June 2007 Site of the Month Research 101


Author: John W. Holmes (see also http://www.lib.washington.edu/uwill/research101/acknowledgements.html) Institution: Odegaard Undergraduate Library, University of Washington

Interview with: John W. Holmes
Interviewer: Marie-Elise Waltz

Description: Research 101 is designed as a basic library tutorial for use in any academic institution, although the examples used relate to the University of Washington Libraries collection. The tutorial has six sections: The Basics, Info Cycles, Topics, Searching, Finding, and Evaluating. It is available for download on the University of Washington website, and comes with information and documentation for librarians and teachers interested in using the modules in their own institutions. So far, 123 institutions have downloaded this tutorial. The software, which includes many Flash and Shockwave animations, can run on any browser and is easy to install. Each section ends with a quiz, which can be used to test one’s knowledge. The tutorial has been recognized by a variety of publications, including Choice and School Library Journal.

Q. How long did it take you to construct your tutorial?
A. The bulk of the original content development was done in 1997-98 to synchronize with the roll-out of our new UW Libraries website in October 1998. When I attended the inaugural ACRL Information Literacy Immersion Program in Plattsburgh, NY in the summer of 1999, I developed a plan to make extensive use of our new computer lab/reference department as a structured extension of the course classroom, both physically and intellectually. The original plan did not fly in our environment, so I wrote a funding proposal that autumn to convert this original tutorial (called “Information-Based Research Tutorial” or something equally lacking in imagination) to a database of digital learning objects. The idea was to push these objects out to faculty desktops and allow them to customize the objects to support their course learning objectives. This proposal was funded by the UW and between 2000 and 2004 we “rebuilt” the original tutorial into Research 101. My team was comprised of, besides myself, two graduate staff assistants, later joined by an undergraduate student assistant.

Q. Would you say your tutorial is done or do you continue to modify it?
A. It is essentially done. This is partly because the structure and content encompasses the essential tasks associated with information research and partly because formal funding for maintenance and refinement has been discontinued. Informally, I intend to improve the section on “Evaluating” because I think it could stand to be much better. We have acquired some new funds for developing multimedia learning objects; but I would not add these to what is currently Research 101. I think the linear tutorial format on a library’s website is a thing of the past. YouTube, Facebook, MySpace.com – these are the places where students are working and playing and where their chances of finding our stuff and using it are somewhat greater. Making the tutorials shorter, tighter, focused on a single objective at point-of-need provides more flexible delivery and application options.

Q. Your tutorial offers a lot of interactivity for the users. Was this difficult to build into the tutorial? What were some of the software tools and techniques you found helped the most in building interactivity?
A. It is always, I think, difficult to build interactivity into something like this. Activities that establish understanding, or even mastery, should come at key points in a sequence, so you want to place them appropriately. For a starter kit like this, it helps that you can make activities pretty entertaining because you know most users are not coming back to it often. It is not meant to build mastery over time. That needs to come in course contexts or by engaging in self-directed inquiry, practicing these tasks recursively in a variety of situations. One of the visions I had for the database of digital learning objects that I had hoped this would become included instructors plugging in their own set of activities related to their course outcomes, keeping the material fresh and giving it broader application.

The interactive objects in Research 101 were largely developed by my graduate student assistants whom I credit on the acknowledgement page. They are Javascripts (in the case of the little quizzes at the end of each unit) and Macromedia Flash files (for the larger, splashier scenes like the refrigerator magnet search query design task, the primary-source-in-the-backpack task, and the generic library map in the “Finding” unit). These items all had to be storyboarded, the content cleared for any diversity issues, and then tested for usability by students.

Q. How do you publicize your tutorial in the UW community? How about in the outside community?
A. Research 101 is seldom used at the University of Washington. There is an instruction course in the Information School here that requires students to access it and evaluate it as a model of its type. But the set of competencies addressed by the tutorial are considered by many UW faculty as largely “remedial.”

