Big Picture Information Literacy Tutorials
Interviewees: Anne Burke, Kim Duckett, & Andreas Orphanides
Institution: North Carolina State University
Interviewer: Rebecca Maniates
Librarians at North Carolina State University Libraries have created “Big Picture” videos that address common conceptual problems in information literacy. Rather than teach “how to do X,” these videos focus on core concepts, fundamental to information literacy. The videos transcend institutional specifics of how to search within a given library, and can be reused or adapted to fit specific institutional needs. Videos are published under a Creative Commons license.
Q: What was the motivation for this set of tutorials?
A: The Big Picture Videos project started in 2008 with the idea that there was great value in teaching students the “back story” or “big picture” about information-related topics, in addition to teaching them how to find, evaluate, and use information. Our motivation for these projects is to focus on fundamental concepts rather than skills or processes, and then build skills upon this foundation. For example, the Big Picture video called “Peer Review in 5 Minutes” (2009) discussed what peer review is, how the process works, and its value in academia rather than “how to find peer reviewed articles.” It was featured as a PRIMO Site of the Month in November 2009. In general, we felt there was a gap in reusable instructional content that focused on these kinds of “big picture” topics. In the past couple of years we have reinvigorated the Big Picture initiative, producing a range of Big Picture Videos, including an updated “Peer Review in 3 Minutes.”
“Big picture” topics are concept-focused. As a result, they transcend the specifics of how to find information that are dependent on your library affiliation. From the beginning, each Big Picture video is designed to meet the needs for our instruction program and to be used on our campus while being reusable at other institutions, by librarians as well as by faculty. So an important design motivation has been to make our content helpful to others who might not have the resources or time to create their own concept-driven tutorials.
At heart, our Big Picture Videos effort is a way we choose to think about instructional content, underpinned by our belief that (1) teaching concepts is critical to information literacy instruction, (2) reusable content is a win-win, and (3) video is often an effective tool for explaining concepts.
Q: How do you choose the topics for the Big Picture Tutorials? (e.g. Is the need for certain tutorials based on anecdotal or statistical evidence collected by your staff?)
A: We find our topics in a variety of places. They may come out of our face-to-face instruction sessions, including first-year sessions through graduate-level workshops. When we find ourselves continually coming back to a particular point, we ask ourselves if it could become a Big Picture Video. We also use our reference interactions as a source for video topics; – things we find ourselves repeatedly explaining to students can become Big Picture Videos. And, most importantly, we ask faculty we work with for ideas for potential videos. Likewise, when we have an idea, we ask them if they think it would be useful.
Q: Who is the intended audience, and what is the primary intended use of the Big Picture Tutorials? Are they integrated into classes, workshops, assignments, etc.?
A: We choose our topics with NC State undergraduates in mind. But as we write the scripts and design the videos themselves, we are very conscious not to make them too NC State specific. We want them to be applicable to students outside NC State.
In practice, the videos are used in a variety of ways. They are viewed by individuals and by classes, at NC State and elsewhere. We make them available individually on our website and on YouTube and group them together as part of our Teach Yourself tutorial packages.
Our First Year Writing Program has a heavy library research component and a requirement to use library resources. While we try to meet with as many classes as we can for face-to-face sessions, we can’t cover everything in one instruction session, so our Big Picture Videos serve to supplement our face-to-face instruction.
Q: What is the general process for developing content for a tutorial? What is the average time it takes to create one of the tutorials?
A: We invest a lot of time into creating our videos. In total, a 3-minute Big Picture Video takes anywhere from 150-200 hours. Work breaks down approximately as follows:
- Scripting & Storyboarding – 45–60 hours
- Audio Recording & Editing – 15–20 hours
- Animation – 75–100 hours
- Editing – 15–20 hours
We definitely recognize that this is a big chunk of time, and not every organization will have this kind of staff availability. This is one of the reasons we strive to make our videos institution-nonspecific: we’re happy to allow other organizations to use our videos, since others may not have the same resources we have.
The first step in the process, of course, is identifying and framing an instructional need. As we said above, our needs are often indicated by feedback from instructors, gaps we notice in instruction sessions, and experiences at the reference desk. In addition, we have an overarching curriculum plan that we use to prioritize how we decide what video to make next.
After we’ve identified a topic, we try to frame it in a narrative with a script and storyboard. It’s during this process that we work out how to articulate the concept narratively; we might also discover that we need to revise the scope of the project: problems with trying to tackle too little or too much in a single video usually reveal themselves during storyboarding.
Once we’re satisfied with the storyboard, we have a basic concept of what the video will look like at the end. We might seek feedback from faculty, colleagues in the library, or student workers. Once the storyboard is finalized we move onto video and audio production.
