December 2010 Site of the Month

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December 2010 Site of the Month
The Productive Researcher

Authors:  Abby Kasowitz-Scheer, Learning Commons Librarian
Lisa Moeckel, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education
Pamela Thomas, Learning Commons Librarian
Patrick Williams, Subject Librarian for English and Writing

Interviewee: Lisa E. Moeckel, Assoc. Dean for Undergraduate Education
Syracuse University

Interviewer: Greg Bobish

Tutorial Description: The Productive Researcher is a series of six online modules that provides an introduction to
general library research skills. The modules are presented in several different formats: text, video, video with captioning, and podcast. The same material is covered in all of these formats, so users can pick whichever format they prefer. If completed in the order listed in the home page menu, each module builds upon the knowledge and skills developed in the previous
module. However, users may complete the modules in any order they wish or complete only the module(s) in which they are interested. Designed with undergraduate students in mind, The Productive Researcher also provides a quick review or update for the experienced researcher.  The Productive Researcher also includes follow-up exercises and worksheets in each module to help users apply what they learn to their own research. Instructors who wish to integrate the Productive Researcher into their course syllabus may use the accompanying instructor materials.

Q: What were your instructional goals in creating the tutorial? Was it intended for specific courses at Syracuse, or did you design it to address broader institutional goals?

A: A team of SU librarians collaborated with instructors from the University’s Writing Program to create a resource specific to the Writing 105 curriculum. WRT 105 is the first-year writing seminar required of most SU students. (The tutorial was also designed for students of WRT 205, the second-year writing course which focuses on research-based writing.) Our goal was to provide students the same content as we had been delivering in our face-to-face instruction sessions for these classes. Our lesson plan for Writing 105 sessions called for a general overview of SU Library's online research tools, with a particular focus on helping students understand the Library web site as a gateway for identifying scholarly and popular/trade sources relevant to research-related assignments in WRT 105. This includes a focused introduction to effective and efficient
information retrieval using SU Library's subscription databases. In these classes instructional resources and guides were shared to assist students in conducting research on their own. SU does not have a university-wide general education curriculum, but Writing 105 and 205 are required of first and second-year students and therefore are the best classes in which to present this information. In the past we averaged 120 or more Writing sessions per year. We are no longer able to provide face-to-face sessions at that magnitude, so we created the tutorial to replace face-to-face instruction for Writing 105.  We also wanted the tutorial to accommodate various learning styles, and to be accessible to vision- and hearing-impaired users.

Q: The tutorial contains elements aimed mainly at local students such as specific database references, but most sections contain information valuable to anyone engaged in research.  Did you consciously try to address a broader audience, or is this universality due more to the subject matter itself?

A: The Writing Program faculty indicated that their primary concern for the tutorial was teaching students how to use the Library’s databases. The other content in our lesson plans was important to them, but they felt better prepared to teach that content themselves. This information helped us to set priorities for which modules we would work on first. We did intend from the start that the tutorial would be designed so that it could be used by anyone, not just the Writing Program. The Writing Program’s instructional goals were broad enough that it was not difficult to design the tutorial so that anyone could use it.

Q: The tutorial is quite comprehensive. How long did it take to design/implement? Was it released as one complete piece or did you release the sections one by one as you finished them?

A: The overall project timeline was about 10 months. We decided in spring 2009 that we would discontinue providing face-to-face instruction for Writing 105 in January 2010. I started researching online instruction and looking at other tutorials in March. Through the rest of the spring I began putting together the project team and project plan. We met with the Writing Program to discuss their needs, and also met with the University’s assessment office to determine our assessment strategy. Then we spent a couple of months creating our first module, in video format only. We tested the pilot in four sections of Writing 105 in early fall. Once we completed the pilot and reviewed the assessment data we determined how we wanted to structure the remaining modules. We revised the pilot module and completed the remaining five modules in just over three months. We released each piece as soon as it was ready. We did not wait until all of the different versions were complete before publishing them.

Q: Who was involved in creating the tutorial? Were specific people assigned to create specific parts of the tutorial, or did you mainly work as a group?

A: I was the project manager. The project team consisted of two librarians from our Learning Commons with extensive experience in information literacy and teaching undergraduates, and the subject specialist librarian for English and Writing. Three faculty members from the Writing Program, including the program director, participated in the early conversations about the tutorial content. Other Writing instructors contributed by volunteering their classes to participate in our assessments. The assistant director of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) worked with us on the
assessment components.

