June 2006


Authors: Information Literacy Working Group: Olivier Charbonneau, Dubravka Kapa, Patrick Labelle (Chair), Sonia Poulin
Graphic design: Marc-Olivier Bergeron.
Institution: Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec

Interviewer: Melissa K. Prescott

Info Research 101 is a self-paced, interactive tutorial designed to provide mainly undergraduate students in the arts, humanities and social sciences with the necessary foundations and skills to find useful information, to evaluate it critically and to use it wisely for various purposes such as writing research assignments. Helpful examples, practical tips and interactive activities complement the information presented.

Q. What was the motivation for creating Info Research 101?
A. Concordia Libraries had originally created an online tutorial through WebCT. When our university no longer supported WebCT, the content was migrated to static HTML pages and quizzes were developed in the university's in-house course management software. However, these formats were far from ideal and there were limitations in terms of access, flexibility and functionality. In the spring of 2004, we began thinking about completely revamping our tutorial in order to give it a new, up-to-date look and feel while also making the information more succinct, relevant and meaningful.

Q. Who was involved? Describe your design team and their responsibilities for content development, software selection, and technology support.
A. Our Information Literacy Working Group was responsible for designing the Info Research 101 tutorial. At the time, four librarians were part of the Group and developed the content of our tutorial. We used the previous versions as a template, but determined early on that we would try to shorten the content in order for the tutorial to be completed by students in approximately 30 minutes. This proved to be quite a challenge. In addition to content, we wanted to include numerous examples to replicate topics and ideas that students might be addressing in their assignments. We also included research tips that were designed to provide value-added information. Finally, in an effort to create an interactive experience, a variety of activities were interspersed throughout to enable students to test their skills and knowledge.

A student was hired to design the interface and to create the front-end of the tutorial. During the interview process, Macromedia Flash was identified as an acceptable technology for the goals we had set. Our student designer also provided valuable input regarding the content and contributed ideas to help improve the tutorial.

Q. What technologies did you use to create Info Research 101? Why did you choose them and were there others you considered?
A. Macromedia Flash was chosen to create Info Research 101. Before starting our project, we surveyed what other libraries were doing and found that some of the better tutorials used Flash. In addition, this technology allowed us to illustrate a few concepts and ideas visually through the use of animation. Also, with Flash, we were able to develop a variety of interactive exercises. Our student designer was quite adept with this software, which was also an important selection criterion.

Q. How long did the development process take?
A. We worked steadfastly for a 3-month period over the summer of 2004 to develop the initial version of our tutorial. The student designer was hired as part of a summer employment grant (for a 350-hour period) and we really wanted to launch our tutorial at the start of the academic year. During this period we developed the content, the research tips, the examples and most of the activities. Following the launch, we were able to retain the services of our student designer on a part-time basis during the school year and, during this time, we made additional enhancements to the tutorial.

Q. Did you experience any unexpected challenges in the development of the tutorial and if so, how did you overcome them?
A. Content development was very time-consuming. We already had a few versions of older tutorials, but we nevertheless found it challenging to present meaningful and useful information in a succinct manner. However, as a group, we were able to focus on the essential rather than superfluous information we wanted to convey to students.

Also, finding current and relevant examples of topics to help illustrate several concepts proved to be much more difficult than we anticipated. We had determined that we would not use the same example more than once. We came up with an extensive list of topics based on past experiences and on surveying course Web sites for additional ideas.

Another challenge was to devise valuable activities that would contribute to the student learning experience. We decided to integrate activities at different points in the tutorial in order to engage students in the learning process and to break monotony. By favouring this approach, we ended up having to design several activities.

Finally, we had no idea of the amount of time and work required in designing a Flash tutorial. Although our student designer was working full-time on this project during 2 ½ months, we quickly realized that some of our lofty ambitions would have to be curtailed.

Q. What support, if any, did you get to assist you in the creation of the tutorial?
A. We received financial support from both our administration and from a federal government youth employment program. This financial assistance enabled us to hire our student designer, without whom the tutorial would probably not have been developed. Our administration was also supportive of our tutorial redevelopment initiative.

Q. How is the tutorial currently used? Has it changed or influenced your library instruction program?
A. The tutorial is currently linked to the Libraries’ home page. We have not done a thorough analysis of its use since its launch in September 2004. Promotion included in-house advertising through handouts and posters as well as external promotion through our newsletter to faculty members, which encouraged them to provide a link from their course Web sites.

A few librarians have mentioned that they use sections of the tutorial in their library instruction sessions as a means of illustrating certain concepts or for stimulating discussion.

All in all, our previous HTML tutorial was outdated and unused. Our efforts to revamp the content, the structure and the navigation have resulted in a visually appealing tutorial that, hopefully, can assist those students looking to improve their search skills. During the 2005-2006 academic year, the tutorial received a total of 1,800 hits.

Q. What kind of feedback, either formal or informal, have you received from students or faculty?
A. Unfortunately, we have not received a great deal of feedback from students or faculty members. A feedback link was added to the tutorial, but, so far, has not been used. We have not attempted, in any way, to gather any formal feedback even though this would likely prove quite insightful. However, we have received informal feedback from some students as well as from faculty members who have linked to the resource from their course Web sites. This anecdotal evidence has been helpful in acknowledging our efforts.

Q. What do you think is the tutorial’s strongest feature?
A. Although succinct, the tutorial is really comprehensive. We wanted to develop a useful tool that students could use to learn more about library research without feeling overwhelmed. We believe that the combination of content, examples, tips and activities succeeds in meeting this objective.

Q. What are your future plans for the tutorial?
A. The content and examples of the tutorial are reviewed annually to ensure accuracy and timeliness. In addition, we would eventually like to develop versions that target undergraduate students in business and in engineering.

We have also started investigating possibilities for developing quizzes that would be integrated within the university’s course management software, Moodle, and that would be linked in some way to Info Research 101. However, this initiative is still at an embryonic stage.

June 2006 PRIMO Site of the Month