PRIMO Site of the Month Interview: March 2021

Beginner: Search Techniques Tutorial

Creator: Renae Watson

Institution: Colorado State University

Interviewee: Renae Watson

Interviewer: Sarah LeMire

Description of Project (provided by creator):
This is a highly interactive tutorial covering the basics of using AND and OR Boolean operators to connect keywords in database searches. The tutorial includes a summary quiz with a certificate of completion. The tutorial was created using Articulate Storyline 360 as part of an internal grant and was made to meet accessibility standards.

Q: What motivated the creation of this tutorial?

A: Our entire project began with being tasked to replace outdated tutorials that had been created in Adobe Flash. The outdated Boolean operators tutorial had received the highest use, so this is where we first concentrated our efforts. The new “Beginner: Search Techniques” tutorial is highly interactive, covering the basics of using AND and OR Boolean operators to connect keywords in database searches. The tutorial includes low-stakes assessment throughout, as well as a summary quiz with a certificate of completion. It is one of a small series of tutorials on search basics that we are creating at CSU Libraries using an Articulate 360 software subscription purchased via an internal grant.

Q: How would you describe the audience for this tutorial? How did you determine your audience’s needs and at what level to pitch your content?

A: We have two tracks for our tutorials and videos: beginner and advanced. While we do typically think of the beginner audience as first- and second-years, we wanted to leave the interpretation of “beginner” and “advanced” open to acknowledge that undergraduate and graduate students enter the university with varying levels of experience, particularly with modern library research. With this in mind, we saw our audience for this tutorial, “beginners,” as students familiar with the concept of keywords, perhaps having even used natural language in a general academic database, without full understanding of how the database is using those keywords to retrieve search results. We wanted to make no assumptions about our beginners’ background knowledge. While it seems like we were making an assumption about students’ familiarity with keywords here, it was quite the opposite, as we had always planned to create a selecting keywords tutorial after our beginner and advanced search techniques tutorials. We prioritized the AND and OR tutorial due to our original assignment of replacing an outdated Boolean operators tutorial.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the process for storyboarding your tutorial? What did that process look like?

A: Our process began with a planning document in which we wrote learning objectives and subordinate skills. We then aligned assessment opportunities and instructional strategies with those learning objectives and skills. We also completed a short series of design questions, including those on learners’ entry skills, how we would activate any prior knowledge, how we would motivate learners throughout the tutorial, and what techniques we would use to encourage learners to transfer learned skills to their everyday lives. As part of this planning document, we created a rough site map for the tutorial.

With this planning document in hand, we focused less on storyboarding and more on rapid prototyping for this tutorial, drawing from my background in learning design and technology. Rapid prototyping can be more ideal than storyboarding when there are numerous media-laden or interactive components within an e-learning project. It can take more time to describe or draw these components than simply building the rough forms in the designated software, and stakeholders can gain a better understanding of how these components will work from the prototype than from paper. This process allowed us to be more flexible and think out of the (storyboard) box for our interactive and constructive learning components.

Q: Creating tutorials can be a very time-consuming process. Can you describe for us the timeline you went through for conceptualizing, storyboarding, developing, and launching this tutorial?

A: While rapid prototyping helped our process, our timeline was lengthier than hoped due to some setbacks and with having to perform our normal job responsibilities outside of our work on e-learning objects. For instance, we initially had two online tutorials in process at once among two smaller groups before both tutorials became the sole responsibility of the two project leads. As part of our internal grant, we also took on a student videographer for a semester, which disrupted tutorial development. Without disruptions but while also performing our normal job functions, our approximate timeline was two months for planning, four to six months for development, and two to three months for final revisions and adding accessibility features.

Q: Ensuring that tutorials are fully accessible can be challenging. What was your process with regard to accessibility?

A: We were dedicated to making the tutorial accessible from day one, which is why we chose a software with great accessibility features built in. I also used Articulate’s support documentation on how to build an accessible course in Storyline 360 to create an accessibility checklist for the team. This helped us stay on track and ensure we didn’t miss any major accessibility problems in the tutorial. This being said, adding certain accessibility features still took some time since we didn’t know exactly how Articulate Storyline 360 worked before jumping in. For instance, we’ve since learned that creating more slides may be better than using slide layers given how you tell Storyline to determine reading order for objects on a slide. However, the time spent is worthwhile knowing that a diversity of students can use and learn from our tutorial, with features ranging from having larger sections of text read aloud to them as needed to navigating through the tutorial without having to use a computer mouse.

Q: What software did you use to create your tutorial? Can you talk through the process you used to select tutorial software and what factored into your decision?

A: We used Articulate Storyline 360 to create this tutorial. I was familiar with Articulate Storyline 2 from past projects and knew it to have more accessibility features than some other products. This was especially important to us since we were tasked with replacing inaccessible tutorials. As our group had seven members at the time of consideration, I had also thought it would be easy to teach the other members to use based on my experience; this was important, too, since we did not have a developer on hand. Our vision for these tutorials were as stand-alone learning objects, as well, rather than as side additions to websites. Finally, the rapid turnaround required for the internal grant proposal that ultimately provided funding for the software sealed our decision. While we purchased the full Articulate 360 software suite and had hoped to also use Articulate Rise 360 to create tutorials, we quickly discovered that Articulate was still in the process of converting several of its features to be accessible at the time, and Rise 360 would have greatly limited our vision of how users would interact with our tutorials.

Q: In this tutorial, you use a variety of checks on learning to keep viewers engaged and reinforce learning. How did you develop your checks on learning? How did you determine what types of questions to ask or activities to design?

A: As mentioned, we aligned assessment opportunities and instructional strategies with our learning objectives and subordinate skills. Subordinate skills are what learners actually have to do, to mentally or physically perform, to complete a learning objective. Informal assessment, then, should allow them to practice performing this skill. For instance, if learners are to demonstrate how to use AND in a search with two or three keywords, they would have to know, first, which keywords to choose from a research question or topic, and then, where to place AND in the search string with these keywords. Given the typical attention span of an audience, we may not be able to assess every subordinate skill, but we can include checks for enough skills along the way to determine whether a learner has met the learning objective. This was how we determined the content of the questions or activities. As far as inspiration goes for the format, we looked to popular apps and learning tools, like Duolingo and Kahoot, while keeping in mind what we could do in Storyline 360 without a large amount of customization. In short, we wanted learners to stay engaged and walk away feeling as if they knew how to truly perform a skill, rather than just clicking through a tutorial and reading about how to do it.

Q: Can you talk about your process or plan for revising and keeping the tutorial updated?

A: We wanted to be realistic about how often tutorials are updated or replaced within academic libraries due to the time, effort, and/or cost often put in. We also knew that we had asked for a three-year subscription to Articulate 360 as part of our grant funding, thus limiting our opportunities for revisions. We estimated that the tutorials would likely need to be updated or replaced in about five to six years from launch. With this in mind, we created the tutorials for endurance by mimicking search screens but avoiding screenshots of specific databases that could easily be subject to several interface updates over the course of five to six years. In order to avoid revisions for more overt issues later, we had several librarians review a final prototype of the tutorial as part of our process. We also built immediate user testing into our timeline so we could revise sooner than later given our limited subscription, though this has been affected by the pandemic. We did incorporate informal student testing into our design process, and we hope to find new opportunities for user testing soon.

Acknowledgement: While not part of this interview, Jenna Allen, Khaleedah Thomas, and Christine Pawliuk served as valued collaborators on this tutorial.