Initially the project team worked as a group to discuss the learning outcomes, design approach, and content, meeting with the Writing team and OIRA staff as needed. One person took responsibility for the video production on the pilot but otherwise we worked mostly as a group. I served as liaison to OIRA and worked closely with them to plan the
assessment. Once we began working on the remaining modules, we split into two groups.  Two of us worked on the content, developing learning outcomes, an outline, and a script for each module. Another person developed the video and podcast versions, and the remaining person created the web pages. This approach enabled us to work on two modules simultaneously, which was necessary given our timeframe. We met regularly (usually weekly) as a group to check in on progress and deal with any problems that arose.

Q: Were students involved at any stage in the design/creation of the tutorial?

A: We originally intended to involve students in both the content and production of the tutorial.  As the project progressed, though, we found that the scheduling and logistics of using students would require more time than we could devote to it. So, in the end we had library staff members do the voice work and purchased photos for the images of people.  Students did play a key role in the assessments, completing surveys and essays.

Q:  Did you originally plan to make the tutorial available in four different formats, or was it created in one format, and then expanded?

A: We started out with video only. As we discussed how best to meet our learning outcomes and goals it became evident that we needed to add different formats. We added captions to the video versions to make them accessible to hearing-impaired users. The web version evolved out of two different needs. One was that the Writing instructors wanted to know what was in the videos, and easily reference the content, without having to watch them over again. The other was to address learners who preferred reading the content rather than watching it. The audio version was intended for auditory learners who did not want to use the video format. We also thought that people might use the audio while actually doing the searches described. We had kinesthetic learners particularly in mind for this version.

Q: The videos were created using Camtasia Studio 6. What other technologies were used to create the tutorial?

A: We used Cascade for the web pages, Audacity for the audio tracks, and PowerPoint for storyboarding. We also used Microsoft Project for our project plan.

Q: Was the expertise in these technologies preexisting, or was there a learning curve involved?

A: Some of it was pre-existing. One of the people who did the production work did not know how to do the captions in Camtasia before this project, so that was a new skill. The person who did the web pages had some prior knowledge of Cascade, but he learned most of what he knows about it by working on this project. Screencasting was new to us, as
was recording the narration using Audacity.

Q: Were you able to find ways to save time in creating the different formats, such as reusing audio, or was each version created from scratch?

A: The HTML versions were fully developed first, and then we used those to adapt the script for the video version. We definitely re-used the screenshots we created, and we have been able to reuse the audio tracks in updating the different videos. We also used photos from iStock photo rather than original photography. We also saved time by using the lesson plans for Writing 105 as the basis of our learning outcomes.

Q: The survey at the end of each section is an excellent means of getting feedback on the tutorial. What have the responses told you so far?

A: Since February 2010 we have collected 40 responses via the survey. Within this group of respondents about half of them used the video without captions and 15 used the web page. The podcast version was not used at all. The data also show that the first two modules are the most heavily used.

Q: Do you use any other assessment tools to find out who is using the tutorials or how successful you have been in meeting your goals with the tutorial?

A: OIRA conducted an assessment of student learning from the tutorial during the summer semester using two sections of Writing 105 taught by the same instructor. We collected quantitative and qualitative data including a pre-test/post test of the students’ perceptions of their learning, a reflective essay assignment, an end-of-semester course evaluation and an instructor interview. This assessment provided some very useful information about the tutorial and demonstrated that these students felt they had learned from the tutorial. We also are collecting Google Analytics data and web page usage counts. We plan also to survey the Writing Program faculty to find out how many of them are using the tutorial in relation to their classes.

Q: What advice do you have for others who are contemplating similar projects?

A: Collaboration was a critical element of our success. Our project team members worked extremely well together and this was a main ingredient in staying on track. By involving the Writing Program and OIRA as well as various specialists in the library we were able to target the content to the intended audience and collect valuable data about the tutorial. I definitely suggest working with campus experts and stakeholders to accomplish the project. Also, I think it is critically important to know who your target audience is and to get input and feedback from members of that audience. Create a project plan to help determine how much time you will need to complete your project and to stay on track. Be clear about budget, resource, and staffing needs and be sure you will have what you need before you start. Also, plan your assessments at the beginning of the project to ensure you are collecting the information you need along the way.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: We hope that this tutorial will serve as a model for our librarians to use to create tutorials for their subject areas and other instructional needs. Our assessment data has shown us that our approach is a successful tool for student learning, and we are likely to apply it to other areas in which we teach a high volume of face-to-face instruction sessions that cover the same content, such as gateway courses in various disciplines. This was a demanding but highly satisfying project, and everyone on the project team learned something in the process.

December 2010 PRIMO Site of the Month