The use of courseware for information skills teaching in academic libraries has been growing for a number of years. The GAELS project was required to create a set of learning materials to support Joint Electronic Library activity at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities and conducted a literature review of the subject. This review discovered a range of factors common to successful library courseware implementations, such as the need for practitioners to feel a sense of ownership of the medium, a need for courseware customization to local information environments, and an emphasis on training packages for large bodies of undergraduates. However, we also noted underdeveloped aspects worthy of further attention, such as treatment of pedagogic issues in library CAL implementations and use of hypertextual learning materials for more advanced information skills training. We suggest ways of improving library teaching practice and further areas of research.
The GAELS project (Glasgow Allied Electronically with Strathclyde) is a two year project intended to promote a culture shift among Engineering researchers at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities. Our intention is to decrease researchers’ dependence on separately held local print collections in favour of collaboratively held networked electronic resources. To support this aim, GAELS (1999) has created a courseware package which would teach researchers the different information retrieval skills required to use such networked resources.
In the course of this work, we undertook a review of the literature relating to the use of computer-aided learning materials in academic libraries. We wanted to create a hypermedia-based package delivered over a WWW platform, but we knew that writers on courseware development and educational theory (Laurillard, 1993; Benyon et al, 1997) had expressed caution about the effectiveness of hypermedia as a way of supporting genuine educational outcomes. Before we committed ourselves to a particular approach, we wished to examine what previous projects had discovered in using a variety of learning technologies for library user education.
Our review divides broadly into two sections. The first covers the period before HTML-structured WWW resources became commonplace in academic libraries. It examines two sub-categories, one describing non-WWW based hypermedia packages, the other pure computer-mediated communication technology approaches. The second covers the period from the advent of WWW/HTML resources in libraries. This section looks at papers describing library skills packages derived from three main models: a) passive, hypertexualized publications, including HTML publications of library handouts and other user education literature, b) introductory tours, virtual guides and orientation packages, and lastly c) the true online class. Finally, we consider expert reviews, articles offering practitioner advice on courseware development and papers on the collaborative development of online learning materials in academic libraries.
The first well-documented uses of computer-aided instruction technologies in academic library user education occur in North American libraries during the mid-1980s. Many of these technologies may be presumed to be ‘hypermedia’ only in a loose sense, since they use outmoded packages such as PILOT to emulate results achievable by modern hypermedia packages. In contrast to the pessimism of Benyon et al and Laurillard a number of successful outcomes were noted, with the courseware approach emerging favourably in comparison with traditional teaching methods. In Nipp and Straub (1986) well-founded analysis of learning outcomes using formal pre- and post-test competency evaluations plus informal interviews showed microcomputer instruction to be as effective as the lecture-based format previously used. Lawson (1989) also achieved good results, using similar formal evaluation methods.
These optimistic early pre-WWW case studies were picked up by a later case study conducted between 1994 and 1996 (Kaplowitz and Contini, 1998). This study noted the work mentioned above (Lawson, op cit; Nipp and Straub, op cit) together with other optimistic studies of CAI in libraries (Pask, 1988; Piette and Smith, 1991; Cherry, 1991). However, the authors were cautious about the existing CAI evaluations in the literature, noting, for example, that neither Pask, nor Piette and Smith assessed students’ skills levels after taking the CAI. Moreover, Kaplowitz and Contini cite other writers (Harrington, 1989; Kulik, 1989; Welsch and Loomis, 1990), who criticized the potential of CAI for real interactivity with students. This pessimism resembles that of Benyon et al and Laurillard. Kaplowitz and Contini (ibid) used their insight into the literature of library CAI to conduct their own methodologically sound and very well-resourced CAI case study, successfully creating a library skills package for undergraduate biologists at UCLA which aimed at teaching more than simple information skills. Despite their initial pessimism, their study did create a courseware package capable of producing results at least equivalent to those of traditional user education methods.
