Primo Site of the Month November 2007

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November 2007 Site of the Month
TIP: Tutorial for Info Power

Authors: Cheryl Goldenstein, Jamie Kearley, David Kruger, Lori Phillips, and Mary Ann Harlow, with contributions from Ryan Taylor and Matt Kelley
University of Wyoming 

Interviewee: Cheryl Goldenstein
Robert Schroeder

Tutorial Description:
The Tutorial for Info Power, or TIP, is an interactive, web-based tutorial designed to introduce students to information literacy concepts. Major revisions were made to the tutorial in 2005 and 2006.

TIP consists of five self-paced modules. Students 1) investigate a research topic for possible information sources; 2) search databases and the library catalog for information about a topic; 3) locate the information online or within the University of Wyoming Libraries; 4) evaluate the quality of information located; 5) utilize information ethically for papers, speeches, or projects. The tutorial concludes with a 33-question quiz.

Q. When did you first create your Tutorial for Info Power (TIP), and what prompted you to create it?
A. The original Tutorial for Info Power was developed in 2001 by UW librarians Jamie Kearley, David Kruger, Lori Phillips, and Christy Valentine.
There were several factors that prompted them to create this new online tutorial. First, they wanted a more interactive, visually-appealing replacement for an existing text-based tutorial used for the library component of UW's required freshman course. They also wanted to provide online instruction for distance students, who were not required to take the course with the library component. Finally, the existing text-based tutorial focused on library skills rather than information literacy concepts. Librarians and a few teaching faculty at UW were interested in incorporating the ACRL information literacy standards into the curriculum. TIP was an important step in doing this.
The current version of TIP went live in summer of 2005. It's an extensive revision of the 2001 version. The TIP team planned on revamping the tutorial every few years, and Jamie and David invited Mary Ann Harlow and me to join the team for the revision. Our goal in revising TIP was to update the overall look and feel, but we also saw some room for improvement. We wanted to make navigation more intuitive, add more interactive exercises, and do a better job of addressing some of the outcomes associated with the ACRL standards. We also saw a need for more sophisticated programming for the TIP quiz, which UW students are required to pass as part of an information literacy component. The original version didn't do much to discourage cheating.

Q. How long did this whole revision take-from the time you decided you needed a revision to the user-ready tutorial.
A. Our reference department started talking about revising TIP in mid-2003, but our TIP team didn't start meeting until November. We spent the next four months reading recent literature on teaching information literacy, looking at other tutorials, brainstorming, and planning how to move forward with the revision.

In March, 2004, we received permission from our administrative office to contract with a graphic designer. We hired Ryan in April and spent the next eight months working on TIP, though there were weeks at a time when we had to step away from it to focus on other priorities. We used the spring semester of 2005 to write the quiz, to test the tutorial with some students, and to rework parts of it. TIP was user-ready for the summer of 2005. A few classes took TIP over the summer, which gave us a chance to try out the new quiz database before a rush of students took it in the fall.

Q. It seems you set out to accomplish a lot with this revision! When I worked through TIP one of the first things I noticed was the hip and trendy feel of the graphics, examples and analogies you use. How did you achieve this "cool" feel?
A. Credit for the visual appeal of TIP goes to Ryan Taylor, the graphic designer we hired. He used blues and grays-muted colors. He purchased a set of stock photos and selected images to complement our content. His overall design is simple, which we liked.

We tried to keep text to a minimum in hopes that students would read the text that was there. I think our use of white space also gives TIP a contemporary feel.

As for as our examples and analogies, we wanted the content of TIP to be relevant to our students. So we pulled examples of assignments or questions from our interactions with students at the reference desk. And David Kruger is the "cool" member of the TIP team. He follows popular culture more than the rest of us and helps us keep our references to popular music or celebrities fresh.

Q. You say that TIP is part of a required course for freshmen, and is used in conjunction with distance students as well. How is it used in these two areas?
A. The University Studies Program, our general curriculum, was revised in 2003-after TIP was developed. The required freshman course was dropped in favor of "intellectual community" courses that introduce students to a discipline.

The university also added an information literacy requirement in 2003. Information literacy is embedded into other courses-usually at the freshman or sophomore level, and usually in intellectual community courses. Students in courses meeting the information literacy requirement must take the TIP tutorial and earn a passing score on the quiz. Having TIP in place helped build faculty buy-in for the information literacy requirement. TIP alone doesn't create information literate students, but it gives teaching faculty something to build on.

Distance students are no longer exempted from taking courses that meet the information literacy requirement. The Libraries also encourage distance students new to UW to work through TIP as an option. Since most of the information literacy courses are lower division courses, transfer students can petition to take TIP to meet the information literacy requirement before graduating. This option will go away as more upper division courses embed information literacy.

Q. Have you gotten any feedback from the students who have taken TIP or from faculty who use it in their classes? Have you done any formal assessment of TIP?
A. We ran some focus groups with students before the revision of TIP went live and the overall response was positive, but we made some changes as a result of student comments. Most of what we've heard from faculty and students has been favorable. We've had some distance students complain that parts of the tutorial aren't relevant to them: finding a call number in our library, for example.
The biggest complaint we've heard from students is that they don't get feedback on which questions they missed on the quiz. The old version of TIP gave them this information, but we found out some students were sharing the answers with their classmates. I understand their frustrations; they think they've mastered the content and want to know where they made mistakes. We're trying to build some kind of feedback into the quiz without giving them the answers.

