March 2017 Site of the Month

Title: Search Strategies


Authors: Alice Anderson, Joelle Pitts, Sara K. Kearns (Kansas State University), and Rachel Vukas (University of Kansas Medical Center)

Interviewee: Joelle Pitts
Interviewer: Lindy Scripps-Hoekstra

NOTE: The March 2017 interview on “Search Strategies” marks the first of a two-part series that details the efforts of the New Literacies Alliance. Part 2, which will be released in April, will highlight the alliance’s “Scholarship is a Conversation” tutorial.

Project Description (provided by the authors): The New Literacies Alliance is an inter-institutional consortium of academic libraries aimed at building ACRL Framework-based online information literacy lessons. The lessons can be embedded in websites and LibGuides, synced with most learning management systems, or taken by students in the cloud. All lessons are institution-, vendor-, and technology-agnostic, meaning that they can be used by any institution. The lessons are also licensed through Creative Commons so individual branding and other modifications can be made. The Search Strategies lesson is mapped to the Searching as Strategic Exploration Frame and introduces the concept of strategic searching in order to use search tools more effectively. By understanding strategic searching techniques, students will be able to not only compose an initial search query, but will be able to refine and revise their search in order to locate relevant sources.

Q:  Please tell us more about the New Literacies Alliance. Why was it formed? What institutions are involved in this project? What are your future goals?

A: The New Literacies Alliance (NLA) was formed out of a desire to leverage existing resources at several institutions to build library instruction materials collaboratively. As budgets shrink and staff lines and resources disappear, we wanted to try and avoid recreating the wheel at every interested institution. We also wanted to build instructional materials that moved away from the traditional click-here-click-there type of videos that a lot of libraries employ and move towards building content based on the idea of metaliteracies (Mackey and Jacobson). This early work coincided with the release of the Framework for Information Literacy and since then we have created lessons mapped to knowledge practices and dispositions in the frames.

We started with two institutions, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas Medical Center and have grown to 10 partner institutions. Originally NLA was limited to just universities in Kansas. But we’ve expanded to having many national partners. These institutions were either invited to join or expressed interest in creating content for the project and began participating in planning and small group meetings.

NLA institutions include:

  • Fort Hays State University
  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • Kansas State University
  • Marquette University
  • Oklahoma State University
  • University of Kansas Medical Center
  • University of Saint Mary
  • University of West Georgia
  • University of Wisconsin – Platteville
  • Washington University in Saint Louis

Our future goals include building more lessons around the Framework, developing software to help institutions track student progress through the lessons, and establishing a design institute for librarians interested in joining the initiative and learning more about instructional design in libraries.

Q: Can outside institutions propose projects or become involved with NLA in any other ways?

A: Absolutely. Interested institutions are welcome to attend our biannual planning meetings (virtually or in person) where we determine as a group which content will be created and which projects we will tackle. New institutions can join any small group activity: content creation, assessment, or other projects. We have talked about forming an independent lesson review team which would use a set of rubrics to essentially peer-review the lessons prior to their release and we may go forward with that if we have some interest.

Q: Are Kansas State and University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) the “leaders” of the group responsible for determining which projects are done? Or do different partners propose different topics that NLA takes on?

A: Kansas State and KUMC are at the table in greater numbers during our biannual planning meetings, but we do not approve or determine which projects move forward. We typically use a consensus-building activity like Liberating Structures 1-2-4-All to express ideas and then narrow them down to those we think will most benefit the group. At least one person from each partner institution is at the table during the planning meetings and everyone has a voice during the brainstorming and ultimately the decision-making.

Q: Who was involved in the creation of the Search Strategy module? Did the same group complete each module in the collection or were there different authors for each? How did you decide who was involved?

A: Each NLA lesson includes an instructional designer and several content creators. Twice a year we meet to decide which content to build and who will make up each team. The Search Strategies lesson was led by Alice Anderson, Joelle Pitts, Sara K. Kearns (Kansas State), and Rachel Vukas (University of Kansas Medical Center). Alice and Joelle were the instructional designers and Sara and Rachel worked as content creators.

