April 2011 Site of the Month

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April 2011 Site of the Month 


Author: Sue Chen, Librarian

Interviewee: Sue Chen

Sacramento City College Library

Interviewer: Duffy Tweedy

Tutorial Description: PILOT is a self-paced interactive tutorial designed to introduce college students to a variety of important concepts related to the use of information resources in an academic setting. PILOT is intended to help students maximize their ability to effectively use college libraries' information resources and the World Wide Web. Student users can email the results of their tutorial quiz to their instructors.

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

A: Our college library offers many face-to-face customized and general library orientations, both of which require the students to come to the library at a specific scheduled time. We wanted to have an online tutorial that can take our library instruction to the students -- to meet them where they are and to provide the instruction when they want it. PILOT was created to meet this goal.

Q: You've incorporated elements from four other tutorials, from four other institutions, into PILOT. How did you decide what to include, and how did you incorporate all this so seamlessly?

A: Please let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the institutions that generously shared their work with me and granted me the right to use their materials in PILOT. I would not have completed the project within the time allowed if I had to do everything from scratch.

Before I started creating the tutorial, I knew that I wanted PILOT to be a tutorial that:

  • Covers all the topics on my list (I had a list of topics I'd want PILOT to cover. The list came from the topics taught in our 1-unit course "Library Research and Information Literacy".)
  • Provides maximum amount of interactivity
  • Speaks to my audience, which is community college students 

I chose which materials to adapt based on the criteria above. If the end product, PILOT, looks coherent, it is because it’s one person’s work. I have to say this is the one advantage of working solo on this project.

    Q: It’s very unusual for a tutorial of this length to be produced by a single person instead of a team. Why did you decide to “go it alone”?

    A: For us it was not a choice between "going it alone" or "going it with a team". We have a tight crew at the library and everybody is fully loaded with the responsibilities in their own area. I really wanted to develop this tutorial to add to our library instructional programs, so I volunteered.

    Working solo made me feel pressured to deliver a completed product within the time allowed. I worked hard to keep up with the schedule. In fact I sustained a wrist injury from the many stressful hours at the keyboard during the project. Although I am sure my colleagues would have been understanding had the project fallen behind schedule, nonetheless I felt accountable and I felt I had to put in extra hours to make sure the project was finished on time. I can imagine such pressure would be somewhat dissipated when working in a group so things wouldn't be so stressful.

    Although I was the only person working on the project in my institution, I did not have to create everything from scratch and I had so many great tutorials to work with. So in this sense, I was not working alone at all.

    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: I was awarded a 40% Professional Leave to work on this project for two semesters. When I applied for the leave, I knew this was going to be a big project, but I really had no idea how much time this project would actually take. It was very important for me to have a complete tutorial by the end of my leave, so I ended up putting in a lot of extra hours on it at night and during my summer break.

    Q: What kind of software did you use in creating the tutorial?

    A: I used Dreamweaver for html editing, Adobe Flash and ActionScript for the games, Adobe Fireworks for images, Javascript for interactive elements in quizzes, and PHP and MySql for the database part.

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

    A: I was very comfortable with Dreamweaver and Fireworks before the project. I had to learn Flash and ActionScript, Javascript, PHP and Mysql for this project.

    Acquiring the new technical skills needed to build the tutorial was the most challenging part of this project. Soon after I started working on the project, I realized that I was trying to complete a project typically undertaken by a team of people with expertise in different areas. Such a team usually includes librarians, graphic designers, computer programmers, and database experts. In my case, I was doing it all by myself. So it was very stressful at times.

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

    A: To me learning the new computer programming skills, such as Actionscript and Javascript, was the most challenging part of this project, whereas writing the instructional content teaching information literacy was the easiest. Why? Because I had years of training in librarianship, but none in computer programming.

    Q: Who is the target audience, and has your tutorial gotten use from any groups you did not anticipate?

    A: I envisioned my audience to be our community college students.

    I did not expect so many users from outside of the college using the tutorial. Some of my users even had foreign email addresses. I am curious why they use my tutorial and what they get out of it...

    Q: From the “About PILOT” section it appears that you assume professors will require students to complete the tutorial as part of a class, and you've built in the ability for students to email their quiz results to their instructors. Do you know how instructors are using the tutorial, and how widely?

    A: I knew some of the professors in our colleges used TILT and really liked its capability of sending quiz results to their email account. That's why I worked hard to make sure that PILOT has this function.

    Although our numbers show that many students are using the tutorial, we are still trying to get the word out about the tutorial to more instructors. As we all know, outreach to teaching faculty is an ongoing effort in academic libraries.

    Q: How have you publicized the tutorial?

    A: We have been doing the following to publicize the tutorial:

    • Adding a link to the tutorial on the library homepage
    • Sending mail announcement to the whole campus
    • Giving workshops about the tutorial to faculty
    • Announcing it in our library newsletter and in our college newsletter
    • Giving demos at various campus committees
    • Telling students about it during our library orientations

    Q: The tutorial's "About PILOT" FAQ is the most detailed I've seen on a tutorial and must have taken some time. Why did you decide to create such a thorough "About" section?

    A: I understand that many instructors will not have the time to go through the tutorial page by page to figure out what it is about, but they need to know a lot of details before assigning it to their students. I try to address some questions that instructors generally have regarding library instruction. I am still adding entries to the FAQ page when I see the same question coming to me more than once.

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

    A: Informally I have had a lot of positive feedback. I have not gotten around to doing any formal assessment yet. This interview reminds me it's time to get started on this task.

    Q: The tutorial has a playful tone to it, and some of the text and animations are humorous without going overboard. How did you decide on the right level of whimsy, and was it difficult to keep that balance? Did you show prototypes to students to see if they found it fun?

    A: Information literacy is very important for our students but not a fun topic to teach. I wanted to brighten things up a little bit if I could. I have to admit I did not test the cartoons on any students before putting them up there. I hope it's not the kind of humor only librarians can get.

    Q: The navigation bar at the bottom of all pages is very thorough and helpful. Was that part of the original plan, or did it evolve over time?

    A: The navigation bar was part of the original plan. I believe on each page of any lengthy online tutorials, there should be a way for students to easily navigate to and access other parts of the tutorial. The navigation bar is provided to serve this purpose.

    Q: The tutorial has an Open Publications license. Was stricter copyrighting ever considered?

    A: No. Since I benefited so much from other people's work, it only makes sense for me to give back.

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

    A: It is a good idea to have a team of people working together with each person making contributions in the area of their expertise.

    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: I tested the tutorial for a semester with a selected group of users before announcing it to the campus. I have not experienced major technical issues since the launch.

    I have been updating the content on an ongoing basis. I have quite a few suggestions from teaching faculty and librarian colleagues that I am considering implementing. I am still trying to find time to do it.

    April 2011 PRIMO Site of the Month