Annotation: Online Tutorials

Bautista Sparks, O.  (2010). Five minute screencasts — The super tool for science and engineering librarians. Science and Technology Librarianship, 60. doi: 10.5062/F4JH3J4S.

This article explores the use of screencasting as a tool for librarians to create online tutorials. Several examples of video screencasts for instructional purposes are featured, such as orientations, reference consultations, class instruction and virtual library workshops. The author wrote this article for a science and engineering librarian audience, but her tips are applicable to most instructional librarians. She offers a section discussing the different features of screencasting tools in order to assist librarians in choosing a tool. There is also a table comparing four common free tools. Because this article was published in 2010, these comparisons and features may already be outdated or inaccurate. Her tips for creating screencasts are brief, primarily discussing the logistics of how you might set up the content you want to record. She does, however, reference several other sources with instructions and checklists, though these are even older—from 2009. I suspect that such guidelines for creating a user-friendly experience do not expire as quickly as other digital trends.

A critique of online and live library workshops

Part 1: CLUE (online library orientation)

UW Libraries’ Campus Library User Education Tutorial (CLUE) presented a succinct, yet complete overview of beginning research strategies that freshman Communication Arts students would need. It was especially sage to predict and address the common misconception among teenagers that they can “just look it up on Google,” as shown in Module 2: College Level Research. The librarians do a good job here selling why library services are valuable to academic research and explaining how college-level research could be different from what students may have experienced before.

It is nice that each module in the tutorial is divided into 2-6 minute videos. Since the videos include embedded, interactive quizzes, students can be held accountable for the information if they are required to use CLUE as part of a course. This is also good pedagogy because it forces students to reconsider the most important parts of each module, aiding in comprehension and retention. Because the quiz questions are partially dispersed throughout the video, students are more likely to stay engaged and not lose focus by the end.

An improvement I might suggest would be providing access to an outline or transcript of the modules’ content once a student has successfully completed a quiz as a take-away tool. Requiring students to print their successful quiz results seems a little low-tech, given that the libraries obviously use an advanced screencasting application, Adobe Captivate, to create these interactive videos. Also, sometimes students do not have handy access to printers, making the print certificate requirement cumbersome and/or a barrier to success. We have to be sensitive to the digital divide with hardware access. Perhaps a solution would be to give students the option to click a button to share their results digitally with their instructor.

While I found the content of this tutorial to be very useful and wish that my undergraduate training had included something similar, it would have been a good idea to include a practice database search among the modules, even if the search was completely optional. The quizzes provide comprehension checks, but do not guide students to apply their new skills. It is likely that they soon will be asked to do such in their courses, but offering additional practice in this content might be welcome practice for some. Obviously, database content and search results change regularly, so it would be difficult to verify students’ work or provide something for them to compare to (unlike the controlled responses of the quizzes).

Part 2: A live library workshop

On November 4, 2013, I attended a workshop at a library on UW campus about ACT 31 Resources, which is a law requiring teachers to include instruction on Native American culture, customs and history in Wisconsin. The workshop was led by one of the library’s graduate teaching assistants and a former advisor for the American Indian Studies program.

The setting was relatively informal, since the workshop did not require prior registration and there ended up being a small number of attendees. The presenters arranged the chairs in three or four rungs of a semi-circle, with a notecard sitting on each chair. There were also laptops set up on side tables for participants to complete a short Google forms survey to provide feedback to the presenters at the end.

The primary difficulty during the workshop was a technology failure. The computer that was hooked up to the projector had an unreliable Internet connection and seemed to be struggling to respond. The library staff decided that the machine probably needed to be imaged, but did not scramble to replace the technology by substituting the setup with a laptop. The presenter tried to lead the discussion without the slideshow while the computer caught up, but at one point we had to watch a video from the screen (and speakers) of a MacBook set on a chair.

It is smart to have a backup plan in case technology fails you when you are teaching, but in this case, I would have expected the library to had have anticipated problems with the machine that needed to be updated. The majority of the resources were digital, so low-tech was not a good option. There were lots of handouts available to take away, including articles and teaching strategies, but I might have appreciated a printed list of these ideas compiled on one sheet.

The presenter offered a reward to an attendee who answered her first question, which is a nice way to encourage participation, but it was the only reward offered, which was a little disappointing. (Who doesn’t like free stuff, after all?) We were also guided through an activity idea called “Descriptive Art” as a way that teachers could share Native American art and culture with students in a respectful way. I really enjoyed the interactivity and practical application of this activity.

It was also nice that there were visual, multimedia and discussion aspects to this workshop. I left the library feeling curious and impassioned to learn more about native cultures. I had my laptop with me so that I could take a look at some of the websites the presenters were referring to, and I imagine that it would have been valuable to the other attendees to do the same. The workshop was only scheduled for one hour and the presenters were very sensitive to this by starting and ending on time. They could have included a segment where participants could spend some time hands-on with the resources on computers and talking about teaching ideas, but there simply was not enough time. Perhaps 90 minutes would have been more realistic to cover the resources they were sharing.

(P.S. I didn’t mean this part to sound negative, like I said–I was really enthusiastic afterwards about the content. I learned SO much! I was just making observations and trying to think of ways to troubleshoot some of the glitches.)

Online tutorials and teaching citation management tools

The number one thing that was missing for me with online tutorials is the “stop and wait for me to try it” aspect of a live instructor. Obviously, there is a pause button, I know, but even so, it’s not the same. If I have an automated learning experience, I like to be able to work through the process on an imaginary project or something, where I can compare my finished project to the model. Instead, tutorials can often be guided tours… I tried a few as a got to know Zotero and Mendeley a little better. (But I still don’t really get it, sigh…)

Are you familiar with the University of Arizona’s “Guide on the Side” software? It’s kind of that idea of having a virtual coach talking you through the steps as you go, like in a sidebar. I would love to see more of this kind of thing! Maybe that’s something I will have to keep in mind if ever I am an online workshop creator!

While live instructors can give feedback, answer questions or re-calibrate their instruction based on where the learner is, an insightful online tutorial could predict some of its learners needs and try to proactively address them. For example, I feel like PIMs involve a paradigm shift for many would-be users, as they probably already had some kind of system in place. When I switched from Firefox to Google Chrome, I was overwhelmed and felt like I needed an experienced insider to hold my hand and show me what I needed to know–not the “special features show-off videos from Google.” For whatever reason, the idea of a search bar and address bar all in one was a shift for me.

Short of being forced/pushed/strongly encouraged to use a PIM, I feel similarly about leaving behind my old system. I’d really like someone to just sit down with me and show me live what they like about Zotero and Mendeley. (I also wish I knew who uses either in real life, so that I have a buddy to bug with questions.) But, given that I lack a peer to sit down with me to show me the ropes, I feel like the closer you can get to a step-by-step get-to-know-the-tool workshop (and farther from the guided-tour video) for citation management instruction, the better.