December 2006 Site of the Month

Authors: Shauna Rutherford, Culture Librarian; K. Alix Hayden, Nursing & Kinesiology Librarian;
Paul R. Pival, Distance Education Librarian
Institution: University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada

Interviewer: Marie-Elise Waltz

Description: The Workshop on the Information Search Process for Research (WISPR) teaches information seeking skills. It is based on Dr. Carol Kuhlthau’s theoretical model for information seeking. The creators have translated Kuhlthau’s model into a colorful and easy to understand graphic which students click through to learn information seeking behavior. In addition, they have developed specialized workshops and tools, such as a log book, which faculty at the University of Calgary can use to teach information seeking in the classroom.

Q. The framework for your tutorials is based on the theoretical model of information searching as developed by Dr. Carol Kuhlthau. Why did you decide to use this framework?

A. We wanted to move beyond a training perspective to a process approach to information literacy instruction. Kuhlthau’s work was influential as it incorporates three realms: the affective (feelings), the cognitive (thoughts), and the physical (actions and strategies). Other models, such as the Big 6 and Sense-Making were reviewed, but Kuhlthau’s approach seemed to provide a wider, more holistic view of information use. Her model emphasizes the iterative nature of information seeking, and explores how to develop a researchable question – which is at the heart of inquiry. We were also encouraged by the simple descriptions encapsulated in each phase, and felt that it would be an approach that students would be willing to pursue. Further, the inclusion of the affective component spoke to our experiences of assisting students who were frustrated, anxious, annoyed, and confused. We determined that by including the affective component, students’ feelings would be validated throughout the information seeking process.

Q. How are your tutorials incorporated into Calgary's overall instruction services program?

A. WISPR is one of many options open to instruction librarians at the University of Calgary. At the basic level, WISPR supports the one-on-one teaching that happens at our Information Desk. It can be used as a diagnostic tool to determine where in the research process a student is and what types of assistance and resources are most appropriate to offer at that time. At a more comprehensive level, WISPR allows librarians to present a good introduction to students on how to approach university-level research while presenting themselves as experts to whom students can turn for help. Librarians, like teaching faculty at the University of Calgary, have academic freedom so there is no requirement for them to use WISPR if they choose not to. However, a growing number are interested in incorporating it into at least some of the courses they teach. Also, a growing number of teaching faculty are becoming aware of WISPR and are specifically asking librarians to create a customized version for their classes. Our campus administration is strongly promoting both Blended- and Inquiry-Based Learning at the university, and WISPR was developed to support both of these approaches to teaching. Another focus of campus concern is the Undergraduate Learning Experience. WISPR was specifically designed to support undergraduates' transition into an academic research environment. We've found more advanced researchers tend to use WISPR to reflect more on their learning process.

Q. You have developed a tool called a logbook to use in conjunction with the tutorial. Please talk about how the logbook is used by the students and their instructors. Have you found it to be a useful tool?

A. The logbook provides students with a means of tracking their progress through a research project, much like a journal or a lab book. Two types of questions are included in the logbook: 1) questions that direct students to respond to specific factual types of questions when documenting their research progress; and 2) questions that encourage students to reflect on each phase and to consider their thoughts and feelings during a phase. Students may work in groups or individually when completing the logbook, which can then be submitted electronically to the instructor or the librarian. In some courses, it has been the deliverable for WISPR. Students have been marked on the logbook, worth as much as 15% of the final grade. The logbook has proved useful for both the faculty and the students. The faculty can clearly determine when students have problems understanding an assignment or are unsure of the various aspects of a topic. Further, using the KWLF chart (what I know, what I want to know, what I learned, and where I found it), faculty have a record of what resources the students have been using. This helps them track students’ knowledge progression and serves as a monitoring system for potential plagiarism. Students have found the logbook to be useful as it forces them to consider the information search process in more concrete, tangible terms; something most students do not do. As students must “log” their progress, they often become more reflective and more aware of the components within each phase. The section on feelings helps users with information-seeking anxiety.

Q. Using the original tutorial, you have created customized tutorials for new course content. How long does it take to create a new tutorial? How much influence does the faculty have in creating the customized modules?

A. The amount of time required to customize a version of WISPR varies greatly depending on the amount of customization desired, the degree of collaboration with the faculty member, and the individual librarian's skill and familiarity with the programs used. Every effort has been made to keep the customization as simple and quick as possible. All text that appears on the screens is modified using a simple WYSIWYG editor, so it really is no more difficult to change than it would be using a Microsoft Word document. Probably the most time-consuming part of the process is developing the hands-on tutorials that appear in Phase 4: Information Collection. However, much of this time is spent developing the sample searches, which is something our librarians would normally do for any class. Using frames and scripts borrowed from TILT (Texas Information Literacy Tutorial) to present the split-screen tutorials takes approximately 3 hours to complete. (For more information on TILT, see: Overall, the creation of a new version of WISPR would likely take anywhere from a day to a week of work, depending on the factors listed above. Ideally, there is a great deal of collaboration with the faculty member because we want WISPR to be truly integrated into the course content. We would not compromise on the framework of WISPR but the faculty member can have a great deal of influence over what content and activities appear in the individual phases. You can see in the workshop for SCIE251 that there is a high degree of customization, even referring to specific class content and tutorial assignments on a weekly basis. In this case, the course instructor was given direct access to the customization module of WISPR and she made many of the changes herself and worked closely with the librarian for others. In both the Nursing and Kinesiology versions, the activities in WISPR were submitted by students as graded assignments, so the librarian and faculty members worked together at the stage of designing the course curriculum to ensure WISPR was being used meaningfully to support student learning. In a couple cases, WISPR has been used as more of an 'add-on' - supplemental rather than truly integrated into the courses. We realized however (and the faculty members themselves agreed) that this is not the best use of WISPR. Students are not likely to devote the time and effort to something they see as peripheral to the course. Collaboration with faculty and faculty communication to students of the importance of information literacy skills throughout the course are key components of WISPR's success.