Although this study was optimistic about learning outcomes for library CAI, it was pessimistic about resourcing. The package was very expensive and labour-intensive to develop, so that it was unclear whether it would be revised and used in future. A pattern was developing. In the 1980s, library courseware seemed to work well in teaching simple tasks where drill is required for mastery (Turner, 1990). Effective packages were created with simple interactive activities and sustainable resourcing which could be maintained in future. Resourcing the development of more sophisticated learning materials was problematic (Kaplowitz and Contini, ibid).
Although educational hypermedia may not achieve deep learning outcomes in many non-library learning contexts, where more ambitious outcomes are achievable in library skills training, the resourcing required to create such packages is excessive. However, the limited emphasis on deep learning in simple library skills training means that hypermedia packages have a valuable, sustainable role in basic library instruction. Subsequent pre-WWW studies (Dixon; 1995; Vander Meer, 1996) confirm this, teaching basic library skills with sound evaluations and good learning outcomes.
Another important strand of library computer-aided learning technology implementation that precedes the present wealth of WWW-based hypermedia applications is represented by CMC-based distance learning courses, which spawned a number of interesting case studies in the 1990s. These studies described teaching innovations based around email communication with dispersed groups of students. Interactive feedback took place using listservs and other email technologies as a way of facilitating peer group interaction, together with personal email communication to the student from a tutor.
These courses often took as their subject the technologies that were delivering the teaching- the internet, email, usenet, listservs, and the like. Burke (1996) describes one such librarian-led general internet course, arguing that more library-specific bibliographic instruction topics could also potentially be taught with this technology. Often such email courses were delivered as weekly or bi-weekly correspondence courses (Burke, op cit; Vishwanatham; 1997). The more library-specific the ‘correspondence course’, the more focused the syllabus. Kelsey (1999) concentrates just on five specific tools, others (Jensen and Sih, 1995; Butros, 1997) teach simply one database.
Initially, hypertext courseware technologies were not used with CMC, though some (Burke, op cit; Jensen and Sih, op cit) did anticipate WWW-based hypermedia tools encouraging this. For example, if the exposition of material took place by email, the student’s activities and feedback on those activities took place by email. This was inevitable, given that pre-WWW standalone hypertext packages could not be easily distributed over the network. Interactive pre-WWW standalone hypermedia courseware was offered to students by in-person workshops while distance learning was synonymous with CMC-based courseware.
By contrast, once WWW platforms became available to libraries, networking of hypertextual packages became easier and courseware developers could allow themselves more flexibility of approach. For example, Mazoue (1999) lists sixteen online instruction methods which can be combined as appropriate, and describes CMC as an important tool for some degree of regular feedback and motivational support rather than as the only source of interactive feedback on all the activities generated by a package.
The drive to combine a CMC-approach to courseware with other technologies derives from perceived limitations of the medium. Exposition of material via CMC technologies such as email is labour-intensive, and so is the subsequent interaction and feedback (Herther, 1997). The labour-saving automated exercises and feedback of the non-CMC dependent hypermedia-based library packages are a great practical benefit. The activity and feedback functions of such packages require less support from tutors, even though their drill-based exercises could be seen as simplistic.
Later case studies based on synchronous rather than asynchronous CMC technologies confirm the resource-intensive nature of this medium. Pival and Tunon (1998) successfully used the conference package NetMeeting over twelve dispersed sites, while Simoneaux et al (1999) obtained good results using a combination of hypertextual exposition, a multi-user object-oriented environment (MOO) together with a chat room programme.
As previously, problems of distance were dealt with, but staffing resources remained an issue. Tutors supported the MOO environment of Simoneaux et al during hours when it may not have been convenient for the student to make a trip to campus. Moreover, the idea of replicating contact lecturing via conferencing software for library skills teaching raises general questions about the suitability of the contact lecture for library education. Because the lecture is a narrative educational format, it suits some topics well, for example, chronological historical subjects, or the step by step building of philosophical argument. Information skills teaching tends to consist of self-contained descriptions of tools, concepts or processes, none of which combine together in a linear sequence of cumulative argument or incremental drama.
Using conferencing software for long verbal exposition about information skills is thus rather boring. Pival and Tunon, op cit, advise keeping the training segment relatively short because students grow weary even with a keyboard and VDU in front of them. An important attraction of the courseware approach is the opportunity to escape from the library lecture format, not the ability to replicate it.
