April 2012 Site of the Month

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April 2012 Site of the Month

APA Style Citations Interactive Tool


Authors: Vanessa M. Paniccia and Patricia E. Powers

Interviewees: Vanessa M. Paniccia and Patricia E. Powers

Institutions: Daemen College

Interviewer: Diana Symons

Tutorial Description: This interactive tutorial, geared toward allied health students, shows how to format references in the American Psychological Association (APA) style.

Q: What was the impetus behind the development of this online tool? Who is the intended audience?

A: The development of this online tool began as a means to satisfy our professional and academic goals. Vanessa needed a partner who was knowledgeable enough about multimedia applications to assist her in creating an online tutorial. This tutorial would take content from existing on-site Daemen College library instruction sessions and make them more interactive and available to students on demand. Patricia was looking for a project to satisfy the requirements for a directed study that was part of a medical informatics certificate program that she was involved with at the University at Buffalo. We met to discuss the possibilities for the content of the tutorial project in March 2011. We found that Vanessa’s suggestion of a tutorial that addressed the most common questions posed by Daemen College’s nursing students about the APA citation and reference style to be "a good fit" for both of our objectives. As Patricia stated in her initial proposal for the project, "online tutorials extend the reach of professional library instruction whenever and wherever the user needs it...online tutorials created by an academic library staff are a key venue to facilitate the instruction of informatics to health sciences students."

As stated previously, the intended audience for this online tool was the Daemen College nursing student community. Vanessa had been getting feedback from the nursing professors that the students in their classes were struggling with APA citation style. As a reference librarian, Vanessa also had been noticing that students were coming to her because they were struggling with the basics of APA citations and their references page. It seemed foreign to them. Vanessa suspects that this may be because many of the nursing students at Daemen College have returned to school after having taken five to fifteen years off. Though they have been working professionally as nurses, they haven’t had to think about writing papers nor the mechanics that go into writing a paper. Although nursing students were the original target audience, we are pleased to report that since the tutorial became available online in October 2011, several students and librarians in the Western New York area have contacted Vanessa to describe how helpful the online tool has been for them when researching the APA citation and reference style.

Q: What citation style resources did your students use before this was available?

A: The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed., 5th printing) or the Online Writing Lab produced by Purdue University.

Q: I found your tool quite easy to navigate, and I really like that it functions both at a student’s point of need (i.e. how to cite a particular resource) and as a tutorial that provides a broader overview of APA style citations. How did you come up with the structure and organization for this tool?

A: It was our intent from the beginning of the project that the tutorial’s design had to address the user’s needs in order to be effective. Based on our own remembered experiences from our time as students learning to use citation styles and the kinds of questions that Vanessa was encountering on the job, we realized early on in the design process that the sequence and interactivity of the tutorial had to address, and anticipate, the information needs of various students. For example, some students might want an in-depth study of the construction of many references, while others will need to quickly locate the instructions for building one kind of reference. We spent our first three meetings about the tutorial project discussing two aspects in particular: 1) the content and operation of the tutorial, and 2) the impact of existing library online tutorials about citation styles.

We spent a great deal of time discussing how the tutorial’s content should be presented to the user and how the tutorial should operate to provide the most benefit to the user. For example, Vanessa emphasized how the content needed to reflect what information was most important to the nursing students, i.e. the kinds of APA citation and reference style questions that nursing students repeatedly asked of her in reference interviews. Patricia indicated that in order to effectively connect and unify the presentation of so many different kinds of references, the navigation of the tutorial had to have as circuitous a flow as possible. The user would always determine the direction that the tutorial would take and each user’s experience would be unique and different based on a user’s needs. We also shared with each other examples of citation style tutorials that had been produced by other colleges and universities. While we found elements in some tutorials that we wanted to emulate or improve upon, we also did not want to repeat any methods that we thought would be unfriendly to users such as the requirement of several clicks to get to an answer, or excessive scrolling of pages to find the desired information. Following consideration of these variables, we were able to brainstorm and sketch out initial concepts for some of the tutorial’s most important features.

One of the first features that we worked out was the tutorial’s initial interface for the user - the "main menu" grid of format categories. Graphic buttons that display recognizable illustrations of each format in both print and electronic form represent the categories. The format categories for the "main menu" page were chosen based on the most common inquiries that Vanessa received from Daemen College nursing students about how to write references in APA style. The submenus for each graphic button allow the user to examine as many kinds of reference entries about a particular format as one wishes. Finally, the navigation buttons in the bottom right sections of the submenu and individual reference entry pages allow users to move forward and backward and between menus within the tutorial. Such features allow users to have a learning experience that is as expansive or focused as they choose.

Q: Your Production Credits page attributes content development to Vanessa, and Flash development to Patricia - just how did this partnership work?

A: We assigned our production credits based on who was most responsible for each aspect of the project. Vanessa was responsible for identifying the exact kinds of examples that she wanted to represent each specific reference entry. She was also the APA style expert for the project, using the latest edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association as her guide. At periodic intervals throughout the project, Vanessa would send Patricia a spreadsheet of reference entry examples by e-mail. Each spreadsheet would detail the particular features that specific reference entries had to contain, such as author, publication year, title, place of publication, etc. Using the spreadsheet details, Patricia would complete reference entry pages and e-mail them to Vanessa for final verification. Once the pages were edited and proofed by Vanessa, Patricia would integrate the finished pages into the sequence of her Adobe Flash file.

