April 2010 Site of the Month

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April 2010 Site of the Month
WIT: Web-based Interactive Tutorial
Interviewee: Delores Carlito
Institution: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Interviewer: Duffy Tweedy

Tutorial Description:  Information literacy is an ongoing and multifaceted skill, so Sterne Library’s Web-based Interactive Tutorial, or WIT, is one way to deliver instruction. WIT is made up of five sections: “How to Research,” “Navigating Sterne Library's Web Page and Locating Books,” “Where's Waldo, Carmen Sandiego, and the Article I Need?,” “Weaving through the Web,” and “Help! I Need Somebody!.” “How to Research” guides students in choosing and focusing topics for research; “Navigating Sterne Library's Web Page and Locating Books” helps students learn how to locate general information about the Mervyn H. Sterne Library and materials in Sterne Library's OPAC; “Where's Waldo, Carmen Sandiego, and the Article I Need?” assists students in learning how to identify magazine, journal, and newspaper articles on a chosen topic using indexes and databases; “Weaving through the Web” guides students in finding, evaluating, and using Internet resources; and “Help! I Need Somebody!” leads students to places for help with research, citing, and the library. Students can take the entire tutorial at once, or they can take only the sections in which they feel they need help. Each section ends with a short quiz, and the entire tutorial has a cumulative quiz with the ability to e-mail the results to a professor. Throughout the interactive tutorial, students input search terms and interact with the catalog, databases, and the Internet.

Q: What was the original motivation for creating the Web-based Interactive Tutorial (WIT), and what purpose does it serve?
A: We originally thought of creating an online tutorial for several reasons.  The most obvious was for distance-learning students.  We wanted students who did not take a class on campus to have an introduction to the library.  We also wanted another way to reinforce information literacy for those who have and have not attended an in-person instructional session.  The Texas Information Literacy Tutorial (TILT) gave us a basis on which to build our own tutorial.

Q: This is very large, complicated site with five distinct sections and over 70 individual pages. How did you settle on these particular five aspects of research?
A: We wanted the tutorial to reinforce basic research skills, and these are primarily covered in the University’s freshman composition classes, English 101 and 102.  Our Reference Librarian for Arts and Humanities, Heather Martin, had developed instructional objectives based on the composition curriculum.  We used those objectives as a basis for WIT.  The original WIT developed in 2003 had six sections, and with the 2009 update, I narrowed it to five.  They contain the same objectives but are arranged more succinctly and correspond to ACRL’s five information literacy outcomes.

Q: What was your project timeline? Who was on your team, and what are their areas of expertise?
A: The original idea for WIT was proposed in May of 2003.  We put together a committee and divided the text between three people:  Heather Martin, Reference Librarian for Arts and Humanities; Irina Stanishevskaya, who is currently a cataloger but at the time was a Library Associate in Reference and attending graduate school for her MLIS; and me.  We created the text and I worked with Linda Burrow, our Information Systems Specialist, on the coding and how it would work. Meg Walburn-Bashinsky, our Graphic Artist at the time, worked on images and making the page conform to the look of our Web page.  It was first launched in August, 2003.  It was updated in 2007 and underwent a major renovation in 2009. 

I updated the text for the 2009 update.  The 2009 changes were made to the organization, text, and “feel” of the page.  It was reviewed by Heather Martin and Jeff Graveline, our Reference Librarian for Business and Government Documents.  Linda Burrow again did the coding.  Kelly Schiff, our Library Associate for digitization, created all the new images.

Q: What technology and skills were necessary to create and maintain WIT?  Why did you choose this technology over others?
A: Linda Burrow said that we primarily used JavaScript, HTML, Photoshop, and Snagit.  We used these because they were available and they did the job.  For the update, we also used FireShot for screen images.

Q: Did you conduct usability testing, and if so, what was the result?
A: We did not conduct formal usability testing.  We asked people in the library to test it, and we relied on feedback from users.  We wanted it to be released in the Fall, so we didn’t have a lot of time to test it.

