March 2009 Site of the Month
iResearch: Information Skills for Life
Authors: Su Hanfling (Project Champion, Director, Library Services), Southnary Tan (Project Coordinator), and others. See tutorial credits page for the full list: http://elearning.library.usyd.edu.au/credits.php
Institution: University of Sydney
Interview with: Southnary Tan
Interviewer: Carol Spector
Tutorial description: iResearch: Information Skills for Life is a collection of brief, inventive videos and interactive elements designed to help students develop their information literacy skills. Modules cover topics such as how to cite properly, how to search smarter, academic integrity, understanding call numbers, and deciphering citations on a reading list. Entertaining online games accompany most of the modules as a mechanism for reinforcing students' comprehension of the material.
Q: What was your project timeline? When did you start this project and how long did it take?
A: The initial project timeline was 18 months, beginning in July 2007 and it has now been extended through 2009 due to a grant extension. Five learning objects in the form of independent modules and four related games and activities have been developed. Five new learning objects will be released in Apr/May this year and we will begin development of new resources in May.
Q: iResearch was developed by a large group of people with a wide range of expertise. Are all the people that worked on iResearch members of the library staff, or did you hire outside help?
A: The majority of team members are library staff who are involved in all stages of development. We are fortunate to have a graphic designer and videographer on staff. The project involves many stages of development, from initial brainstorming for ideas/topics, through to content development and production, and product evaluation. Casual staff and consultants have been contracted at different stages of the process as required. These include:
- Flash developers (for online games and activities) - highly skilled students with a genuine interest and enthusiasm in the iResearch project.
- Instructional designers from a private e-learning company who presented a 1 day workshop before the commencement of each stage of development and provided consultation during the content development phase.
Q: Can you tell us about how the group worked together? Were there some people that worked on all the modules to establish some consistency?
A: After the topics were shortlisted for development, project team members assigned themselves to work on the learning object that they were interested in. The team members then worked within their small teams to develop the content, but also shared the work-in-progress regularly with the larger project team and the management team who ensured standards were met.
To enable iResearch products to be successful, it was critical that each learning object was developed within a collaborative environment. Mechanisms were set up from the onset of the project to allow sharing of information and ideas within the larger group, as well as for ongoing peer-review and critiquing. This included the use of a project wiki for the initial stages of development (shortlisting topics, articulating learning outcomes and brainstorming ideas for content/scenarios), making wireframes accessible on a shared network drive, and regular weekly/fortnightly project team meetings for each team to present their ideas for feedback and comments.
Q: In addition to a Project Coordinator, iResearch also has a "Project Champion." Can you tell us about that role?
A: The Project Champion, Su Hanfling, one of the Library Directors, was pivotal for making iResearch possible. Su was successful in securing a University of Sydney grant to support the project.
Her vision was for the development of engaging information skills resources, developed using evidenced-based principles, for effective learning and teaching. She wanted to develop online resources that encouraged deep learning and appealed to different learning styles, including learners from the Web generation. The resources would be made available at point-of-need. Su also believes strongly that people who have fun while they are learning, learn more effectively.
Her leadership, forward-thinking approach, support and encouragement for innovation and breaking traditional boundaries, help us to take risks and be creative.
Q: The design quality of iResearch is exceptionally high. Is the graphic designer a library staff member? How significant to the development of iResearch was the role of the graphic designer?
A: The work of the Project Developer has been crucial to the success of the iResearch project. We are fortunate to have an extremely talented graphic designer within the Library, Rebecca Goldsworthy. She has brought to life the vision of the content developers who are Faculty Liaison Librarians.
Many current students are visual learners, with constant exposure to high quality interactive websites and multimedia resources. Being in tune with, and informed by, this generation, Rebecca was able to develop designs which were well-received and appealed to students. She managed all aspects of the design, including scene development, animations, and illustrations, then pulled it all together using Adobe Captivate.
Q: Can you describe the technologies used to create the modules? What level of experience did the team members have with these technologies?
A: We mainly use Adobe products for the production of the learning objects, primarily:
- Adobe Captivate (for creating flash modules which can include branched scenarios and simulations).
- Adobe Illustrator (for illustrations and graphics)
- Adobe Photoshop (for photo editing)
- Adobe Premiere (for video editing)
- Adobe Flash (for animations and games/activities)
- Php/MySQL technology for the back-end to database-driven games (such as 'Bookshoot' and 'Find that cheese!' which requires records of 'Top Players')
- Microsoft Visio (for drawing wireframes)
- Adobe Captivate (staff had the option of using this to 'put together' their learning objects, or have the project developer do it for them)
- Adobe Photoshop (some library staff volunteered to be photo editors)
- Adobe Premiere (some library staff volunteered to assist with video editing)
- Microsoft Visio (most team members used Visio to draw their wireframes)
Q: The games that accompany the modules (e.g., Find that Cheese and Bookshoot) are terrific. Did you design the games in-house? What has been the student response?
