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March 2008 Site of the Month

Te Punga, the Voyager Tutorial

Authors: Academic authoring: Liz Wilkinson (primary contributor), Jayne Carroll, Megan Sutton, Hester Mountifield, Li Wang, Jackie Coates; Learning design: Cathy Kell, Fiona Spence, Liz Wilkinson, Brent Simpson; Conceptual design: Brent Simpson; Graphic design / illustration: Jamie Nuku, Craig Housley; Web design and development: Craig Housley, Brent Simpson; Photography: Godfrey Boehnke, Brent Simpson, Craig Housley; Sound design: Richard Smith; Technical Maintenance: The University of Auckland Library's Digital Services team

Institution: University of Auckland Library and the Centre for Flexible and Distance Learning

Interview with: Liz Wilkinson, Assistant Librarian, Learning Services, The University of Auckland Library; Craig Housley, Web Master/ Web Developer, eLearning, Centre for Academic Development, University of Auckland; Hester Mountifield, Assistant University Librarian, Information Commons & Learning Services, The University of Auckland Library; Megan Sutton, Librarian, Learning Services, The University of Auckland Library

Interviewer: Marie-Elise Waltz

Description: Te Punga is a highly visual, interactive, web-based tutorial which focuses on key skills for using the University of Auckland Library's Voyager catalogue. Its student-centred design facilitates effective self-paced learning: providing relevant contexts for improving information literacy and using Net Generation delivery modes. The tutorial consists of several modules addressing important search functions and features, primarily in the form of comprehensive simulations wrapped by a graphic novel.

Three students use Voyager to find material for an assignment: the narrative has an engaging storyline, employs colloquial language and celebrates the use of technology. Instruction in the extensive simulation pages is provided by a knowledgeable guide, the Libot, and feedback follows incorrect actions. The rich content is also easily accessible from a companion section, the Enquiry Desk - covering component skills, comprehensive definitions and self-assessment in the guise of role-play. Te Punga features multiple pathways and options, catering to a variety of learning styles and maximising flexibility. The tutorial is conceptualised and constructed around a metaphor: being adrift in a vast ocean of information. Voyager itself is the vessel; Te Punga (the Anchorstone), anchors you so that you can find your bearings.

Q. Can you please comment on your choice of the graphic novel style and themes? Why did you choose this approach?
A. Two main factors influenced our choice of a graphic novel to "wrap" the tutorial. First of all, we wanted to engage the attention of the target group - young first-year undergraduates, many of whom identify with comic narratives in one form or another. In addition, the narrative structure allowed us to situate use of the Voyager catalogue and associated learning objectives within believable student contexts. The bulk of the tutorial content is comprised of Voyager simulations - simulation also being an interactive environment to which the Net Generation is accustomed. There are many other aspects of student and local culture built into the tutorial, such as high technological use, group study, Polynesian themes and motifs, and the local bus service! Te Punga (The Anchorstone) is demonstrably located in student space and place, enhancing engagement and, hopefully, learning.

Q. Visually your tutorial is really different from any I've seen before. Who did the artwork and how did he or she get their inspiration?
A. Jamie Nuku, a talented young graphic designer, was the illustrator. His designs were a product of ideas put forward from the whole team and drew upon Net Generation culture. For example, the colour palette was influenced by that commonly used in computer gaming and comics. The choice was made to overlay sketches of the characters onto a background of digitally-manipulated photographs. This simplified the illustrative process - sketches are easier and quicker to draw than full colour caricatures. Other visual aspects, such as the Libot guide (a sidebar tutorial in the guise of a robot), came from team members.

Q. This tutorial was developed with a variety of different types of people. Can you tell us about some of the roles people played in the creation of this tutorial and how the group worked together?
A. The project team was drawn from the Library, which 'owned' the tutorial, set project parameters and learning objectives, and the University's Centre for Flexible and Distance Learning, who contributed learning, web and graphic design expertise. The whole team was involved in brainstorming discussions, during which the means of achieving objectives and contexts evolved. Out of this process the narrative itself took shape. Library members wrote the textual content, which was polished in further group situations, as were graphic and design elements. There was a very high level of collaboration during development, which included usability testing and formative assessment as well as creative input.

Q. How long did the tutorial take to build?
A. All team members had other responsibilities and tasks to perform as well as creating this tutorial. There was no one working full-time on the project and there were some months when it was laid aside. From start to finish Te Punga took two and a half years, comprising hundreds of hours of staff time.

Q. Why did you load the tutorial to a self-contained website? Were there any technical issues?
A. The main reason was ease of access. There were many technical issues in getting the website to work for all levels of user and especially cross-browser. The way students used the website needed to be self-explanatory so as not to distract from the learning outcomes.

Q. What software did you use to create your tutorial?
A. HTML with a heavy use of Javascript - a scripting language native to 99% of web browsers - which facilitated the interactive aspects of the website.

Q. Have you had any feedback from the students on your tutorial? Did they find the graphic novel style to be one that attracted them?
A. Student feedback during development and since has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic! During usability testing it became very apparent that we were achieving our goals of engaging students and facilitating relevant and deeper learning. The way the narrative works, users are drawn into the story themselves by performing simulated searches - they become characters! This was graphically illustrated during testing of Chapter Two, when test subjects believed they were receiving real email notices from the Library, and reached for their own ID cards - despite one being displayed on the screen. Students have commented very favourably on the graphic sections, but it has been most rewarding to hear of new skills being acquired from their use of the simulation pages - wherein the bulk of the tutorial content resides. There was some concern that more mature students would not find the tutorial as attractive, but this has proved not to be the case, perhaps because the learning content is repeated and extended within the Enquiry Desk sections. The Enquiry Desk features text-based simulations, an explanatory series of "FACTs" and a self-assessment section based on multi-choice questions set within a job interview. We continue to receive feedback directly from the tutorial link, and also from evaluations completed after class workshops.

Q. How do you think telling a story improves the "teachability" of an online tutorial?
A. It enhances student engagement. Students "become" a character and want to proceed through the tutorial to see what their character does next. The narrative also provides contexts; plausible situations that students can identify with and therefore reasons to learn skills embedded in the tutorial. We were aiming for deep and active learning, for which engagement is crucial. The graphic novel format facilitates that process. However, the tutorial also caters to different learning styles and it was interesting to note during testing that not all students wanted to proceed through the story. Some preferred the Enquiry Desk section, where the same learning objects are provided in smaller chunks, and detached from the graphic narrative.

March 2008 PRIMO Site of the Month