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May 2006 Site of the Month

PORT: Psychology Online Research Tutorial

Authors: Lyn Thaxton, Tammy Sugarman, Doug Goans, Jackey Hong, Elizabeth Winter
Institution: Georgia State University

Interviewer: Britt Fagerheim

The Psychology Online Research Tutorial (PORT) is comprised of a series of short modules to teach undergraduates the basics of doing research in psychology. The modules are arranged approximately in order of the steps students need to take to select a research topic, search for scholarly journal articles in PsycINFO, and locate the articles. It is recommended that the modules be viewed in the order shown; however, each module is discrete and can be viewed independently. There is a short quiz at the end of each module to test students' understanding of the concepts presented.

Q. What inspired you to create the project?
A. A one-hour library instruction session was regularly offered for the required research methods class for undergraduate psychology majors. Although students expressed a need for more in-depth instruction, the Psychology Department Head was reluctant to authorize more than one session. The Behavioral Sciences Liaison suggested the development of an interactive tutorial as an alternative, a compromise supported by the Psychology Department.

Q. With five authors, how did the collaboration work? Did you divide up the tasks? Any advice for a large group of people working to develop a tutorial?
A. Most of the tutorial modules were completed by Lyn Thaxton, Tammy Sugarman, and Doug Goans. They were parceled out somewhat arbitrarily. Lyn wrote most of the scripts, though Tammy wrote much of the script for the scholarly vs. popular journal module. Doug, who has some design experience based on his work as library webmaster, was responsible for the PORT graphics, based on a concept developed by Tammy. Jackey Hong, the library programmer, adapted the brainstorming module from the Texas Information Literacy Tutorial (TILT). Elizabeth Winter, the electronic serials librarian, was working on Captivate modules on off-campus access and passwords and adapted these for PORT. My major advice to others would be to divide tasks equitably, set deadlines, and set a schedule for regular follow-up with the entire group. Also, it is important to come up with guidelines about font, the timing of screen shots or instructional elements and when they appear and disappear, navigational conventions, and consistency in general to ensure usability and ease of learning the tutorial conventions.

Q. The website states that a portion of the tutorial was adapted from TILT. Can you talk about this decision? Were the technologies used to create the tutorial based on TILT?
A. We felt that the TILT module on brainstorming a research topic was better suited to our tutorial than modules that we could readily develop with the Captivate software we were using. The adaptation of the TILT module required some JavaScript programming.

Q. The tutorial is a combination of general research skills and skills specific to PsycInfo. How did you decide on the learning objectives? How difficult was it for the team to settle on what to include and what to exclude?
A. The learning objectives were devised through interaction with the psychology faculty member who oversees all sections of undergraduate research classes. There was considerable discussion about what to include and exclude, and in some instances we deferred to the faculty member. For instance, we were originally planning on including information about searching our online catalog for books and other material, but the psychology faculty member considers this relatively unimportant for this class. We also considered including other modules, including one on plagiarism and one on the use of Google Scholar, but decided to postpone their development until a more advanced tutorial was implemented.

Q. What support did you receive from your library administration or the university for developing the tutorial?
A. The library purchased the Captivate software and manuals for our use.

Q. What were some of the challenges (technological or other) that you encountered?
A. The Captivate software is fairly easy to use but not easy to use well. It does not provide advanced features that facilitate the creation of large and/or multifaceted projects. In particular, the quiz function seems inflexible and difficult to use. Thus, it took us much more time to develop and refine the modules than we expected. Since we did not have release time for the project, we had to schedule time around our numerous ongoing job responsibilities. In the midst of our initial tutorial development, the Psychology Department faculty member with a background in instructional design left, as did the library’s programmer and a librarian actively involved with the tutorial. Also, psychology faculty who were asked for specific feedback often did not respond in a timely fashion. An ongoing challenge is the updating of modules when resources covered (such as the EBSCO interface and SFX screens) change format. Unless someone is assigned to update the modules regularly, a re-learning of the process must occur every time. Finally, a major challenge involves convincing instructors in the research methods classes to administer the tutorial and assessment in a consistent way.

Q. Is this tutorial required for any of your students or tied to any specific psychology classes? If not, how has your library been promoting its use?
A. It has been integrated into Psychology 3030, the required undergraduate research class. There are approximately six sessions of this course offered each semester. In the fall 2005 and spring 2006 semesters, around 200 students took the tutorial. A 25-item assessment instrument was developed. Pretest-posttest results (with 101 students, spring semester) indicate significant differences in scores after students took the tutorial.

Q. How has the tutorial affected your library's instructional services?
A. The head of instruction has now appointed an ad hoc tutorial committee to develop a more basic tutorial. Some of the modules from PORT will be adapted and several more will be developed to cover the fundamentals of undergraduate research.

Q. What feedback have you received from students? From faculty?
A. The feedback from students and faculty has been extremely positive. The students have made minor suggestions for change (such as altering the timing within a slide) but have indicated for the most part that the tutorial has taught them most of what they need to know to search PsycINFO effectively. Psychology faculty members were queried about the rough draft version via a brief Zoomerang survey. Several excellent suggestions were made, especially ideas to increase ease of navigation, and were incorporated into the final version.

Q. The University of Florida Libraries is using a version of the tutorial. Did you work with the University of Florida Libraries as they adapted the tutorial? Have you advertised the tutorial to other libraries?
A. The tutorial has been advertised primarily through the EBSS listserv, where a librarian from the University of Florida asked if she could adapt PORT for their library. Apparently, only two of the modules have been modified to reflect specific characteristics of that library. We were not involved in the adaptation.

Q. In the development of the tutorial, did you learn any lessons that you would pass on to other tutorial designers?
A. It is important to approach this kind of project with a view to the library’s overall service mission and commitment to instructional services. I don’t recommend trying to develop a tutorial like this without having someone with a strong background in instructional design as part of your team. I would also be more aggressive about seeking release time and external funding than we were. This was a very labor-intensive project. A systematic comparison of tutorial software should be made before purchase, given the challenges we had in adapting the Captivate software to our purposes. A librarian, ideally with a strong technology background, should be assigned the responsibility of updating the tutorial as needed.

May 2006 PRIMO Site of the Month