In sum, there is an impressive body of library CMC case studies with adequate evaluative data which show that this is a valuable technology with positive learning outcomes. If used to the exclusion of other technologies, it requires good staff resourcing to succeed. It displays no resourcing advantages over non-WWW-based hypermedia in delivering more advanced skills training. Library skills tutors with the requisite support who feel that this is a suitable approach may choose it for their CAL implementations with a fair degree of confidence.
The move from packages using software such as Hypercard and Toolbook to HTML-generated hypermedia resources delivered via the WWW is marked by one simple but powerful trade-off. The more rigorous analytic approaches of earlier computer-aided instruction projects are relaxed as courseware implementations become more prevalent in everyday library teaching practice.
In the United States, the adoption of HTML/WWW as de facto standards democratized the courseware development process. In some cases this technology simply removed the mystique from the courseware development process, or in others it empowered librarian teachers to become courseware developers themselves.
For example, Murphy (1998) comments that, in the process of a CAL project, she decided to become not just the project client, but also a member of the actual development team. The emergence of the Information Technology column in the American user education journal Research Strategies shows practitioners getting to grips with these new learning technologies. Similarly, Laverty (1997) describes the skills needed by instruction librarians in using the new learning media.
This is less true of the United Kingdom. The U.S. literature of the mid-1990s onwards records a change from showcase projects that stand apart from mainstream practice to further practitioner-led implementation. In the U.K. not only are there fewer published courseware case studies, there is also a longer-lived tendency for courseware development to remain the preserve of supra-institutional showcase projects outside the practitioner mainstream.
The highly successful Glasgow University-based TILT library CAL project (Creanor et al, 1996) created a Toolbook package (later moved to a WWW platform). As with pre-WWW American implementations, the pedagogy is rigorous and the evaluation exemplary. But the TILT remit required that the package had to be generic, not site-specific. However, this generic quality did not lead to the package being adopted at other sites.
To illustrate this, the SCONUL Annual Library Statistics for 1996-97 (SCONUL, 1998) show that, of 117 British and Irish institutions, Glasgow University was one of only eight U.K. libraries which recorded any data under ‘uses of information skills packages’. This contrasts somewhat with the position in the U.S.A., where in 1987 15% of institutions reported using computer-assisted instruction (Bevilacqua, 1993).
SCONUL’s data imply that British generic packages, such as Glasgow’s, or the INTO INFO learning materials created by the EDUCATE project (Thomasson and Fjällbrant, 1996), have had little documented impact in the U.K. outside of the institutions which created them despite being soundly evaluated as having successful learning outcomes. (As with the Glasgow TILT package, INTO INFO was designed to be used across a number of library sites. Collective ownership rather than local ownership was of the essence (Fjällbrant, 1996))
If ground-breaking set piece projects paved the way for wider emulation by similar locally authored CAL packages in the United States, it is likely that U.K. courseware implementations will grow in the same way. The generic library package which generates little sense of local ownership will not readily be adopted by other libraries.
As learning technologies have become increasingly the tool of the practitioner, a loss of focus on certain principles has brought disadvantages. Firstly, the distinction between an information resource and an educational resource has become blurred. This can be seen in the second half of the 1990s in articles about direct WWW conversions of ‘user education’ handouts or in articles which explore the WWW as a ‘passive’ hypertext publishing medium without using drill-based interactive routines (Halvorsen, 1997). As noted previously, Benyon et al dispute that there is educational benefit from simply hypertextualizing existing material as WWW/HTML resources. Halvorsen’s hypertext WWW publications certainly succeed as information resources, but it is not clear in what sense this success is an instructional outcome. This is unfortunate, because case histories which demonstrate the educational value of hypertext learning resources without drill-based routines do offer a way of escaping from simplistic multiple choice-style online activities.
Similarly, Mosley (1998) describes a successful project in which library instructional handouts are made accessible through the WWW, but again, because there is no evaluation of learning outcomes, it is hard to see how educational these materials are. In fact Mosley (ibid) prefers to concentrate on technical rather than pedagogic issues.
