November 2010 Site of the Month

primo banner


November 2010 Site of the Month

What is a Database Tutorial

Authors: Katie Stricker, former Reference and Instruction Librarian/Archivist at Ursuline College;
Kathy Fisher, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Ursuline College; and
Polly Wilkenfeld, Head of Patron Services and Instruction at Ursuline College

Interviewee: Polly Wilkenfeld

Institution: Ursuline College

Interviewer: Duffy Tweedy

Q: What prompted you to create this tutorial in the first place?

A: We noticed that many of our students were not familiar with the most basic information literacy terminology. This seemed like critical information to understanding our resources. We also wanted to use meaningful contemporary examples.

Q: Did you consider different formats (e.g., in-person vs. online, PowerPoint vs. screen-capture) and why did you decide on this particular format?

A: We have grown to hate PowerPoint, especially after reading Presentation Zen: simple ideas on presentation design and delivery by Garr Reynolds, recommended in “LOEX Quarterly”. No flying bullet points for us. We wanted something that would show what was happening on the screen. We experimented with some of the free screen capture software but it wasn’t powerful enough for our purposes. Although we thought of the tutorial as a tool for remote patrons, we learned that several faculty showed it in class.

Q: What was the expected timeline for the creation of this tutorial, and how did the actual timeline differ from what you expected initially?

A: We thought that we could whip it out in a day. It probably took us closer to a month. Of course, this was our first tutorial using Captivate.

Q: Who was on the team that designed and created the tutorial, and what roles did they play?

A: The team consisted of three reference/instruction librarians. One outlined what we wanted to cover. One did the work of putting it together. We all made suggestions and revised. None of us had any programming or advanced computer training.

Q: How did your team members work together? Did everyone do a little bit of everything, or were responsibilities more separate? Who had oversight to keep everything consistent and smooth?

A: As Head of Patron Services and Instruction, I had the enviable job of creating the outline and shepherding the project. One of the other librarians did most of the actual hard work. We all reviewed it. We edited for length and clarity.

Q: What kind of software did you use in creating the tutorial? Did you consider other software, and why did you settle on what you did use?

A: We used Adobe’s Captivate. We had looked at several software packages, including some free ones. Captivate had a combination of the features that we needed. Captivate’s functionality is very similar to PowerPoint, so there wasn’t a big learning curve. Also, it was very important to have interactivity. We wanted to create tutorials that would mimic the actual experience of using a database or other online tool. We had used Wink in the past, but it was difficult to edit. We decided it would be beneficial to have a product that had more options for technical support.

Q: What experience or training did you bring to creating this tutorial? What did you need to learn “on the job”?

A: We are all instruction librarians so we had a good feel for our students’ needs. None of us had used Captivate. We learned and helped each other as we went.

Q: Were any particular parts or aspects of creating the tutorial easier than you expected, or harder, and why?

A: Adding the testing element proved tricky. Students requested more feedback than in our original version, so we added additional self-test questions.

Q: Who is the target audience, and how have they been using this tutorial?

A: The target audience was undergraduate students. Our faculty commented that they also learned from it. Our students use it when assigned. I don’t delude myself that students are independently looking for this tutorial.

Q: Is the tutorial usually used stand-alone, or in conjunction with a class? If it’s used in conjunction with a class, do the students complete the tutorial outside of class time or during a class session?

A: Students complete the tutorial outside of class. Our faculty often require it before the students come to class. The faculty have told us that they learn from it too, and we are seeing faculty re-use the tutorial so they must be happy with it.

Q: How have you publicized the tutorial?

A: Primarily by talking to faculty as we plan their class sessions.

Q: How long does it typically take to complete the tutorial?

A: Under 10 minutes.

Q: Have you done any formal or informal assessment of the tutorial? What does the audience think of it?

A: Because it was our first tutorial, one of our graduate faculty members recommended that she have her students evaluate the tutorial as their assignment. That way, she knew that they had taken the tutorial and we got some useful feedback. Most of the students who responded said that it was really helpful and that they liked the examples from YouTube and Amazon. Others thought that we should be able to link them to our databases to practice searches and then back to the tutorial. I’m not sure how that would work. They did ask for more practice screens, which we added.

Q: Getting students to think of popular sites like Amazon and YouTube as databases, with records composed of fields, is distinctive. What was the purpose of that, and was it part of your original idea or did you incorporate it as a result of user feedback?

A: I suggested to Katie Stricker who created most of the tutorial (but is no longer on our staff) that she include concrete examples like Excel. Katie is herself a “millennial,” in her mid-twenties and very technologically “connected.” To her, using Amazon and YouTube to provide a frame of reference for describing databases came very naturally. And we thought it was brilliant!

Q: Is the current version of the tutorial largely unchanged from its debut? I'm wondering if there were any technical problems when it first came up, as well as any content or design changes that you effected after it went online.

A: We did add some more feedback questions as a result of student requests. Our only technical difficulties were keeping it accurate as our institution changed webmasters, URLs, etc.

Q: The tutorial has a Creative Commons license. Was stricter copyrighting ever considered?

A: We are a small school. We are grateful for all of the materials that other schools have shared with us. We wanted to return the favor.

Q: What advice or comments would you like to give to others who are considering creating a similar tutorial?

A: You really don’t need a programmer, just someone who is fearless about using new technology. Try to think like a student. Some tutorials are really boring.

November 2010 PRIMO Site of the Month