June 2015 Site of the Month


Research Success Tutorials


Authors: Terry Barksdale, Ashley Carr, Courtney Mlinar, Dave Wilson

Institution: Austin Community College

Interviewees: Terry Barksdale, Ashley Carr, Courtney Mlinar, Dave Wilson
Interviewer: Marcia Rapchak

Tutorial Description: The Research Success Tutorial Suite is a collection of bite-sized, interactive tutorials designed to provide students at Austin Community College with an introduction to essential information literacy concepts. Each tutorial includes practice activities and a built-in assessment in the form of a printable, multiple choice quiz which students may turn in for credit. The suite employs engaging graphics, images of actual ACC students, everyday examples and analogies, and humor to appeal to students. Each module can be completed in 10 to 15 minutes. The seven modules in the suite are: Choosing a Topic, Identifying Keywords, Academic Honesty, Finding Background Information, Evaluating Information, Finding Books and E-Books, and Finding Articles. Additional modules will be added to the suite as they are completed.

Q: What led to these tutorials being created?

A: Following a decades-long, award-winning Information Literacy program, ACC classroom faculty advised revisions to our online products. Literature regarding good practices in online learning content delivery calls for small pieces, loosely joined, thus allowing greater flexibility for use by faculty, just-in-time and at the point-of-need.

Therefore, it was decided that the excellent content that had been the foundational online piece of our successful program would be reorganized into smaller instructional pieces and layered with additional interactivity and assessment.

The new tutorials are developed specifically for the diverse student audience in the community college. Tutorials are developed in a discipline-neutral way so that they may be used by most any department across the institution. The tutorials use humor, acronyms and analogies, and expanded interactivity to convey basic research strategies in memorable ways.

Q: What were the goals of the project and how were those goals developed? How does the format of interactive, 10-15 minute, “bite-sized” tutorials relate to these goals?

A: The goals were/are:

  • To be responsive to classroom faculty feedback;
  • To implement latest good practices in online instructional content;
  • To create a sustainable model;
  • To strategically address the student learning outcomes that occurred most frequently across the curriculum.

Classroom faculty input and feedback drove the decision to make the tutorials shorter – and that decision was supported by good practices. The need for interactivity and assessment was gleaned from good practices. Over the earlier decades of our successful program, we had developed tutorials for each discipline. These discipline-specific tutorials were more comprehensive in what they covered and often included many discipline-specific learning outcomes, thus making updates to the tutorials more problematic and unsustainable, as well as requiring more student screen time. The move toward discipline-neutral tutorials that addressed the most frequently occurring learning outcomes created a more sustainable direction, while making them into shorter pieces offered greater assurance of student follow-through and academic freedom.

Q: Who was involved in the creation of the Tutorial Suite? Did you collaborate with any stakeholders outside the library as you developed the tutorials?

A: While we received extensive input, feedback, and support from several stakeholder groups across the college (including a competency analysis process, a guided discussion that identifies those things that a competent graduate of a particular discipline must know of or be able to do for an entry level position in that field, with instructional designers and significant feedback from faculty in task forces and individually), the actual design, authoring and construction of the tutorials, was done by members of the Library Services Information Literacy Team.

In fact, classroom faculty participated in a comprehensive survey that provided critical information to us as we began our work. The Office of Institutional Assessment provided support with survey design and access to institutional reports, data, and statistics that we used to inform our work. Our fellow faculty librarians did extensive work in culling learning outcomes from every discipline in the college as well as from statewide and federal outcomes for general education and workforce from existing online products so that we could be certain not to overlook any learning outcomes. Classroom faculty participated in pilots of the tutorials, and students provided feedback from the pilots in which the tutorials were used. Instructional Designers conducted a competency analysis for the IL Team, as well as being available for consulting in design and delivery of the tutorials.

Q: How long did it take for you to develop the tutorials?