We usually record audio first, since it’s much easier to match the graphics to the audio than vice versa. We try to ensure high quality audio by using the high-end equipment we have in the library, and we aim for consistency by having our narrators do their recording in a single session, if possible. Once we have the audio, we clean up the audio tracks and edit the best takes together. We then hand off the audio and the storyboard to our animator. For many of our recent videos, this has been design student Daria Dorafshar, who wields amazing powers with Illustrator and AfterEffects (though we’ve also done some simpler graphics on our own).
Our animator will begin by generating some graphical ideas for characters and story elements, which we provide input on, and then begins animating the video usually in chronological order. She periodically sends us a work-in-progress for feedback. In our feedback we try to ensure that the cognitive load is not too high, the script and video make sense together, etc.
Once the video is complete and refined, we publish it online, both on YouTube and on our own website. We’ll usually make an announcement to our fellow librarians, faculty we feel might be interested, and some local library instruction listservs.
Q: Who was involved in the production of the Big Picture Information Literacy Tutorials and what skills and talents did they contribute? Did you need to seek any “outside” expertise?
A: It takes a village to make these videos. We have a core team (Kim Duckett, Anne Burke and Andreas Orphanides) who think holistically about the Big Picture Videos and how they intersect with and complement our face-to-face instruction program.
On any individual video, we may involve many other library staff members. As was the case with “Picking Your Topic IS Research,” Jennifer Garrett, Research Librarian for Management, Education & Social Sciences, was one of the leads on crafting the video script and steering the project. A recent instruction intern, Lisa Becksford, was the scripting lead on a forthcoming video on “Evaluating Sources for Credibility.”
We recruit from all areas of the library for narration for our videos. None of us necessarily has a great recording voice, so we’re constantly on the lookout for people to record our scripts. Jason Evans Groth, User Experience Librarian for Digital Media, has consulted with us to use the recording studios to capture great audio. You’ll also hear his voice in “From Idea to Library!”
Finally, we have worked extensively with Daria Dorafshar to animate our scripts. We review our storyboard and vision with her, and she makes it come to life!
Q: What technologies do you utilize for your tutorials? Why did you choose them? Were they challenging to master?
A: A wide variety of technologies are employed in making the Big Picture Videos. Typically, we have used basic desktop software (MS Word, PowerPoint) to draw our storyboards. We’re just using shapes and lines and some clip art to give a rough illustration of what we ultimately want on screen at any given point of the script. Of course, a pencil and paper can be equally effective at making a good storyboard if you’re so inclined — sometimes the earliest “storyboards” of our videos take the form of quick sketches on scrap paper, which we later refine into something a little more polished in Word or another tool.
Over time, we have improved our audio recording process. Early on, we used our own desktop computers and a headset with a boom mic to record audio. More recently, we have been recording audio in the media production studios at the Hunt Library. We use the studios because we have them, but it’s certainly possible to capture good audio in a quiet room with a decent mic attached to your computer. We record and edit our audio tracks in Audacity, an open-source software program for recording and editing audio. Audacity is not difficult to work with. It’s got some built-in features to help reduce ambient noise and deal with other audio nuisances, and there are plenty of tutorials available online to help you pull of particular audio tricks in the software. If you’re inclined to have music, multiple narrators, or stereo sound, it also supports multi-track editing.
Daria Dorafshar, our student worker, animated most of our current Big Picture Videos. She uses Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet to design the assets and animates them in Adobe AfterEffects. The learning curve for these tools is pretty steep, which is why we employ someone who knows how to use them.
We have created Big Picture Videos with much simpler animation, however. In fact, our most watched tutorial, “Literature Review: An Overview for Graduate Students,” was created using PowerPoint and Camtasia. And we are working on a series of “Tips & Tricks” search videos that use PowerPoint and Captivate. We have the first in the series on “Phrase Searching” completed.
Q: Were there any best practices and/or accessibility guidelines you tried to follow while creating the tutorials?
A: Our best practices have evolved over time, as we’ve gained more experience making videos. We try to make most of our videos — particularly those targeted to first-years — about 3 minutes in length or less. To do this, we have to keep our content selection and our scripts very focused. We generally don’t try to communicate more than one or two learning goals in a single video.
As we’re developing the content and the video we try to stay keenly aware of the significance of cognitive load, and work to minimize extraneous material that doesn’t help to convey the point of the video. At the same time we’re aware that strong story elements can keep viewers engaged, so we strive for narrative consistency and strong symbolic storytelling through the deliberate use of visual components to support the storytelling process. A bloated, complex, or unfocused script, or one with non sequiturs or other extraneous material, will lead to a bad video, no matter how high your production values. Nor is a good script alone a sufficient condition for a good video. Although your production values don’t have to be high, basics such as careful editing, clear and engaging narration, and consistent audio quality are absolute musts.
As far as accessibility goes, we use a multi-platform, HTML5-based video player that supports closed captions, and we don’t publish a video without an accompanying caption file. We also generally make plain text transcripts available. Likewise, we try to ensure that none of the key information in a video is conveyed only visually — so someone who reads the transcript can still take away the lessons we’re trying to convey.