Q: Patricia - What is your background with Adobe products? (I see you used Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Flash CS4.) Was this a completely new enterprise for you, or did you have previous experience with this software?

A: Previous to my experience as a library and information studies student, I spent about a decade as a graphic artist in the journalism field. In that capacity, I was exposed to several different kinds of design applications by many different manufacturers including Adobe. I am most experienced with Adobe products such as Photoshop and Illustrator. While I was a Library and Information Science student, I decided to start researching the requirements of several kinds of library positions that I might eventually be interested in, such as "Instructional Design Librarian" or "Web Services Librarian". I took note of how many times that a working knowledge of Adobe Flash was among the required or preferred qualifications in the job descriptions for these positions. I also began to examine the different types of software used by institutions to create library online tutorials, and often noted that Adobe Flash was a popular choice. Following this research, I decided that Adobe Flash was an application that I definitely wanted to learn how to use. In spring 2010, I took an Adobe Flash course that was offered by the Media Study Department of the University at Buffalo. For my final class project, I created a tutorial about evaluating Web resources for an intended audience of college library users. The lessons I learned from that experience were definitely put to use in the APA project. Being able to approach the APA project with a certain level of proficiency in Adobe Flash was an important factor in how well the resulting tutorial succeeded. The experience of creating the online tool would definitely have been different if I was learning the software as I went.

Q: Did you run into any unexpected difficulties or challenges during the creation of this tool?

A: Patricia: I am glad to say that on the design end of creating the tutorial, there were no major problems. I just had to pay very careful attention when assembling the tutorial’s sequence in Flash and make sure that my Actionscript code was written correctly so that when buttons within the tutorial were activated by clicking they would perform their intended functions.

Vanessa: Only that it took us a little longer than expected, but that happens sometimes.

Q: From planning to launch, how long did it take you to complete this project?

A: Following the 120-hour work requirement of Patricia’s directed study, the project took 16 weeks to complete. In the early planning stages, discussions lasted about one to three hours over a couple days per week. Toward the labor-heavy ending stages of the project, design and content work could consume up to 20 hours a week over the course of several days.

Q: What recommendations or advice do you have for someone contemplating a similar project?

A: Patricia: The first step in undertaking a project such as this is to make a thorough investigation into who your audience will be for the type of online tool that you want to create. The two most important questions that the project must address are:

  1. Who is the user?
  2. What will the user want to do with your tutorial?

I would also recommend that the tutorial team member who is selected to create the tutorial file is someone who is well versed in the type of software that will be used. I think it would be a frustrating experience for someone to try and learn an application’s functions as one goes and the timeline for project completion would certainly increase in length. Finally, pay close attention to the feedback that you get from users - a great deal of their suggestions are often very helpful and indicative of what users really want. Vanessa and I received really great insights from various people who used the APA tutorial and we hope to incorporate those ideas into the next tutorials that we make.

Vanessa: It will involve a lot of work and it will involve a lot of versions. Things and ideas may need to be scrapped. Also, showing a beta version to a few of the end-users is a good idea. We received some useful feedback from showing the preliminary screen shots to students.

Q: How is this tool being promoted and used at your institution? Is it integrated into classroom sessions or assignments?

A: The nursing department promotes the tool within their classes. Some of Daemen’s other departments that also use APA are taking notice of it now too because the tool is getting so much national attention. Aside from the PRIMO honor, which we are immensely flattered by, Daemen College has also been awarded a Regional Bibliographic Data Bases and Interlibrary Resources Sharing Program (RBDB) grant from the Western New York Library Resources Council to create four more tools similar to the one we’ve already produced. (See the description of the RBDB program at: http://www.wnylrc.org/index.asp?orgid=164&sid=. The grant will allow Daemen to contract with Patricia for more work, and we are patiently awaiting the start of that collaboration.

Q: What has the response been to your tutorial? Have your received feedback from students or instructors?

A: Everyone who sees the tool loves it - within the Daemen College community and beyond. Recently, Vanessa was talking to Library Science students from the University at Buffalo when a student recognized her name from the tool. The student commented that she uses it all the time. Also, Canisius College, another Western New York area college, called to ask about the tool as they want to create something similar too.

Q: Have you done any assessment on the effectiveness of this tool?

A: Not yet, but we plan to eventually have a focus group assess it.

Q: Do you plan to create similar tools for other citation styles? Will MLA and Chicago also have their day in the sun?

A: Once we have received the funding from the RBDB Member Grant, we will be able to create more citation style tutorials. Two of the four tutorials that are described in the grant will include ones that will cover the MLA and AMA citation styles.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about this tool or your experience developing it?

A: Patricia: It is my hope that the successful outcome of our project can help promote the idea that librarians and information professionals can be creators of effective media and not just facilitators of it. I think it is well worth the time and effort for librarians to acquire media software skills and then create media that is targeted toward the specific information needs of their communities. When a librarian has the ability to combine the effectiveness of information management and software proficiency, he or she can foster connections between the content and technology of an online tutorial better than someone who has just the software skills alone. Knowledge of your community + technical skills = relevance!

Vanessa: Just that it was a rewarding experience and I’m glad that we were able to produce something so hearty and well-used. I am excited to collaborate with Patricia on further projects.

April 2012 PRIMO Site of the Month