September 2016 Site of the Month

Information Literacy: Primary and Secondary Sources

Authors: Cynthia Lewis and Jessica Owens
Institution: Ashford University

Interviewee: Cynthia Lewis
Interviewer: Gabriel Duque

Description (provided by the author):  This interactive learning module takes students through the process of identifying the differences between primary and secondary sources.

Q:  What inspired you to create the “Primary and Secondary Sources” tutorial and who was your intended audience?

A:  This learning module was created for an information literacy course [GEN103] that is part of the institution’s general education sequence.  Because students were struggling to understand how to identify primary sources in particular, the lead faculty for the course, Holly Heatley, asked us to make a learning module that would help students.  The audience is adult learners who are new to online learning and most information literacy concepts.

Q:  How did you develop the content and structure of the tutorial?

A:  The content was developed with the intention to be interactive and as authentic as possible.  Authentic cognition or learning, which means having students explore and practice with real life examples and situations, rather than just memorizing vocabulary or extract meaning from abstract ideas, becomes the vehicle for knowledge transfer.

The structure of the tutorial consists of four parts.  First, students learn the definitions for both primary and secondary sources.  They can explore as much or as little as they need depending on their motivation or previous understanding.   Next, the students work through various examples of primary and secondary sources in different academic disciplines at their own pace.  The examples were chosen based on their ability to be compared.  We hoped through this comparison, the students would begin to differentiate between types of sources on their own.  In the third part, we directly address common mistakes, “Mythbusters” style.  We had data from course instructors and the lead faculty for the course about where students were having trouble and used these to create the ‘flashcards’.   Finally, the students are given an opportunity to play a short game and identify sources as either primary or secondary. 

Q:  Who was involved in the development of the tutorial?

A:  I co-wrote the tutorial with Jessica Owens, a librarian at Grossmont College.  She was also working as a Distance Education Librarian at Ashford at the time.  Jessica was instrumental in developing the structure and editing the final version as well.  We also had to get faculty to sign off on our creation.  Designers (in this case, the librarians) and faculty work collaboratively on tutorials for course content.  It is standard Ashford protocol for the faculty developer to sign off on tutorials going into a course for several reasons.  First, the lead faculty for this course, Holly Heatley, is considered the subject matter expert and the lead developer for this course.  She also has more contextual knowledge about where the tutorial will go and how students will interact with it in the course.  For example, this tutorial is linked within an assignment, so it has to make sense with the surrounding content.

Q:  What technologies do you use for this tutorial? Why did you choose them?

A:  The learning module was built in Articulate Storyline.  Storyline is an intuitive and diverse tool for developing interactivity.  Interactivity gives students a sense of control of their own learning path.  Most of the graphics are Photoshopped or created in Illustrator.  I use a lot of imagery under Creative Commons licensing and will often tweak images to fit the need of the tutorial.  Sometimes a graphic doesn’t exist in the format that makes the most visual sense for the tutorial, so I will create it.  For example, the business plan book graphic Business Plans: A practical handbook by R. Runner on slide two under the Business section, is a composite of several images.  Using a real cover would most likely violate copyright.

Q:  How long did it take to create the Primary and Secondary Sources tutorial?

A:  The entire process from script to implementation into the course took five weeks. 

Q:  Were there any best practices and/or accessibility guidelines you followed while creating the tutorial?

A:  I designed the learning module to adhere to user-centered design principles.  At the time, we had just finished a user research study to inform instruction and design and the guidelines for what and how to design came from that data. Essentially, the module is not what we want to tell them, but what they can discover for themselves. Giving students ownership over their own learning path can be powerful.

As far as accessibility, we wanted everything to be available in text without audio to allow for screen reader compatibility.  It’s also possible to tab through the sections and go forward and backward without using a mouse.  At the time, we did not know that the images in Storyline can include descriptions for readers, but that is possible.  We are working on going back and adding this throughout the module.

Q:  Have you done any assessment?

A:  To my knowledge, no formal assessment has been done.

Q:  How has the tutorial been promoted and used? Have you gotten any feedback?

A:  The module is embedded in a course as I mentioned above and is also included with some of the LibAnswers answers.  So far, the feedback has been positive, but limited to anecdotal feedback from the course developer and several of the librarians who teach this course. The course developer thought the tutorial was helping students understand the differences between primary and secondary sources.  We were happy to hear this feedback, but do not feel it adequately measure the success of the tutorial.  We currently have no plans to make any updates to the tutorial, but are open to it.

Q:  What lessons did you learn? Do you have any recommendations or advice for librarians interested in developing something similar?

A:  It’s hard to really implement user-centered design when we have such a deep understanding and joy for libraries, research, and various ‘literacies.’  This love often causes us to get stuck in our own agendas and we wind up creating what we think students need rather than what they actually need.  Interactivity really helps break this cycle because it forces us to consider a user’s abilities and motivation.  For many students, information literacy and conducting research is daunting and something they aren’t that interested in.  We felt that giving them an interactive playground rather than a forced lesson would be more inviting and engaging.