There are, however, examples where ‘passive’ hypertext pages are claimed by the developer to be bibliographic instruction. The EDUCATE project has been viewed as an internet publishing case study (O’Riordan, 1996) and as an interactive educational project (Fjällbrant, 1995). This case is made more clearly in the teaching of intricate legislative processes (Hoffman, 1997). For Hoffman, ‘simply hypertextualizing the material’ (Benyon’s phrase) is educationally beneficial because the resultant overview of the legislative web on a hypertext map brings the student fully into the mechanism of creating new laws. As Laurillard, op cit, points out, hypertext learning occurs readily 'when the world is itself textual’ (p. 130).
To summarize, the blurring of the distinction between passive WWW/HTML publishing and genuine educational resources can sometimes be seen as a category error. On the other hand, a resource can genuinely work as a set of teaching materials while remaining largely a form of hypertext publishing without simplistic, drill-based exercises. A direct HTML conversion of a high quality correspondence course textbook, or a richly hyperlinked learning environment (Hoffman, ibid) are both good examples.
The claims for the instructional value of virtual library tours are similarly complex, since these WWW resources are essentially informative, comprising exposition of material without activity and feedback. Mosley (1996) describes a rich WWW user education resource presented as a tour through a library. However, demonstrable learning outcomes are not looked for although some evaluation is done, for example with email feedback. Such simple evaluation shows that the resource is liked, but it does not show how it is used for learning. Users may have used it once for an ephemeral item of information, and then sent in an appreciative email. By contrast, Lawson, op cit, from the outset accepts the importance of this distinction. His pre-WWW case study started with a description of an ineffective traditional tour, before contrasting this with a genuinely instructional virtual library tour with demonstrable learning outcomes.
Other WWW-based courseware investigations also show blurring of distinctions. One description of a British electronic library guide (Gorman, 1995) contains no evaluation but declares an intention to evaluate learning outcomes from the package. This shows that virtual library tours can aspire to the status of learning materials not just informational expositions, but that evaluation is not viewed as integral. Another U.K. example, (Biddiscombe, 1997) evaluates the success of a library guide by counting accesses, and as with Mosley, op cit, by encouraging email feedback
Other U.S. case studies are similar. Borah’s (1997) orientation package study does not describe its interactive features, although such features do exist elsewhere in the surrounding WWW environment. There is no evaluation reported. Murphy’s virtual library tour, op cit, appears to have no interactivity or feedback, although other local online library teaching modules do use these instructional features. All these papers describe excellent library WWW pages, but their usefulness may be informational not educational. Descriptions of them do not emphasise interactive teaching and learning achieved by either drill-based routines, or other hypermedia features.
Library WWW resources become more demonstrably learning materials when they leave behind the metaphor of the instructional handout and the library tour. Both metaphors imply the user-librarian relationship, where the user passively receives information from an information provider. Once user education WWW resources are created within the framework of the taught class, the interactive relationship of the tutor-student supplants the passive user-librarian relationship. The level of educational interactivity often remains elementary, however.
A typical pattern emerges. A package is created to support a subject-specific class (Sabol and Orians, 1996); or alternatively, a course in communications, professional or study skills provides a curriculum context for the library skills training (Parise, 1998; Cribb and Woodall, 1997). The academic level is undergraduate not research. Occasionally courseware focuses on a free-standing library information retrieval tool, such as a single database or database host, but this is rare (Prestamo, 1998; Hawkins, 1997). More often a range of external networked services and local library facilities are described.
Such library courseware consists of one or more modules which offer a linear path through a set of WWW pages. The student follows a primarily textual exposition of material, enriched with graphics, screenshots and/or hyperlinks to information resources. A drill-based quiz often concludes each module; and a more ambitious final assignment based on the whole package may be given. Satisfactory completion of the quizzes and/or larger piece of work is integrated into passing the departmental course supported by the package. Email interaction with library staff, peers or faculty often occurs, but is not the only means of interactivity and feedback. Occasionally a particular feature of these packages is highlighted, for example the automation of assessment (Niemeyer, 1999). However, Scholz et al (1996), Greenwood and Frisbie (1998), and Nozero et al (1998) are more typical, showing most features of this model.