This has spurred me to market the tutorial to the K-12 and community college world. I placed it under a Creative Commons license a few years back, zipped up the whole thing in a modest archive, and made it available to the world for download. I do not support it actively, short of giving some advice and providing any missing pieces that users identify for me. I do a fair amount of outreach and consulting work with public, school, and community/technical college librarians in this region and I am on the faculty of the ACRL Information Literacy Immersion Program, which is often attended by librarians whose institutions have not budgeted for such a tutorial and many have taken advantage of Research 101 as a free starter kit.

So far, some 123 institutions, school systems, or individuals have downloaded the tutorial. They include, geographically and culturally, Seattle Public Schools, Wind River Tribal College in Ethete, Wyoming, the University of Southern Queensland in Sydney, Australia, Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi India, the Healthcare Library at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, London, the League of Women Voters (somewhere), Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, and other interested stakeholders from points north, south, east, and west.

Q. What is a typical student user doing with your tutorial?
A. As I say, most of its users are K-12 students. They seem to be using it as part of a class activity and using it in pretty much the straightforward way I had imagined. I made a set of worksheets available to them in MS Word and Adobe .pdf formats (these same worksheets are available as e-mail forms in Research 101) and their instructors seem to be asking them to use these to structure some research assignments. Since I do not communicate directly with these people, I am sorry I cannot report on their use.

Q. How much time do you normally expect a student to work on your tutorials?
A. I think that most students use about an hour. The original plan was for it to take about as long as a course period – for us, 50 minutes. But, since most students do not take the whole tutorial (at least at a single sitting) I think it is safe to say that the actual time spent on task is considerably shorter.

Q. Has your tutorial been used in any innovative or unusual ways that you did not expect?
A. Not that I know of. I made the interactive files available separately, so I know that some folks have taken those and plugged them into their own materials. I know that the Information School here uses it to stimulate exploration and discussion of online learning, which I had not exactly anticipated, but which does not surprise me.

Q. If you had to start building a tutorial from scratch, knowing what you know now, how would your approach change?
A. Any tutorial of this type should, in my opinion, be a collaborative effort between librarians and faculty. This creates a natural constituency that will allow the tool to be used in meaningful contexts and be comprised of content that functions appropriately within existing curricula. Otherwise, the tutorial becomes a “field trip to the library,” something no one really wants, and something that takes the significance away from both the experience and the content. It also permits a more meaningful assessment of student learning. Since, as librarians, we still so seldom see the “products” of our work as instructors, the relationship with teaching faculty moves us closer to a realistic evaluation of our impact on their students.

Also, like many librarians, I want to pack as much of what I know into the relatively few opportunities given me to teach students about doing research. Research 101 is packed and constitutes what amounts to a mini-course. Most students and faculty want a quick-and-dirty help guide at point-of-need and I think this type of resource is seeing more use in today’s networked environment. Most Web 2.0 materials I am seeing are consistent with this approach.

Q. You have created an interesting site map of your tutorial. It works as a type of index into your tutorial and in many ways covers the librarian's terminology for what you are teaching. Why did you create it, and what do you think users do with it?
A. I imagined people wanting to access specific pages or items and I had hoped that this would make it easier to find them. The formal introduction of the terminology was kind of unplanned and might actually work against the underlying purpose of demystifying the information world. This is something I would probably rethink if I were to start over – perhaps framing the site map in terms of goals or tasks, from a learner’s perspective.

Q. Is there anything you'd like to add about your tutorial that you think our readers might like to know?
A. I guess that, of all the things I learned while doing this, one of the most important is the importance of the early, conceptual phase of a project like this. I wanted to involve a fairly large and diverse group of colleagues and others in the process and tried to set up a situation where they would feel comfortable helping me imagine what this might be. But people are understandably busy and sometimes would prefer to just be assigned a specific task rather than deal with the ambiguity we faced. I regret that we did not throw out all of our preconceptions and really discuss the full range of possibilities. We let the need for deliverables shortchange our imaginations a bit. My fault, but a great lesson.