A: It took us about a year and a half to develop the current suite of seven tutorials, and we’re still adding new modules as we complete them. From the very beginning, when we decided on this modular approach, we planned on tackling each project one by one and then launching them as soon as they were done. I think this was the right way to go because our students and faculty see us adding new content all the time. They’re ready to plug into a syllabus or a Blackboard course right away. On average, it probably takes about four months to build each tutorial, although some take even longer. We’re tackling a much-needed Scientific Information module right now that is heading into month five or six. There are a lot of learning outcomes in this one that we rarely see treated very well in the e-learning world, and the challenge was to make it just as fun and engaging as the other projects. The time is paying off. I’m really proud of this one!

Also keep in mind that we’re doing all of our image and graphic design work from scratch. You won’t find most of our memorable characters and templates included in Articulate. Book Delivery Dog and Creepy Guy don’t come with your Articulate license. We’re shooting photos of actual ACC students and pulling dozens of images from the free and subscription big stock photo clearinghouses. We’re so thankful to have a separate budget for this because the unique imagery and offbeat humor make our modules more memorable. There’s a playfulness to the whole suite that I think is unique.

Q: What led you to use Articulate? Did you discover any surprising advantages or disadvantages as you used this software?

A: At one time or another we considered other platforms like Softchalk and Adobe Captivate. But nothing comes close to Articulate Storyline in terms of power, flexibility, and ease of use. If you know your way around Powerpoint and simple, timeline editing apps like iMovie, then you’ll feel at home fairly quickly in Storyline. You can really do a little of everything: screencasting, drag and drop activities, simple animation. They give you a lot of templates right out of the box–but we’ve had a blast creating our own freeform interactions. There are also a ton of time-savers included. You can reuse just about anything you’ve ever built, copy and paste complex interactions and variables from one slide layer to another.

Then we discovered Articulate Online–now this was a game-changer! Articulate Online offers cloud-based hosting of your modules for an additional fee, so you can easily serve up your content but with assessment. This service allows us to run tons of custom reports and statistics about how our projects are actually being used. One of our team members checks our stats daily–and I think we’re up to nearly 5,000 views this Spring 2015 semester, with almost a month left to go. We can even see how well students perform on particular quiz questions, which helps us spot problems and make revisions. Sometimes it’s us and not them!

Q: As you developed the tutorials, did you conduct usability tests? If so, what did you discover?

A: We conducted UX tests at three points:

  • We asked other ACC faculty librarians (full time and hourly) to proofread for errors in content as well as spelling and grammar when the first draft was completed, and we asked them to assess images used to make sure they were diverse in all areas.
  • We tested quiz questions on librarians and students.
  • We asked the Project Enable (differently-abled) student committee to test the screen reader transcripts for findability, usability and accessibility. We learned a lot from the Project Enable UX testing, as edits and restructuring of content were necessary for accessibility. The transcripts were originally written word for word to match the tutorials. Since there were many interactive exercises using drag and drop or clicking on digital objects in the tutorial, the low vision transcript had to be adapted to add accessible activity exercises and content. After these transcript changes were made, the students from Project Enable tested them again for accessibility and usability.

Q: What other modules do you plan to add to the suite and why?

A: Currently in development we have a Finding Scientific Information tutorial that focuses on finding specific types of information that are important to students engaged in science or allied health research. This should be ready for a summer release.

Following that, we will be working on a tutorial that discusses reading and interpreting scholarly articles. Other topics on our development slate include Internet sources, primary and secondary sources, and, possibly, a tutorial that helps students to better integrate sources into writing (including examples of well-executed paraphrasing).

We choose topics based on outcomes from our classroom faculty survey and the work of our faculty librarians to determine which outcomes must be addressed via the tutorials. I think that primary sources will be the last tutorial pulled from the faculty and librarian lists. Beyond that, we will start looking at other outcomes that may need to be addressed.

A parallel, current project is investigating how the new ACRL Framework will impact our future tutorials. I think the frames are changing the way we think about what and how we teach. For example, I am considering writing a section of the upcoming Internet Sources tutorial that will encourage students to consider how their own personal information through general use and social media becomes a commodity online.

Q: How have you promoted the Research Success Tutorial Suite to students and faculty?

