December 2013 Site of the Month


Bowman Library Research Skills Tutorial

Authors: Linda K. Smith, Associate Dean of Library Services (primary author),
 Lisa Velarde, Information Services Librarian (primary author),
Cheryl Collins, Technical Services Librarian and College Archivist (co-author), 
Anne Linvill, Access and Information Services Librarian (co-author),
William H. Walters, Dean of Library Services (co-author)

Institution: Menlo College

Interviewee: Linda K. Smith and Lisa Velarde

Interviewer: Rebecca Maniates, Yale-NUS College

Tutorial Description: The Menlo College Bowman Library Research Skills Tutorial lays a foundation for understanding basic information literacy concepts through 5 interactive modules. All Menlo students are required to take the Bowman Library Research Skills Tutorial as part of the College’s General Education requirement. The Tutorial covers a variety of topics, including how to recognize an information need, finding information, evaluating information, and using information ethically. Users can easily navigate throughout each module to review key concepts. Each module is followed by a quiz for student assessment.

Q: What was the impetus for this set of modules, and who is the intended audience?

A: The Bowman Library Research Skills Tutorial is a required component of Menlo College’s General Education requirement (0 credit, pass/no pass) that all incoming students must complete. The intended audience, therefore, includes incoming students who must fulfill the requirement, as well as any other students or faculty who are interested in refreshing their research skills. We had a very old existing tutorial that was in need of a lot of refreshing, and we decided to build an entirely new tutorial.

Q: How is the tutorial primarily being used at Menlo College?

A: The tutorial is primarily used by incoming students who are fulfilling a General Education requirement. This semester we also worked with our business faculty to make completing the tutorial an assignment. The tutorial was worth 5% of the semester grade of our Management 101 course, which all students must take. This has served as an extra incentive for students to finish the requirement in a timely manner and has been very successful.

Q: Are students required to complete the 5 modules? How long do they have to complete them?

A: Yes, all freshmen and transfer students are required to complete all five modules and pass the quiz in each module before receiving credit. We want students to do this in the first or second semester of their first year at Menlo.

Q: How was the content of the tutorial developed? Who was involved?

A: The library team of five librarians met over the course of several months to develop our ideas for content. We (Lisa and Linda) took those ideas and with the help of all the librarians went through a process of continually revising and paring them down. We sometimes escaped from the Library to a quiet room in another campus building to hash out details. We also used a visual approach, printing out our storyboard slides with content, laying them out on a table or the floor, and moving pieces around. Eventually, we developed a list of topics we wanted to cover, and we set about putting them in categories where they would make sense together logically and chronologically. Scripting of the content of the modules was done separately from scripting of the videos. We created many of the images and graphics, but we also used photos from Menlo’s Facebook page and free stock sources.

Q: Did the Library have other tutorials that helped inform the development of the Bowman Library Research Skills Tutorial?

A: The tutorial we used in the past was a modification of the University of Texas’s open source tutorial called TILT, and we knew what we liked and didn’t like about it.

Q: Tell us about the process you used to establish learning objectives for this tutorial?

A: We read the literature, and additionally we came up with a broad notion of what we wanted students to know when they finished the Tutorial: recognizing when information is needed; learning how to find information; evaluating information; and using information ethically. We also knew that we wanted the skills that students learned to be transferable to the workplace and their real lives, which was the point of our introductory video. We decided that the tutorial would lay the foundation for a basic understanding of information literacy concepts that would later be reinforced through library or other instruction. Some documents we looked at included Objectives for Information Literacy Instruction: A Model Statement for Academic Librarians (, and Information Literacy Learning Outcomes for Lower Division General Education from California State University East Bay (…).

Q: Were students or faculty involved in the development of the Tutorial?

A: Students were not involved in the development process, but they were involved in usability testing, and we made some refinements based on their comments.

Q: Have you done any assessment of the effectiveness of the tutorial in meeting your established objectives?

A: Other than the quizzes embedded in each module, we’ve not yet done any other assessment. We are currently in the initial stages of reviewing all information literacy competencies and objectives as part of a college-wide review of assessment.

Q: Are the videos within the Tutorial available for students anywhere else? Or are they only available embedded in the Tutorial?

A: The videos are all available individually and directly from our YouTube Channel via a link at the bottom of the Library’s web page. In addition, we’ve added a few that are not part of the tutorial.

Q: Who was involved in the production of the Bowman Library Research Skills Tutorial project and what skills and talents did they contribute? Did you need to seek any “outside” expertise?

A: Our entire small team of librarians contributed to the project:

  • Linda served as project coordinator, organized our workflow, kept the project on track, and distilled brainstorming sessions into manageable, workable outlines. She also created content and videos.
  • Lisa brought experience using Camtasia and image editing software such as GIMP and Jing. She took photographs, as well as created graphics, content and videos.
  • Anne Linvill contributed expertise in assessment when writing the quizzes.
  • William Walters provided essential analytical support at every step of the project.
  • Cheryl Collins provided objective feedback when we were too close to the project to judge effectively.
  • Sarah Clatterbuck, Senior Manager of Web Development at LinkedIn and former Systems Librarian here at Menlo College, acted as our freelance web and systems engineer. She was our sole “outside” expert and did all of the design and coding on the project.

Q: What best practices guided the building of this tutorial?

