a referral tool.

A. (Debbie): Another mechanism for promotion was to embed links to the various modules of the tutorial within the Library web site. For example on the Library’s Journal and Reference Database web page we link to Infoskills ‘Finding Information’ module. We also conducted information sessions for the Information Desk staff to familiarize them with InfoSkills and its content.

Q. How has the redevelopment of InfoSkills influenced your library’s instructional services and programs?
A. (Vicki): InfoSkills serves as a central resource tool for Information Services staff. It enables a consistent approach to our delivery of information literacy programs and has lessened the need for developing ad-hoc resources. There is much more referral to specific concepts within the tutorial as it provides a foundation from which a specific discipline-based context can be built.

Our remote and offshore students are much better served as InfoSkills is available 24/7, contrasting with our previous focus on face to face delivery of information literacy skills.

Q. The web site provides an evaluation form to gather feedback, has this proven beneficial? What other feedback, formal or informal, has the library received from students or faculty regarding InfoSkills?
A. (Vicki): The embedded feedback form has proven to be an invaluable resource. We strongly recommend the inclusion of this type of tool into the development of an online information literacy tutorial. Because the feedback form is embedded at the end of each module we are able to prompt the user for contextualized feedback. They can choose to provide responses based on the particular module they have used, or for as many modules as they would like to. All forms are submitted voluntarily. We’ve received 200 evaluations in the first five weeks of semester one 2006. Forms are received from academic and general staff, post-graduates, under-graduates, and non-university users.

The feedback serves three purposes: it acts as a barometer for the continued relevancy of the information and concepts included and their usefulness; it provides quantitative data; and it provides qualitative data. All comments received are constantly reviewed and acted upon if necessary, which in turn ensures that our content is constantly being monitored and refined.

Q. InfoSkills is comprised of five modules: Planning for Research, Finding Information, Evaluating Information, Writing & Plagiarism, and Using Information Ethically. How did you identify and choose these five sections? How did you determine what content and the level of content to include in each module?
A. (Vicki): These aspects were determined in the initial planning stage. This was a truly collaborative effort with all team members involved and while I’d like to say that it effortlessly fell into place, it was certainly a lot more work than that. It did take work to reach a consensus. We developed a guiding document, of which there were at least four versions by the end of the process. This detailed the main concepts and the proposed content relating to each. There were many discussions surrounding the exact level of detail that we would or should go down to. Ultimately we were guided by the concepts of the Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework, and our own guiding principles:

  • Clear objectives for each modules
  • Short, sharp chunks of information addressing the objectives and outcomes (Our experience was that students will turn-off when they have to scroll through large chunks of text)
  • We wanted information to be presented without the need to scroll down a page, so we successfully designed in consistent features and navigation that enabled us to maximize content through use of tips, pop-ups boxes, ‘cul-de-sac’ pages, rollovers, glossary, etc
  • Try and maintain interest and ensure the text isn’t too dry
  • Link to additional information outside of the tutorial as relevant
  • Use consistent language throughout
  • No duplication in content
  • Embed feedback opportunities
  • Determine and write for your target audience (don’t be all things to all users)

A. (Debbie): The end result was that it should be introductory concepts and modules, targeted at first year and undergraduate students. These could serve as a building block for discipline specific information literacy programs to extend.

Q. Throughout the tutorial there are examples available through rollover graphics and pop-up windows as well as integrated short practice quizzes. What factors were used to incorporate these?
A. (Vicki): As I’ve mentioned these were part of our design concept. We considered other available possibilities for presenting information in a way that would enhance the existing text for each concept. We decided on the use of consistent features and didn’t deviate from this. So the major factor for incorporating these was to add value and context to the information surrounding the main concepts. Making this part of the navigation means that users are able to become familiar with this and identify additional information (cul-de-sac pages) and examples are available, however students are not forced to work their way through these if they choose not too.

A. (Debbie): Also, the practice quizzes provide an opportunity for the user to go back and review the information where they are uncertain. The feedback provided was designed to be constructive and give reinforcement, rather than simply indicating a correct or incorrect answer.

Q. Now that the redevelopment is done, did you learn any specific lessons during the process that you would like to pass on to other institutions interested in creating a similar tutorial? What would you do differently?
A. (Debbie): It’s difficult to plan exactly for the amount of time that developing a tutorial will take. Whatever you determine, add at least 20% to your estimation so as to be more realistic. Things never go according to plan! In addition to the project team we would recommend an Advisory or Steering Committee to separate the planning from the development. Ideally staff involved in the development of these types of projects should be released from their normal duties; however that is rarely the case. Identify and collaborate with all key stakeholders to ensure that the resource has ‘buy-in’ and ownership. Including academic staff in the review process was extremely useful. It provided them with the opportunity to suggest examples and comment on content and it also created awareness of the resource.

A. (Vicki): We used storyboards to develop the content and determine the flow of information and its relationship to other content within the modules. This was a worthwhile exercise as it enabled us to determine that information wasn’t being duplicated and that the appropriate amount of information was present. This also made it easier to map the concepts and to determine we had included all of the necessary content. We conducted usability testing before the site went live. This was also a worthwhile process and we were able to use the report from this testing to make amendments and also to validate decisions that we had made that appeared to work well. The inclusion of feedback opportunities such as practice quizzes makes it more relevant for students. They can see straight away if they have understood the concept and they appreciate this. Finally, we thoroughly enjoyed working on this project and found it a worthwhile and challenging exercise. We have learned a great deal.

April 2006 PRIMO Site of the Month