Q: Who is the target audience of this tutorial and how have they been using it?
A: The target audience is really all faculty, staff, and students who use the Mervyn H. Sterne Library.  Professors can use it to augment instruction.  In the Fall of 2009, all students in First Year Experience (FYE) courses were required to take it as an introduction to the library and researching.

Q: How have you publicized this tutorial?
A: How don’t we publicize it?  We use a multi-faceted marketing approach, so we send out information about our services through several formats.  We e-mailed faculty when it came out, and each semester the subject specialists e-mail their faculty to remind them of our instruction and online services.  We feature WIT on our Web site and point to it in several of our research guides and informational pages.  The subject specialists go to their faculty’s meetings at the beginning of the school year and remind them of our services, of which WIT is one.  Finally, I attend the First Year Experience workshops to tell the faculty and other support services about WIT and its objectives.

Q: Are you able to gather statistics on usage of this tutorial?  Can you gather statistics on usage for individual sections?
A: Yes, we do collect statistics on WIT’s usage.  At the end of each semester, Linda Burrow sends me statistics on WIT’s usage.  She stated that we can count visits to each page of the tutorial.  The statistics that are the most interesting to me are the number of students who go straight to the quiz, thinking they will pass without going through the tutorial.  They don’t pass the quiz and then have to go through the tutorial anyway.  I like this because it shows me that the students are learning something from it (even if they think they know it all before they start).

Q: Is the current version of the tutorial largely unchanged from its debut?
A: The tutorial has changed over the seven years it has been up.  The text, arrangement, and sections have changed over its evolution.  We have made changes to make it more user-friendly and intuitive.  The latest iteration also was written in our voice and style rather than borrowing from TILT’s.

Q: Have you gotten any interesting results from the survey you provide at the end of WIT?  Did you conduct any other assessment?
A: We have not received that many surveys.  Most of the feedback has been in the form of comments from faculty.  They have been very pleased with it and are excited that we have a resource like this. Many of them are requiring their students to complete it as part of the course.  We are continuously assessing our instruction program, so what we change in the classroom frequently gets changed in WIT.  When students were asking about accessing more online books, we added that to WIT.  Because students and faculty were asking about Google Scholar, we included that in the most recent version.  The First Year Experience students were required to take WIT for the first time in 2009.  After the feedback the FYE committee received from faculty and students, they decided to require WIT again in Fall, 2010. 

Q: Do you have any plans to change or update the tutorial?
A: We will keep the tutorial updated to reflect the latest resources available at Sterne Library.  We would also like to add individual tutorials for specific subjects.  For example, we would have a tutorial for Education that would point out what resources they specifically need and how they could use them.  When planning these sections, we will be able to incorporate ACRL’s subject-specific information literacy outcomes.

Q: This is a very smooth, coherent, accessible site.  It seems fairly simple technically, and does not have any embedded videos or fancy interactivity for instance.  Did you consider including different media, and did you feel any pressure to include more bells and whistles?
A: Thank you for the compliment.  Bells and whistles are not always better – I’m a modernist in my belief in simplicity.  With the cleanliness of the tutorial, students can move at their own paces.  The tutorial is playable on any computer.  It’s sophisticated but still quirky.  I don’t like tutorials that waste my time and have a lot of silly graphics.   

We also thought of simple yet important design elements:  we wanted all text able to be read on one page; we wanted navigation buttons everywhere; instant feedback on questions was necessary; and we wanted people to be able to print individual pages for future reference.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you encountered during the creation of the tutorial? And did you have any pleasant surprises?
A: The biggest challenge was starting the project!  It was overwhelming at first, even with several people working on it.  One pleasant surprise has been how much we like the interactive portions, especially the ones with split screens that have tutorial text on the left side of the screen and the interactive portion on the right.  

Q: Is there any advice or recommendations that you would make to someone interested in creating a similar tutorial?
A: So much has already been created, look at everyone’s work.  Check out what has been done because there are a lot of resources out there – use them!

Keep your final instructional goals in mind so that you don’t stray.  It’s easy to want to put EVERYTHING in a tutorial, but that’s overwhelming for you and for your users.  Think about your instructional objectives and always be working toward them.  Everything else, while interesting and useful, is extraneous to the project.

April 2010 PRIMO Site of the Month