A: We have relied heavily on our library colleagues for their support in promoting the tutorials. The IL Team has called upon the following Library Services Teams for support:

PR Team: KnowHow Logo (our information literacy brand) assessment and redesign; Half-sheet promotional handouts; Hosting informational tables at College-wide events; Placement in College-wide publications spotlighting the tutorials and how they can be used

Web Team: Placement of links to tutorials in strategic places sure to capture attention of all faculty and students; Stories on the Library’s Blog; New items in the “What’s New” section of the library’s website; Assistance with webpage redesigns that feature the tutorials in eye-catching ways

Collection Development Team: Collaborated on mentioning the tutorials in the annual letter to classroom faculty from subject bibliographers

Reference Team: We recognize how important it is to keep our librarians informed of all the changes and activities related to moving from the older products to our newer tutorials. If students come in with a syllabus linking to an older tutorial, these librarians are instrumental in helping us assure as smooth a transition as possible to our newer products. Toward that end, we have conducted training of all our full-time faculty librarians to familiarize them with the tutorial content, and have sent informational emails to our hourly librarians. This also helps assure they are prepared to discuss the tutorials with all faculty and students!

Outside the library, we have worked with the Faculty Development staff and the Instructional Design team to offer well-attended workshops to all faculty in which they do hands-on activities to integrate the new tutorials and other resources into their course and assignments.

Q: What have been the results of the post-tutorial survey?

A: Because we host the tutorials in Articulate Online, we are fortunate to be able to gather fairly deep statistics on the tutorials as far as completion is concerned, as well as analyze our quiz results and quiz questions. These measures help us determine if there are places within a tutorial that we tend to lose students (Example: Wow! Eighty percent of students stop viewing the tutorial on slide 13. Is there a design flaw?), as well as whether a question or answer set is valid (Examples: No one gets question 4 correct, or everyone gets the same wrong answer for question 7 – what’s up with that?). We are also able to make a low-level determination of the efficacy of the instructional content based on quiz results.

In addition to this important feedback about the tutorials themselves, we also have student responses from short, point-of-use surveys to students delivered through our LibGuides during our pilots. Feedback from surveys included that students reported that they learned from the tutorials, they felt they were useful, and they commented that they wished other learning could be presented through this delivery mechanism.

Classroom faculty have reported after piloting the tutorials with their students that they felt the students got a deeper understanding of the content by having it presented in digestible pieces, and that they thought it was valuable for some students to be able to go back through the tutorial content to review.

Q: How have faculty used the various tutorials? How have students reacted?

A: We are excited to see the ways classroom faculty in all disciplines have chosen to use the tutorials to support learning in their courses. Some add a link to a tutorial, like Academic Honesty, to their syllabus as part of an introduction to the course. We always encourage them to make the tutorial completion required and tied to credit, as most students “don’t do optional.”

Another popular choice is to integrate the tutorials at the point at which a student will need them during an assignment – for instance, as they are assigned to choose a topic. Some faculty flip their classroom by assigning that a tutorial be completed before class in preparation for a hands-on activity in class using the newly learned material as a foundation. When conducting face-to-face instruction in the classroom, faculty librarians work with classroom faculty to pre-assign a tutorial before the instruction session, or, as time allows, use the tutorial in the classroom during the instruction session.

Q: Any advice or recommendations to those who may create a similar product?

  • Gather data from your stakeholders;
  • Provide opportunities for continuous feedback and improvement from all faculty and staff involved in the teaching and learning process;
  • Make a rubric in advance that details what your parameters are for a “well-designed, effective” tutorial;
  • Make sustainable choices such as selecting flexible software for design and updating;
  • Be transparent in your decision-making;
  • Respect all faculty’s right to academic freedom by allowing faculty to choose not to use the tutorials if they feel their students are better served some other way;
  • Write clear outcomes;
  • Integrate assessment as much as possible;
  • Pilot the tutorials and make changes based on what you learn;
  • Test your quiz answers with different groups to avoid ambiguous answer choices;
  • Test for accessibility;
  • Try and set aside a budget for stock photos. Clip art can really bring down a project that is otherwise engaging and informative;
  • Focus on student engagement;
  • Commit to student success;
  • Don’t be afraid of humor. Be funny and offbeat when you can. People will remember that squirrel!

June 2015 PRIMO Site of the Month

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