Q: Did you encounter any difficulties or unexpected challenges along the way? Do you have any recommendations for others planning to launch a similar series?
A: Especially early on, there were times we began the process of creating a video only to see the project fizzle out for some reason. Sometimes this was a project management failure; sometimes it was due to a flawed concept or script. We have since developed a better sense of the project lifecycle, and we are more careful to select and scope topics appropriately.
Technology and instructional design are constantly evolving. So no matter how good a video looks when it is first released, it will undoubtedly age. We recently reworked and replaced our 2009 “Peer Review in 5 Minutes” video with “Peer Review in 3 Minutes”. And we will probably have to redo it again in another five years. While we strive to make our videos “timeless,” five to six years is not a bad run for something published to the Web.
Q: Do students, faculty and staff know the NCSU ‘Videos and Tutorials’ exist? Do they use the tutorials link in the Get Help menu – or do they access the libraries’ tutorials through other sites (e.g. subject guides or CMS)?
A: We haven’t done a lot of formal investigation in this area, though we have some anecdotal information that suggests that our content is being linked to in courseware, on campus web pages, etc. Our librarians also link to it internally through subject guides, course pages, etc., which provide many opportunities for “indirect” discovery if students choose to visit a course page, for instance.
We do get a somewhat more concrete view through web analytics: only about half of the tutorials views originating from NCSU pages come from other parts of the Libraries’ website. Other top NCSU referrers include campus course pages (15% of visits) and the university homepage/search pages (10% of visits). So we’re getting lots of views from NCSU spaces outside of our sphere, which is a good sign that our constituents are linking to our materials.
Q: Are there existing video tutorials on the Web that inspired you? If so, which ones?
A: Creative Commons’ Get Creative video (2002) and Common Craft’s early videos such as RSS in Plain English were early inspirations for how video could be effective for teaching concepts. The reusable nature of the Big Picture Video concept was also strongly inspired by the OWL at Purdue: it’s a widely respected, well-curated instructional tool that is designed from the ground up to be applicable to all users, not just students local to Purdue University. Our goal with the Big Picture project was to make the same kind of well-crafted, broadly applicable, and institution agnostic tutorials, in video form. Stylistically, our recent videos are strongly inspired by sources as diverse as South Park, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and the interactive and video opinion pieces from the New York Times Online.
Q: Were students or faculty involved in the development of any of the Big Picture Tutorials?
A: We typically consult faculty at some point during a video’s progress, either at the topic selection stage or sometime during scripting. We don’t want to be creating a video nobody will use! For some projects we have also run concepts, storyboards, or draft video content by some of the library’s student employees. We have also involved students in the development and production processes, as mentioned above.
Q: Have you done any assessment of the effectiveness of the tutorials in meeting your established objectives?
A: From our perspective, the popularity of these videos with our faculty, colleagues, and people at other institutions has been evidence of meeting our goal to create engaging, useful, reusable learning content. We routinely receive exceptionally positive feedback about the videos and have high usage statistics from both our library website and YouTube — in academic year 2013-2014 our Big Picture videos received over 125,000 views. In addition, we see the use, adoption, and remixing of our videos by other libraries as both a goal of the Big Picture initiative and a marker of its success. Although we don’t have hard numbers on this sort of usage, seeing our videos being used in the instruction pages of well-respected academic libraries indicates to us that our tools are successful; even more gratifying is when another institution takes advantage of the Creative Commons licensing of the videos to build on our content in a creative way.
Q: How have you been promoting the series to your students and faculty?
A: We email faculty in our First Year Writing Program when we have completed a new video. New videos are also announced via the standard social media avenues (Facebook, Twitter). We also incorporate some of our videos into our face-to-face instruction sessions, so faculty and students are made aware of them that way, too. We have about 100 subscribers to our YouTube channel, so when we publish a new video they are all informed.
Q: Have you received any feedback from students, faculty, staff, and/or coworkers on the tutorials? If so, how have they been received?
A: Yes! We’ve heard from a number of NC State faculty about how much they use and appreciate the videos. We also routinely hear from colleagues at other institutions about how much they like the videos and their plans for using them. Our videos are embedded in many LibGuides around the world. We also hear from our Web Team almost every week that our video web pages have received comments submitted through our website’s “Give Us Feedback” form.
Q: The tutorials are licensed under a Creative Commons license. Have other libraries adapted the Big Picture Tutorials?
A: The primary use of our videos is adoption rather than adaptation. That is, the videos are linked to — on both our library’s website and YouTube channel — or played in library instruction sessions or in other teaching contexts. We have had some adaptation, however. The Harvard Graduate School of Education Library did an awesome re-mix and extension of the Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students video. Their project took a 10 minute video and built it out into a series of videos with more extensive web-based tutorial content.
Another example of adaptation is a Chinese language version of Peer Review in 5 Minutes done at the Ohio State University Libraries.
April 2015 PRIMO Site of the Month