A group of librarians wrote a successful grant proposal to assess TIP; UW offers these UW Assessment Grants annually to faculty. Awardees are selected by UW's Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning in partnership with assessment coordinators representing colleges or units under Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. A pre-test has been added to TIP for the current semester. We will be able to compare overall scores, plus see how students did before and after the tutorial on specific questions or topics related to information literacy.

Q. I really like the interactive exercises you've included in the tutorial. I think it's great to be able to practice a concept right after you've just learned about it. Was it technologically hard to add those interactive bits into the tutorial?
A. Most of the exercises use just html. If you click on one answer, you're linked to one response page; if you select another answer, you get a different response. This isn't difficult technologically-I coded most of them-but we had to map everything out to make sure links went to the right places.

We have a couple of exercises in the searching module that required more sophisticated programming because the student has to enter text into a form that is compared to a given set of answers. Our programmer did the work on these.

Q. How many people were part of the team that did this latest redesign?
A. The team was made up of four librarians with reference and instruction responsibilities. Our programmer was one of our systems staff. The last member of the team was the graphic designer we hired.

Q. How did you choose the graphic designer-was he a university employee?
A. The graphic designer who worked on the original TIP was unavailable for new TIP and recommended Ryan Taylor. Ryan was a former student who was just starting his business. We were impressed with him and his portfolio when we interviewed him.

Q. How was it working with someone from outside the library on this project?
A. I think it was helpful bringing in someone without librarian tunnel vision. Ryan is also young-a recent graduate at the time. His perspective was closer to that of our students.

Q. How did your team communicate and work together? How much interaction was face to face and how much was virtual?
A. The librarians on the team met regularly-usually weekly. We individually mapped out ideas on paper or electronically and met to share and revise them. Our offices were next to each other; we often had informal meetings to brainstorm or work out ideas. Two team members were on 9-month contracts and away for the summer, but they occasionally took time to review the progress online.

We invited the designer to our weekly meetings early in the project, but once we had the basic look and navigation for TIP, most of our contact with him was by email. Our systems department set permissions for him to upload and access content in a folder on one of the library's servers while he was under contract. Our programmer attended several of our early meetings, too. We wanted his input on the design and navigation. Most of his work on the project was toward the end, when we were developing the quiz. Our contact with him was a mix of face-to-face and email. He developed a database for recording and quickly retrieving TIP scores.

Q. What kind of technologies and programming were used for this tutorial?
A. Ryan used Adobe GoLive's html editor to create TIP, and he recommended that we use GoLive to edit or add pages. Ryan utilized cascading style sheets so we could make global changes to fonts or colors if needed. We used Photoshop to edit images. TIP also incorporates some Macromedia Flash files, some javascript, and some Cold Fusion programming. TIP is hosted on one of the library's servers.

Q. I've noticed a few other universities are currently using tip at their web sites. Do you know how many libraries have used TIP under the Open Publication License?
A. We know of five academic libraries who have adapted at least parts of TIP under the OPL. Other librarians from university, community college, and K-12 settings have requested permission to download TIP, but we don't know that they've actually followed through with adapting and using it.

Q. What were the biggest challenges you encountered doing this current revision of TIP?
A. Striking a balance between covering the ACRL standards and keeping the tutorial short enough to complete in less than an hour was a challenge. Even on a page to page basis, we had to overcome our tendency to write lengthy explanations. We know that users don't interact with web pages that way. They skim-look for important points. Our strategy of substituting relevant visuals and interactive exercises for text wasn't always easy.

Time and personnel were the other big challenges. We had anticipated getting the bulk of the revision done during the spring and summer of 2004-even with two team members on 9-month contracts and gone for the summer. That was too ambitious of a time frame! Then our team leader was deployed with the Army reserve for a year, starting in the summer of 2004. We weren't under pressure to get the revision up since we already had a tutorial in place, but we weren't able to develop all the content before our designer's contract ended.

Q. Did you have any pleasant surprises during this revision of TIP?
A. Hmmm. Interesting question.
We were pleasantly surprised by the graphic designer's approach to TIP. We had given Ryan a few parameters, but we basically told him we wanted to give the old TIP an updated look. The old TIP used cartoon-like characters and bright colors-lots of red and lime green. If someone had suggested that we use photographs and lots of gray in TIP, we probably would have ignored them. His design was so starkly different from what we expected, but we really liked it. And the design did drive the content to an extent.

Q. Is there anything you'd like to add about your tutorial that you think our readers would like to know?
A. We tried to create a tutorial that would meet our users' needs and technology limitations. We have distance students on slow connections, so we've kept file sizes for pages to a minimum. Focus groups for the first TIP told us they didn't like lengthy Flash animations or video clips that required passive watching, so we eliminated or shortened them for the revision. Computers in our reference area didn't have sound cards while we were working on the revision, so we don't use sound.

Even as "simple" as TIP is, it took a lot of time to create. TIP fits our university's need for a single tutorial and quiz to introduce information literacy concepts. This model works for us, and some other libraries have adapted TIP under our open publication license. For a library wanting to utilize online tutorials, creating mini-tutorials on specific information literacy concepts like avoiding plagiarism may be a better option. There are also great tutorials out there that can be modified for local use. I would look closely at these options before investing time and energy starting from scratch on a comprehensive tutorial.
That being said, I'm already looking forward to working on the next revision of TIP!

November 2007 PRIMO Site of the Month