Q. To create this tutorial you worked with an instructional designer. What do you think the designer added to the project?

A. Our instructional designer, Dr. Norm Vaughan, was a great help to us. He came from a background where he'd worked with librarians and students before, which helped us to communicate well. He continually reminded us to think of how the users would experience what we produced and frequently came back to Chickering and Gamson's "Seven Principles for Good Practice" (Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, AAHE Bulletin, 39 (7), 3-7, March 1987), to keep us grounded. Norm also acted as a project manager and a liaison between the librarians and the programmers at the Teaching and Learning Centre. (The Teaching and Learning Centre, also referred to as the TLC, is a separate unit on campus that supports faculty with teaching certificates, outside speakers, instructional designers, and programmers.) In addition, Norm's role within the campus TLC gives him access to a number of teaching faculty interested in trying to integrate more technology and more inquiry-based learning techniques into their teaching. In that role, he has been a great champion of WISPR and has frequently referred teaching faculty to us to discuss how we can work with instructors to support students' acquisition of good library research strategies.

Q. Can you tell us something about the technology behind your system? What software did you use to create the program? How much time did it take to create the first tutorial? What were some of the technical difficulties you encountered?

A. WISPR was designed to engage the students in as many different ways as possible; not only to address different learning styles, but also to make sure students did not become bored with the same old "read it on a website" type of tutorial. A number of technologies were used to construct the various components of WISPR. Some components were built by the librarians involved, while others were built by the TLC:

Component Technology Responsibility
Overall design XHTML and CSS Teaching & Learning Centre
WISPR graphic Macromedia Flash Teaching & Learning Centre
Self-Assessment checklists Quandry 2.2 Librarians
KWLF Chart Macromedia Breeze Librarians
Logbook Jakarta Tapestry Teaching & Learning Centre
Screencasts Qarbon ViewletBuilder Pro Librarians
Guided tutorials HTML, Boomer, JavaScript Librarians

Audio narration was included with all the screencasts and in the KWLF chart to try to engage the students as much as possible. In previous uses of this technology in other online courses, students rated this enhanced content highly, appreciating the opportunity to learn both visually and aurally.

For the reason indicated above, audio was also incorporated into the guided tutorials, which provide an opportunity for students to practice in a hands-on guided session. Librarians felt strongly that it was most important to allow students to practice what they had learned and yet still be in a guided session. Guided instruction appears to be lacking in many online tutorials and is a feature that most librarians would say is the most important part of their face-to-face sessions with students. The hands-on feature is accomplished through the presentation of a split screen using frames and a little JavaScript coding for interactivity provided by TILT, the Texas Information Literacy Tutorial.

On the left side of the screen, students are given instructions on what to do in the live database that appears on the right side of the screen. Students may search anything they want in the live database but, if they use the guided instructions, there are checours (each)ks in each tutorial to ensure students are on the right track (e.g., "how many results did you get for that search?"). To incorporate audio into the tutorials, a brief audio file was recorded as a WAV file and then quickly converted to Flash using a tool called Boomer. The embedded Flash audio file plays as soon as the left frame loads, allowing the student to both read and listen to the instructions that are to be followed in the live database.

With the exception of the database back-end for the logbook, all of the technology used in the original creation of WISPR is easily within the grasp of any librarian with the time and patience to experiment. Full integration into Tapestry requires more sophisticated skills. WISPR is offered under a Creative Commons Noncommercial ShareAlike license:

The first iteration of the entire WISPR Workshop took approximately six months to build. Individual tutorials within WISPR can be built from scratch in approximately three hours (each)and minor updates can be made both to individual tutorials and to the Workshop in a matter of minutes.

The majority of technical difficulties we have experienced have involved the logbook. Because this component was built by the TLC, any troubleshooting had to route through that department. It did give us some headaches the first time students were unable to access it. Fortunately, while a very nice component of WISPR, the integrated logbook is not a necessity and WISPR can be run with a downloadable MS Word version of the logbook. The rest of the site has proved pleasantly stable.

Q. Have you made any changes to the tutorial’s format since it was developed? If so, what were the changes and why were they made?

A. The overall format (i.e. the framework) has not changed since we first developed it. We did add the option of presenting the logbook as a Word template rather than the online version for two reasons. First, we wanted something that could be available in the generic version of WISPR. The online logbook requires that students log in, so it is restricted to those registered within a course. The Word template allows any student, or indeed any person with web access, to use the logbook to track their progress through a research assignment. Secondly, because the online logbook requires the most complicated programming in all of WISPR (security so that it can be used as a graded assignment, group or individual access, different access rights for instructors and students, etc.) it is the one area of WISPR that does not allow any customization of content. By making the logbook available as a Word template, faculty and librarians can modify the questions to suit a particular course or discipline. However, the Word document obviously loses some of the functionality that we wanted in the online version.

Q. Is there anything our readers should know about these tutorials that hasn’t been asked?

A. We're hard at work looking for funding for version 2 of WISPR. We have a long list of enhancements that would make the tutorial easier to customize and we want to get it to the point where it could be downloaded as a single package for librarians across the world to customize and use. We'd like to adapt it for our local school board, which is interested in using WISPR.

To read more on the WISPR project, a paper is available at:

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