Research Instruction at the Point of Need: Information Literacy and Online Tutorials
of Research Instruction
|Research Assignments and
Principles for Designing Tutorials
As you have seen in previous sections of this article, we believe tutorials are useful tools for teaching student both “how to” procedures for accessing and using a variety of research sources as well as for teaching concepts. What we have stressed, however, is that tutorials need to be developed and used in particular ways for best effect.
Our experience indicates that online tutorials should be:
as simple as possible with regard to technology. For many students working with slow Internet connections and older computers, some software applications will not work. In a best-case scenario, instructors will provide instructional material in multiple formats, thus guaranteeing that all students will have access to the information while also providing models of various software applications. In our course we primarily used PowerPoint and Camtasia animations;
directive and relevant. The tutorial should help students accomplish a task that is relevant to their current writing assignment. General, online tutorials are unlikely to help students understand how to navigate individual databases. A general tutorial is something like TILT as compared to the more directive tutorials we produced to find obituaries;
interactive. In order to increase student involvement, students should be asked to perform specific research tasks at each step of the tutorial. As active learners, students will benefit from research practice that actually helps them complete their specific assignment. In other words, the assignment should be designed in such a way that as students are practicing their research skills, they are simultaneously completing their assignments.
monitored. Without having to complete specific, measurable tasks, students are likely to resort to the easiest possible strategy. For this reason we incorporated the use of a research log as described in the Introduction.
comprehensive. The tutorials should provide instruction for using both fee and free resources; they should emphasize the rhetorical principles at work in the choice and evaluation of sources. In other words, we don’t want to prize one type of source over another as much as we want students to make choices about the type of information they use. We were careful to include both free and fee-based information for every assignment and found that comparison a useful paradigm. We asked students to conduct research at free, online databases such as Ancestry.com, Google Directories, and to perform general Google searches. We also asked them to access at least one database within our university's collection, and to access at least one full-text article. We also asked students to reflect on the different results that they got when they performed research in these various locations. We asked students to reflect on how the sources they used affected their writing, and we discussed how a source's credibility largely depends on the audience for their writing.
Posting tutorials to class Web sites helps instructors and students in several ways. The tutorials free instructors somewhat from the mundane aspects of teaching research, such as how to find the virtual library. Referring students to a tutorial, either to support or to replace a visit to the brick-and-mortar library, provides instructors additional time to work individually with students, helping them to explore their specific research options and needs in the context of their developing writing.
We hope that this article has helped you to find ways to take what you are already doing and incorporate research tutorials differently or create tutorials as needed. If you are a librarian, you might encourage a faculty member who inquires about a tour to instead work with you to develop a particular assignment incorporating two different types of information. Instead of the tour—or perhaps in addition—you can develop a tutorial that she or he can email to his or her students in advance. If you are a discipline faculty member, perhaps you can revise a tried and true assignment to incorporate the use of free and fee-based information. If you aren’t sure what’s available, walk over to the library and find out.Clearly, the sheer multitude of information available to all of us, student and professor alike, necessitates a deep rethinking not only of what resources are the best to use in a given situation, but of how best to learn how to use the sources available. Contextualized tutorials delivered at the point of need are one such solution.