March 2016 Site of the Month

Search for History Books Tutorial

Author:  Kathy Snediker

Institution: University of South Carolina

Interviewee: Kathy Snediker
Interviewer: Lindy Scripps-Hoekstra

Tutorial Description (provided by author): A cohort of first-generation, lower-income undergraduate students were struggling to do basic research in a 100-level history course. I designed a tutorial with Guide on the Side that would be an introduction to searching for history books in the library’s online catalog. It provides guided practice in keyword and subject searching, as well as finding and accessing both print and ebooks. I had students complete the tutorial during an in-class instruction session and then immediately apply what they learned by searching for books on their own topics. The tutorial is now also available from the library’s History research guide and can also be used to teach catalog searching in general.


Q: What led you to select Guide on the Side for the creation of this tutorial? Have you used this technology for other topics and classes?

A: It was a nice coincidence that we had very recently set up Guide on the Side at my institution when the need for this tutorial came up. It seemed like a perfect choice because I wanted something that required interaction as opposed to passively viewing a video or reading an online guide. Students get guided practice at navigating the catalog themselves, and they can do it at their own pace with no penalties for making mistakes as they’re learning. I really like that it provides a real-life environment by using a live browser session as opposed to something simulated. That also means there’s no need to update screenshots or video clips every time an interface changes, which eliminates a lot of maintenance that can be very time consuming. By inserting questions in the tutorial, you can add another level of interaction and provide immediate feedback or additional information in the text response to both correct and incorrect answers. I’m planning to create another tutorial on searching for book reviews in history journals, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

Q: What were some of the challenges in developing this tutorial?

A: I think some of the challenges were the same as those for creating any learning object, particularly determining the most important learning outcomes and coming up with meaningful tasks. I tend to start with too much content and have to pare it down. In this specific case, I also struggled a bit over how much guidance to provide. I wanted the tutorial to require students to look around and figure out on their own how to navigate, so I didn’t want to script every click of the mouse. Guide on the Side does require you to think carefully about the sequence of your tutorial and how users will get from one activity to the next since they are navigating on their own. You need to be explicit with your directions. It was also a challenge to find the right examples, situations that were intentionally a little confusing but not too complex.

Q: Who was involved in the creation of this tutorial?

A: I created it on my own, but I asked several colleagues to test it and provide feedback. One of them helpfully pointed out that the number of items in the catalog would almost certainly change over time, so my answer choices should be ranges rather than exact numbers to help with maintenance. I also had a few non-librarians go through it while I observed, so I could see how inexperienced users would interact with it and identify areas that needed clearer instructions.

Q: How long did it take you to create the tutorial?

A: It’s hard to say exactly, but I would estimate it took about six hours total, including planning, creation, editing, and testing. Part of that was being new to Guide on the Side, so I was learning some of the functionality as I went. But it’s pretty straightforward and there aren’t a lot of complicated options, so adding content doesn’t take a long time once you’re familiar with it. I personally tend to agonize over choosing examples and fiddling with the wording, so someone else could probably have done it faster!

Q: You mentioned having students complete the tutorial during an instruction session. Can you tell us more about how this session is structured, how long it takes, and if you considered having them complete the tutorial outside class?

A: I start the session with a general discussion of the research process, and then I have students work through the tutorial before providing any other instruction on searching. I walk around and observe, but I will only answer general questions, such as “Am I supposed to check my answers?” I think students learn the most when they work through frustration and figure things out on their own, so if they get stuck I will only point them back to the instructions. I resist talking them through it or pointing out what they are missing. Completing the tutorial takes about 15 minutes of class time.

After the tutorial, I have them tell me the most useful things they learned. This is an easy method of formative assessment to see what they remember and if they understood it correctly. It also provides an opportunity to reiterate with the whole class the key points from the tutorial. If they don’t mention something important, such as subject terms, I’ll bring it up myself. I also make sure to answer any questions they still have. Then we use the rest of the time to have them apply what they learned by searching for books on their own topic and even going to the stacks to locate them if there’s time.

I did consider whether or not to use class time on completing the tutorial, and I definitely think it could be done either way, but I chose this structure for a few reasons. First, they’re much more likely to do it when I’m walking around looking at their computer screens! I was also lucky to have a 75-minute class session so time wasn’t really an issue. Plus, I think being able to immediately discuss and then apply the concepts was a great way to reinforce their learning and build their confidence.

Q: What response have you received from the faculty members who teach this course?

A: One particular instructor teaches the course for this population of first generation students, and she loved it! I think she was a little skeptical at first that I wasn’t going to give the usual “presentation” on searching in class, but afterwards we both agreed it was very successful. She also really liked that they had something to refer back to after the class if they needed it. We had decided that the course needed a library session after too many students had struggled with finding books the previous semester and left their research until days before the rough draft was due. After this session, I didn’t get any last minute requests for help at the end of the semester.

Q: I noted there is a feedback form at the end of the tutorial. What sort of feedback have you received from students?

A: I’m embarrassed to admit that we realized after the class that the feedback form wasn’t working! But I did get a lot of positive feedback directly from the students in class. They had a lot to say during the class discussion about what they learned that they hadn’t known before, and they said they felt more confident searching for books on their own.

Q: Do you have any additional advice for those considering a similar approach?

A: Spend some time choosing the incorrect answer choices so you can use the feedback for those answers as another opportunity to guide students in the right direction. Also, design your questions so they can be answered even if something changes (e.g. a book is checked out or returned, more books are added to the collection), but still check periodically for any needed updates. And test your feedback form!

March 2016 Site of the Month