A: The web design best practices incorporated include:

We used responsive design techniques to make sure the tutorial was accessible on mobile devices as well as desktop web.
  • We followed W3C best practices to ensure the content was usable by assistive technology for the disabled.
  • Progressive enhancement techniques were used to give a richer experience to modern browsers, while still making the site useful to older browsers. We used the latest features of HTML5 and CSS3 to provide the rich experience, along with additional meaning in the document structure.
  • We maintained a strict information hierarchy throughout to make cognition more effortless.

Q: Did the Tutorial develop over time or did you create all the modules simultaneously?

A: We had a master plan for the entire project and worked on the modules somewhat sequentially.

Q: Are there existing tutorials on the Web that inspired you? If so, which ones?

A: Before we began developing a new tutorial, Linda and Lisa researched tutorials that were available without a password, including several in the PRIMO database. We narrowed those down to seven tutorials that all the librarians then looked at thoroughly and commented on. The short list included Begin Your Research Tutorial from UC Irvine Libraries, Library Online Basic Orientation (LOBO) from North Carolina State University, Research Basics from Joyner Library at East Carolina University, TIP from University of Wyoming, iSkill Zone from the University of the West of England, and the Productive Researcher from Syracuse University Libraries. While we were inspired by bits and pieces of many of these tutorials, we were most inspired by TIP from the University of Wyoming and the tutorial from the University of California-Irvine. Then all five librarians reviewed those on the short list based on seven criteria: content, organization/navigation, writing style, interactivity, quizzes/assessment, design, and length. We (Linda and Lisa) also drew on resources such as an ACRL webcast entitled “So you want to create an interactive information literacy tutorial?” by Cynthia Ippoliti and Sam Fraulino of Paradise Valley Community College, as well as articles about developing tutorials. Additionally, we took inspiration from the interviews with tutorial creators in the PRIMO database. Linda created a spreadsheet of technologies used in production by other tutorial creators that informed our own decisions.

Q: From planning to launch, how long did it take to complete this project? Was it more or less time than you originally had planned?

A: We began our initial investigations of other tutorials, plus held our early brainstorming sessions, in early summer of 2011. Throughout that summer and academic year 2011-2012, we refined our editorial content, took an online course in producing tutorials, and worked with Sarah on design concepts. By summer 2012, Lisa and Linda had mastered Camtasia, recorded the videos, and continued refining the editorial, while working on design and production issues with Sarah. Our usability testing occurred during fall of 2012, and the tutorial was rolled out for student use in January 2013 in time for the beginning of spring semester. Our initial plan had been to have it ready by fall 2012, so it took us one semester longer than we had hoped.

Q: Did you conduct any usability testing on the tutorials? What did you learn?

A: We did conduct usability testing, both our own and also with students. We recruited freshman students on a volunteer basis, prepared a script to use with students, and gave them forms to fill out as they were going through each module. Lisa and Linda conducted the usability testing, observing students as they worked and then talking with them afterwards. Students who participated received credit for the library research skills tutorial requirement, as well as Service Education and Resources for Volunteers (SERV) hours (SERV is a Menlo College community service requirement). We learned a lot from observing how students worked through the tutorial and from talking with them. One area that really benefited from student participation was the quizzes. The students found some questions particularly difficult or confusing, especially those directing “choose all that apply.” As a result, we reworded some questions and made it clear how many answers were to be chosen for multiple choice options. Additionally, we told students in the introduction to the quizzes that they could use the side navigation panel to review topics even in the middle of the quizzes. Crafting quiz questions is hard, but Anne Linvill, our Access and Information Services Librarian, has a real knack for it and was responsible for a lot of that work. Students also advised putting smaller amounts of text on each screen, in order to encourage students to read everything, and we did make adjustments in this area. In the area of navigation, students asked to have the navigation panel change colors or become bold to indicate how much progress was being made through the module. They also asked for slide numbers on each page, again so that they could gauge how close they were to finishing a module. Watching how students interacted with any items that had interactive components also provided us with the opportunity to make a few design modifications to allow for ease of use.

Q: I noticed that the tutorial is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Have other libraries adapted the Bowman Library Research Tutorial?

A: Not to our knowledge. The source tree is available on GitHub ( for forking/branching, and we encourage other organizations to adapt it to their needs.

Q: From your experience, what tips would you give to others contemplating producing their own online tutorial or learning object?

A: Lisa would tell people to find one that is already made and available for sharing and then adapt it to their local needs. (I’d recommend ours or the one from UC Irvine Libraries; if using ours, they could make their own videos in place of ours if desired.) I wouldn’t recommend starting from scratch the way we did, though we took that route because we felt it was important to have content that reflected the Menlo subject areas of business, psychology, and liberal arts. Although we learned a lot in the process and worked well together, the whole experience took an enormous amount of time and labor to produce. Linda thinks others contemplating producing their own tutorial need to realize the amount of time involved and the need for good organization. Not every library has the group dynamic, flexibility, and time we were fortunate to have in creating this project. We were able to devote two summers to this project since summer class offerings are small and our normal teaching and reference duties are considerably less than during the regular academic year. It became much more difficult to carve out time for the tutorial when fall arrived. It’s also important to consider the level of design and production value for a tutorial or learning object, given your audience and your own abilities. We wanted the bar to be set high to ensure student engagement. We had to learn or improve some of our knowledge of certain production tools. Another aspect to consider is the life of any tutorial or learning object against the amount of work involved. Even with those caveats, producing the tutorial allowed us to get just the right content for our students and make it Menlo-specific. We developed new skills, and the final project is one the entire library team is quite proud of. It was an exciting project for us to undertake.

December 2013 PRIMO Site of the Month

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