If interactive features are prominent here, the interest in learning outcome evaluation is less pronounced. Lehner and Jacobson (1997) comment that the value of their instructional Law resource will ultimately have to be judged by users not by their own evaluation. Greenwood et al, op cit, reveal that evaluation results were not compiled systematically enough to make claims about the course. However, if evaluative user feedback is solicited, it is used intelligently. For example, packages with interactive quizzes often give no more feedback on a set of student responses than a pass or fail mark. This is not enough, as the evaluation of the PLUTO package by Scholz et al, op cit, shows.
Occasionally evaluation of learning outcomes becomes as prominent as in pre-WWW case studies. Sabol (1998) expands earlier work (Orians and Sabol, op cit) into a separate paper on evaluation. Interestingly, Sabol quotes Kaplowitz and Contini, op cit, in his evaluative study.
Another distinctive feature of these later studies is the decline in the evaluation of learning outcomes from traditional methods, compared with a courseware approach. One purpose of such comparative evaluation is to convince a sceptical audience of the merits of learning technologies in library training. The evangelical effect of comparative evaluations may still have a role in changing library teaching practice, especially in the U.K., and its decline is regrettable.
Two other aspects of courseware implementation without significant treatment are the effective accommodation of differing learning styles and interface issues. Although adjusting teaching content to learning styles formed an important strand in the U.K. EDULIB project (1999), we found little emphasis on this approach in the literature (Wood, 1996).
To be usable, learning materials need to have a good interface, and they need to be found easily within a WWW environment. Laverty, op cit, describes the effective use of HTML tables as interfaces to individual sets of materials, while Fjällbrant, et al (1997) describe Pathfinders, a task-based interface. However, there appears to be no published work dealing with the integration of library learning materials into surrounding local WWW pages.
The wider adoption of courseware approaches to library skills teaching in the U.S.A is an encouraging trend, though wider adoption has been accompanied by less rigorous attention to pedagogic issues. This can cause problems. More recent library courseware projects have failed due to confusions untypical of earlier projects (Sonntag, 1999). However, lack of rigour in using pedagogic techniques such as evaluation in library teaching practice is caused more by lack of resources rather than a lack of awareness (Bober et al, 1995). Compromise is inevitable in professional practice.
These later case studies also show that the true WWW/HTML online library skills class resembles earlier case studies. Information skills are taught by simple but effective interactive exercise-and-feedback models, but generally at undergraduate-level. Using a generic package for research students, can be problematic for some (Creanor et al, op cit). More recently, Van Brakel (1999) reports success in achieving higher order learning outcomes in an interactive WWW-based course for postgraduate information scientists. Although the study does not provide quantitative data on how the package development was resourced nor on learning outcomes, more such successful case studies are needed.
Thus, despite successes with simpler skills training for undergraduate populations, the use of WWW/HTML technologies in libraries have not yet demonstrated simple, resource-friendly ways of creating the deep learning that educational theorists demand of effective educational technologies.
There is a recent trend not to document library courseware implementations, presumably because there is little incentive to report what appears increasingly to be accepted practice. Expert reviews of courseware, which look at packages themselves rather than literature about them, thus have a role in creating an overview of otherwise undocumented activity. Cox (1997) produced a good non-theoretical expert review which noted that CAL packages are difficult to evaluate without knowing how they are used. Courseware developers should analyse use and publish case studies, since expert reviews cannot do this. Dewald (1999) and (1999)(A) provide a combination of expert review, pedagogical theory and advice on how to create good courseware.
Dewald’s two 1999 papers (ibid) show that, when a new technology comes into professional practice, there is a role, not just for expert review, but also for ‘how-to-do-it’ literature. Certain early case studies are sometimes used as general exemplars, (Pask, op cit; Kaplowitz and Contini, op cit), while others (Burke, op cit; Jensen and Sih, op cit) are used as exemplars for CMC-based approaches.