A: Yes, the games were designed completely in-house. The concepts and content were devised by our Faculty Liaison Librarians; visual design was realized by the Project Developer and the programming was completed by our student Flash Developers. Student responses have been very positive. We marketed the games initially via a competition, with a $30 bookshop voucher for the Top Player. Over 1,000 scores were registered within 4 weeks. Many more played the games but scores were only recorded for instances where players completed the tasks correctly. The games have also been used successfully in classes where students have appeared to be engaged and had successful learning outcomes.
Q: Are you able to use the games and interactive exercises as assessment tools in addition to their use as teaching tools?
A: We have considered using the games and activities as assessment tools, however, we would need support from academic staff and more back-end programming would be required for accurate tracking of students' scores.
Q: iResearch includes so many creative elements, such as the mouse running over the citation and the casino approach to Boolean logic. Was there one creative mastermind, or was it more of a team approach?
A: All of the members of the team enjoyed the development of the concepts and supported each other to innovate.
Q: The "Search Smarter, Search Faster" module is really funny -- the pantomiming dinosaurs are a stroke of genius. Do you have advice for how to incorporate humor into online modules?
A: We were very fortunate to have highly creative and talented librarians who were also in tune with students' sense of humor and style. Having said that, some basic ingredients follow:
- Solid characterization/concept development - the characters and tone in each learning object were consistent throughout. We were careful not to throw in a line that may be funny, but does not flow with the rest of the concept.
- Avoid trying too hard. We road tested the concept with the students and took their ideas on board to make sure we weren't out of sync.
- Get the context right. Use typical scenarios and stories that will be recognizable to many students (e.g. up late at night trying to finish an assignment). We used student input to check for authenticity of concept and dialogue.
- Keep it concise - don't dwell too long on a scene, no matter how funny it may be to the creators!
- Look for examples - investigate other resources aimed at a your targeted group that are not necessarily library-related to provide inspiration.
- Know your audience - e.g. are they undergraduate or postgraduate students, do they have English as a second language, what challenges are they facing in their studies etc.?
Q: How is iResearch used on your campus? Is it integrated into library orientations or other classroom instruction?
A: iResearch resources can be accessed independently by students and are also integrated into information literacy classes. The resources have been used in classroom settings in many Faculties including Law; Economics and Business; Education and Social Work; Science; Architecture, Design and Planning; Pharmacy; Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and Veterinary Science.
Q: Have there been any accessibility issues with the streaming video?
A: To date, there have been three reports from users about not being able to access the streaming videos. This related mainly to the 'Search Smarter, Search Faster' learning object. We resolved this by uploading a smaller version and also making it available on youtube.com.
We have not had any other accessibility issues reported with the streaming videos. We have, however, considered the needs of students with a disability who might have specific access requirements. We have uploaded alternate printable versions to help students gain access to the information if they can't, for any reason, view/access/use the flash versions.
Q: What has been your sense of how iResearch has been received by students and faculty? Do you feel that iResearch is accomplishing its objectives?
A: Evidence from statistics and user feedback indicates that iResearch is currently meeting the needs of many students and is providing engaging online information literacy resources that are regularly being accessed. We are just about to start a cycle of formal evaluation to ensure iResearch is meeting its objectives.
Since the launch at the end of March 2008, feedback from students and staff has been largely very positive. We have received over 300 responses from the online feedback forms, and web usage statistics have recorded over 55,000 accesses for the five learning objects and four related games/activities. The usage statistics indicate that many users are coming to the site via web search engines, with 'how to reference' being the most common search.
Q: The iResearch credits indicate that University of Sydney students participated as actors in making the modules. Did students have any additional roles in developing iResearch?
A: Yes, as mentioned earlier, students were involved in reviewing and critiquing the wireframes as well as the finished products. We also have students on the team working as voice-over artists, flash developers and web developers. It was great to see students so enthusiastic about iResearch, and taking ownership of the tasks assigned to them. It has added immeasurably to the outcome of the project.
Q: The material in iResearch is copyrighted by the University of Sydney Library. Did you consider a creative commons license?
A: We are currently considering a creative commons license for iResearch. We would be delighted to hear from any interested institutions and organizations who wish to collaborate. We are happy to share our experiences and knowledge with others.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you and your team faced in developing iResearch?
A: Some of the major challenges faced by the iResearch team have been:
- Time and resource constraints - team members have many other demands and commitments in their primary roles and have had to juggle iResearch tasks/meetings with other priorities.
- Developing concise content that will take a maximum of 5-10 minutes for students to complete. This has involved lots of editing and reduction of original content - naturally, you start out by thinking that everything is important for students!
- Being open to the peer-review process and input from students and being willing to re-write and re-draft content numerous times over a period of 3-4 months, before the production phase.
- Being creative and innovative in 1-2 hour timeslots, while working on other non-iResearch tasks.
Q: Do you have any further points or comments about iResearch that you would like to share with our readers?
A: I believe that the success of projects like iResearch is highly dependent on team work and collaboration, as well as the talents and creative minds of the individual members. We were very fortunate to have staff and students who were enthusiastic and passionate about iResearch. The team was open to new ideas, fostering innovation, and letting go of tradition.
March 2009 PRIMO Site of the Month