Q: From initial planning to final release, how long did it take to create the Search Strategy module?

A: We decided to build Search Strategies as one of three “core” lessons for the NLA project in December 2015, and the team worked on it and tested it throughout the following spring semester. It was finalized in June of 2016.

Q: What led you to select SoftChalk as the primary software? Did accessibility concerns factor into this decision-making?

A: We chose SoftChalk after an initial market analysis revealed it to be the only software then on the market that would allow us to collect score data for the lesson assessments in the cloud, and that also rendered lessons in HTML5 and made an effort to provide accessible components. SoftChalk is also Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) compliant, meaning that we can embed the lessons in LMS courses and sync the assessments with an existing gradebook, a feature highly prized by many of our faculty collaborators. We have embedded lessons into Canvas and D2L courses, and are working on a Blackboard installation now.

Q: How well does SoftChalk work with LibGuides?

A: Pretty well as long as there aren’t more than four or five lessons embedded on a single page. These are big files and they take longer than typical LibGuides box content to load in a browser. But the lessons are easily embedded into LibGuides using a typical embed code. An institution could even take out some of the assessment questions at the end of a lesson and reconfigure them using LibGuides built-in polling or LibWizard tools. We haven’t experimented much with this yet but since the lessons are CC-licensed, end users can tweak them however they want to make them work within their instruction programs.

Q: When creating instructional materials, it makes sense not to “reinvent the wheel.” How did you select the outside resources that you included in the Search Strategies module?

A: We always make an effort to find existing materials such as videos, quizzes, graphics, etc. before we take the time and energy to develop them from scratch. The Search Strategies components like the Boolean Machine were suggested by the content creators on the team and the instructional designers then worked to fit them into the system.

Q: Did you conduct any user testing or solicit feedback during the creation process? Did you involve students? Other librarians? Faculty?

A: Lessons created by the NLA go through what’s called a rapid prototyping design and development process. A group of four or five, led by an instructional designer, will participate in the design, testing, and review of a particular lesson. That means we brainstorm ideas and content around a learning outcome, create an early prototype lesson and test the lesson with people in our target audience (in this case, undergraduate students). The feedback from the tests is then incorporated into the next prototype, which is tested, and so on in an iterative cycle until we are satisfied with the final result. Before release, the lessons are sent out to the larger NLA working group for feedback. So lots of student feedback is utilized during the creation process. We also work closely with faculty who use the lessons in their courses to ensure that they are helpful additions to their curricula and research assignments.

Q: Have you heard any feedback from users since the Search Strategies module was launched? Has it been embedded into courses and online guides?

A: We have heard a lot of positive feedback from faculty and librarians about the NLA project in general, including one history professor who sent us an email stating, “These are incredible!!! I am going to use them not only in this class but in every class I teach that has a research requirement!”

We also recently received an email from a librarian in Florida who stated,

“I would just like to take a moment to thank you and the librarians who worked on the NLA. I am of the newer generation of librarians working to revamp our information literacy instruction and tutorial to move away from the CRAAP test and the old standards. So far, most of the information I have encountered created by academic librarians using the Framework has been, to put it bluntly, pretty awful. However, I find the content from the NLA to be right on the money and is exactly what I have been envisioning ACRL promote to help those librarians resistant to the new Framework.

It is common in this profession to share and re-share great resources, like Purdue OWL website, let me sincerely say that the work the NLA has done should be the model for academic libraries attempting this evolution of information literacy instruction in the 21st century. Please let any colleagues who assisted with the NLA know that their work is much needed and greatly appreciated!”

The Search Strategies lesson and nine other lessons have been successfully embedded into LMS courses and LibGuides at several partner institutions. Search Strategies has been taken more than 1650 times since we first rolled it out in Fall of 2015.
Note:  Joelle Pitts, the project author interviewed here, gave a webinar for ACRL’s Distance Learning Section where further details regarding the use of collaborative instructional design to create online learning experiences. The recording of the webinar, Collaborative Instructional Design: Leveraging Resources to Build Online Learning Experiences, can be found at