Practitioner librarians also may look to the intelligent magazine-style advice article (Ardis, 1998; Bell, 1998), or a synthesis of expert review and theory (Nipp, 1998). However, practitioner librarians may prefer non-library material, ranging from the introductory (Mazoue, op cit; Driscoll, 1998) to the more theoretical (Benyon et al, op cit; Laurillard, op cit)
One striking absence from the literature was discussion of collaboration between different institutions in producing library courseware. While collaboration between geographically dispersed campuses of a single institution is common, (Pival and Tunon, op cit, and Vishwanatham, op cit), there is little cross-institutional collaboration reported. As noted above, the establishment of a sense of ownership of a package limits most courseware implementations to single institutions.
Awareness of collaborative economies of scale in creating library learning materials has been reported by the British Library Travelling Workshops Experiment project (Clark, 1981). Wood (1996)(A) has described cross-institutional engineering courseware. Faulhaber (1996) notes how networking learning materials creates economies of scale in multi-site language teaching, though not in its library aspects.
However, statements that libraries can buy in packages without alteration are problematic (Legge and Reid, 1998). U.S. practice shows how packages tend to be local, not bought-in. Higher education information environments are often highly individualized, generating site-specific information skills syllabuses. This is not the case with courseware for many mainstream academic subjects, where the undergraduate science and engineering syllabus is broadly similar between institutions. Legge and Reid (ibid) may be assuming similarities between library skills and mainstream subjects which do not exist. Moreover, barriers to library collaboration may also lie in the organisational context, as analysis of an internet/library instruction course for the Utah Western Governors Virtual University has shown (Hansen and Lombardo, 1997).
The American literature shows that library computer-aided learning packages have entered mainstream practice to a greater extent than in the United Kingdom, and that they have done so due to an emphasis on certain factors:
· The practitioner sense of ownership of the courseware medium and materials
· Sustainable resourcing in terms of skills levels to maximize maintainability
· Tailoring to a local information environment rather than generic solutions
· Concentrating on simple skills training for large bodies of undergraduates
· U.S. library courseware projects can afford to create learning packages purely for local use. Because British projects need to spread costs over many sites, we recommend creating institutional courseware packages which can then be reduced to generic WWW/HTML templates. Such templates can be shared with other U.K. sites who in turn tailor them to local requirements. This combines the economies of scale of generic multi-site courseware with the need for local institutional identity.
· Early library courseware implementations combined a thoughtful approach with a strong emphasis on evaluation of learning outcomes. Courseware development today would benefit from adopting similar approaches.
Our response in the GAELS project has been to follow the template idea through, to obtain a solution that can be copied and transferred between institutions. We have also attempted to make evaluation a central part of the project. Because there is little evidence that drill-based interactive packages are suitable for research-level information skills students, we have adopted a hypertextual approach to interactive learning (Hutchings et al, 1992; McKendree et al, 1995). We have not introduced a consideration of learning styles into our courseware due to concerns about the impracticality of tailoring one package to many different users and the paucity of convincing case studies using this approach.
· Many case studies fail to explore issues such as the suitability of a largely non-drill-based hypertext/hypermedia approach for teaching information skills. This area should be focused on and investigated.
· The abandonment of case studies making comparisons between traditional teaching methods and computer-aided learning methods means that the case for new WWW/HTML teaching approaches remains unproven to many librarian teachers. A renewed interest in such studies would be welcome.
· There is also a need for comparison studies between different new teaching methods, such as drill-based interactive packages versus pure hypertextual approaches, with an examination of how each approach suits different levels of student.
· Many case studies fail to explore the suitability of a pure hypertext/hypermedia (non-drill-based) approach for teaching information skills by confusing its informational value with its educational value. There is a need for studies which make this distinction clearly, examine both roles, and compare how the medium achieves either educational or informational outcomes.
· Some early non-WWW/HTML case studies investigated whether longer term learning takes place as a result of using CAL in libraries. Such investigations are worth repeating with contemporary WWW/HTML technologies.
· Little attention has been given to the analysis of how students best find and then use library learning materials within a conventional library WWW environment. This is worthy of study.
· Similarly, there are few studies of how different learning styles can be accommodated by library CAL packages. Such studies would show whether the GAELS Project is correct in its assumptions about learning styles in library courseware.
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