primo - ala acrl is

May 2008 Site of the Month


Authors: Karen DeSantis, Instructional Services Librarian and Carlos Serrano, Library Technology Specialist
Institution: Pace University

Interview with: Karen DeSantis, Instructional Services Librarian and Carlos Serrano, Library Technology Specialist

Interviewer: Anne Driscoll

Tutorial Description: The goal of ApolloRN is to help students develop information literacy and research skills which may be used by Pace students before and even after graduation. Whatever ones research need, he/she needs to know what information resources are available, how to access or obtain information, and how to evaluate the information. After completing this tutorial, one should be able to:

  • Analyze a research project and determine what types of information are needed
  • Identify resources and explain the differences between different types of information, such as primary sources and secondary sources
  • Search a variety of information resources using techniques such as Boolean logic and subject heading searches
  • Locate materials using a variety of systems and tools, including the library catalog, library research databases, and interlibrary loan.
  • Evaluate information in terms of quality and appropriateness
  • Cite information using appropriate guidelines, and recognize and avoid plagiarism
  • Locate additional help from the Library

Q. How long did it take you to construct the tutorial? Please describe the development process. What made you decide on this format?

Carlos: From the programming side, the content management backend [ApolloCMS 3] itself took over five months of research, prototyping and refining to complete. The system was designed to allow a tutorial to be built page by page, so chapters are broken up into easily digestible chunks. The design goal was to have the layout feel open and not confining. So no matter what text and/or images were displayed, they’d remain easy to read and understand.

Karen: This is our third version of our tutorial. The first was all static pages and the second brought in the web design. This third version is based on the backend design as well as all the things we found worked and didn’t work from the first two. Nursing specific content was created during the summer months and integrated into the content of a more generic tutorial that took about a year to create, edit and finalize.

Q. What software/programs were used to build it?

Karen: ApolloCMS 3 is our custom built content management system powered by Cold Fusion MX; utilizing HTML, CSS and a lot of advanced Javascript. ‘ApolloRN’ is a module created with ApolloCMS 3.

Q. How have you publicized the tutorial?

Karen: The tutorial was publicized internally using webpage access, announcements to faculty and on the library homepage, and professors encouraging students to complete the tutorial as an evaluation project. We asked students if they would recommend the tutorial to other students within the same program as well.

Q. Are there any plans to create tutorials like this for other programs?

Carlos: ApolloCMS 3 is designed to easily allow modular creation of new tutorials for any given subject. We plan on porting over an older version of our original Apollo tutorial, which covers general literacy and library research, over to the new content system in the future. We’ve also been approached by various departments, such as literature, to create modules for them as well.

Q. If you were to begin creating this tutorial again, would you change anything about it or the way it was developed?

Carlos: From a technical standpoint, the major flaw with the last version of ApolloRN was a poorly designed database design that outgrew itself over time. This was addressed in the current version and was the main reason for building the current modular version. Given time, and further feedback, refinements are always possible.

Q. Were there any problems or technical difficulties during the creation of “ApolloRN” that you did not expect, and if so, how did you solve them?

Carlos: One of the biggest issues to tackle was the cross-browser support. We needed to make sure that the user experience was exactly the same no matter what browser/platform the user was using. The front-end is built using pure CSS layouts, which allowed for greater control of the design itself. On the Admin side, the main concern was ease of use. The content management tools needed to be intuitive enough as to not require any extensive training, while being robust enough to allow some creative flexibility to anyone building a tutorial.

Another challenge tackled was user interactivity, as well as the storage of individual user data. Many of the tutorials which inspired the original version of Apollo were very static. One would just read through it, answer some questions rhetorically and move on. The main goal for our tutorials was to allow a student to review the material, quiz themselves on it at their leisure and be able to come back and retake the quizzes if they needed to. Each chapter within the tutorial has a final quiz as well, which is scored and can be submitted to any participating professor.

Q. Is there any advice or recommendations that you would make to someone interested in creating a similar tutorial?

Carlos: Work with your team closely and keep your focus on what the end goal is. Do your research and prototyping!

Q. Did you conduct usability testing, if so what was the result?

Carlos: For the Front-End, the interface is pretty simple. It’s laid out very basically and care was taken not to clutter content. Many elements, such as the layout as well as the use of color, contrast and white space were borrowed and refined from the previous version of ApolloRN. We did have a handful of staff members help test some of the features, just to make sure we were on track. But more time was spent actually refining the usability of the backend.

Q. The tutorial is listed as targeting Graduate and Undergraduate nursing students, is the tutorial required of all nursing students? If not, how do they learn about it?

Karen: Portions or all of the ApolloRN tutorial are required by professors in four different nursing courses: NUR 160, NUR 277, NUR 468, and NUR 655. The undergraduate classes use it to prepare the students for research and the graduate courses use it as a review or as a means for transfer students to have the same background as those students who have completed their undergraduate work at Pace. NUR 655 has also used the tutorial as an evaluative exercise in which they give suggestions for further enhancements or additions. Three of the four courses are required for the different degrees that are available through our nursing school so all traditional students within these programs will be introduced to the tutorial.

Q. Do you have any plans to change or update the format of the tutorial in the future?

Karen: Not at this time. Students would like to have the ability to print out some of the sections of ApolloRN so they can refer to the information off line. We need to see how that can be achieved in the most economical way as printing out each page individually is not efficient.

We are also using a feature to review responses to the final quizzes. This will allow us to see which questions are answered correctly and incorrectly most often. Using this data, we are planning to see if information within the tutorial needs to be clarified or a particular topic needs to be expanded with more explanation.

Q. Are statistics kept on students who complete the tutorial? How many have taken it?

Carlos: Yes, users are required to create an account. Their quiz data is stored and there are Admin tools to view and manage user accounts. At any given time, we can see how many accounts have been created, and when. There is also a tool that dumps the user data to an MS Excel compatible CSV file so, if interested, Professors can review who has completed each unit’s final quiz.

Karen: A recent data dump resulted in a tally of 106 of the 294 accounts that have been created since September 2007, which have completed at least one final quiz within the tutorial. As the Spring semester is not over, that number will increase daily until May.

Q. You have a feedback form in the last module. What type of feedback have you received from students?

Karen: We have received mostly positive feedback from our students. They like that the units follow each other in a logical fashion. They have asked for an efficient means for printing out parts of the tutorial and shortening some of the units. Not surprisingly we get several students who say the tutorial is too long but there are also a number of students who want the information to go more in depth.

The most important thing they learned from the tutorial include learning about the Nursing-specific databases available through the library, learning how to use Boolean operators to create search statements, and how to narrow their search results by searching in specific areas of a database record.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add or point out about this tutorial?

Carlos: Creating an application such as this is quite the learning experience. I am really proud of what this project has progressed to and am very glad to hear that so many enjoy using it and appreciate the work that has been put into it.

May 2008 PRIMO Site of the Month