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Volume 45, Number 1

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Online At Your Own Pace: Web-Based Tutorials in Community College Libraries

by David Gray

Libraries in the Virginia Community College system are exploring how to use the Web to deliver bibliographic instruction more effectively. As more and more of our services and resources are presented to students through a Web interface, it makes sense to present library instruction in the same manner. Individual libraries are developing their own in-house tutorials as well as coming together to share with other colleges. I would like to use our experience at Blue Ridge Community College as an illustration of this ongoing process.

At Blue Ridge the library participates in a for-credit college orientation class. In the past this has typically meant one class session would be spent in the Library, with a brief orientation lecture and tour, as well as a demonstration of the online catalog and one or two periodical indexes. While lecture and demonstration, even with mandatory exercises, was adequate, it seemed there must be a better way.

At the 1997 VCCS New Horizons Conference, Beth Campolieto Marhanka, then a reference assistant at Northern Virginia Community College and now a librarian at Georgetown University, participated in a session where she shared her work on a web-based tutorial ( The tutorial is a series of web pages that teaches students the basic facts of the NVCC library system, instructs them on how to use the online catalog, and explains how to locate articles using online periodical indexes. I knew this was the direction that our orientation should take, and Beth kindly allowed me to use her words and images in developing a version for BRCC. The faculty member who taught orientation was enthusiastic about the idea, and we set out to create a web-based library unit for the class.

The orientation tutorial was created in HTML using WordPad and Paint Shop Pro for the graphics. While incorporating many elements of NVCC's tutorial simplified the process and saved a great deal of time, developing these products is very time-consuming. We decided to focus on three topics: finding books with our online catalog, finding periodical articles using IAC Expanded Academic ASAP, and finding information on the World Wide Web using Yahoo. These were the basic skills we wanted to introduce to the students. The orientation tutorial is designed to introduce a resource like the online catalog and then demonstrate step-by-step the process of using it. Each step is illustrated with images of the screen during an actual search, which were captured with Paint Shop Pro. In addition, these screen captures were easily enhanced with explanatory text, and important visual elements on the screen were highlighted with circles or arrows. We decided to include questions throughout the tutorial along with an answer sheet to be printed and filled out. After an important concept is introduced, like call numbers, or after each type of search is demonstrated, such as keyword searching in the online catalog, students are presented with a question. These questions require students to employ the concepts and tools that have just been demonstrated to them, usually by performing an actual search themselves. After testing with several students during the summer, the completed tutorial was implemented for the Fall 1998 semester (

When the orientation classes came to the library we still gave a short introductory talk about library policies and services, but then briefly demonstrated how to access and use the online tutorial. Students were then free to use the library's computers to complete the tutorial, while staff circulated answering questions and giving hints when necessary. The orientation instructor gave her classes one week to finish the tutorial and hand in their answer sheets. Students taking the class as an independent study came to the library throughout the semester and received the same instruction in a one-on-one session.

What has been the result of using the tutorial? There appear to be several advantages. Course feedback indicated students preferred the online tutorial to straight lectures and felt they learned more with this method. Students are able to work at their own pace, and several of the questions are open-ended enough to allow students to explore topics that interest them. Those who have little experience with computers, older nontraditional students in particular, seem to enjoy the opportunity to have hands-on practice at their own pace. The library staff found that students who were not in the orientation class, including distance students, could also gain an introductory knowledge of the library from completing the tutorial. And while the orientation class is not required, other faculty know that students who have completed orientation have also completed the library tutorial. In fact, this tutorial could provide a model for coordinating library instruction throughout the curriculum, acting as a foundation to build upon with more detailed and discipline-specific units developed for other courses.

Because of interest in web-based tutorials throughout the Virginia Community College system, and because the VIVA resources are available to all institutions, the VCCS Library Automation Advisory Committee's Web-based Projects Subcommittee decided to develop a set of web-based tutorials that any VCCS Library could use as part of its bibliographic instruction efforts. Currently the VCCS has posted tutorials from Northern Virginia, Blue Ridge, and Virginia Western covering WebPac and Infotrac SearchBank, FirstSearch, and NewsBank NewsFile () These tutorials have been designed, whether they are new or modifications of existing tutorials, to be generic shared resources that do not refer only to a specific college, but to any of the colleges.

As online resources grow, librarians may find that collaborations like this offer a valuable way of sharing information with their patrons and with each other. If you are interested in learning more about this project, plan to attend to the 1999 New Horizons Conference on April 11-13 1999 in Richmond. Information is available at: Anne Anderson of NVCC will demonstrate and discuss the use of web-based tutorials for WebPAC, Infotrac SearchBank, FirstSearch, and NewsBank during a session entitled "VIVA Tutorials and Other Web Aids."

David Gray is Librarian at Blue Ridge Community College.

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