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NEWSLETTER: Vol. 5, No. 8, May 17, 2000

UW Librarians Design Web-Based Research Tutorial

by Debbie Cardinal, Wisconsin Library Services (WiLS),
and Betsy Richmond, UW-Eau Claire

On-campus university students have long been able to take advantage of bibliographic instruction -- for example, workshops led by librarians to teach students what materials their libraries have and how to access them. However, given the rapidly growing popularity of distance education, how can librarians reach students who may never physically come to campus? UW System librarians have addressed the needs of distance-education students for bibliographic instruction with a new Web-based research tutorial available at

A working group of librarians appointed by directors of University of Wisconsin campus libraries began their work in March, 1999. Their charge, defined by members of the Council of Wisconsin Libraries Distance Education Committee, was to develop a Web-based tutorial intended for new users of university-level libraries. These freshmen, sophomores, or returning adults would be taking one or more courses at a distance. The tutorial is intended to provide library research assistance to students who do not have easy and immediate access to traditional bibliographic instruction.

The group began by assessing web-based tutorials from other institutions to further define needs of Wisconsin distance education students and to determine whether Wisconsin's needs were the same or different. We began by reviewing about fifteen tutorials and ranking particular aspects. Ulrike Dieterle, then of UW-Platteville, prepared a list of criteria and subsequently summarized the working group's evaluations. Dieterle was hired by Wisconsin Library Services (WiLS) to head the template and content design process.

Graphic with caption "spotting the best information resources"
Whimsical graphics enliven the research tutorial -- here is one example. [Graphic by Sheila Zillner, WiLS]

The group determined that it had two criteria or objectives most other tutorials lacked. These two criteria focused on technical sophistication of the users and a generic approach to the tutorial content, that is, a research process not dependent on any one parent library. We wanted a tutorial that would run easily and quickly on a low-end computer, meaning one that did not have lots of speed or video or audio capability. This is because many students, particularly returning students, do not have high-end computers. Our second objective was that we wanted a tutorial that was not specific to any one library or library automated system; we wanted to teach principles, not train keystrokes.

We are using the University of Wisconsin Collaborative Nursing Program students as usability field testers for the tutorial, although we wrote the seven modules of the tutorial for a general distance learning audience. As we receive the evaluations from the students and begin to analyze their comments, we expect to make changes to the research tutorial.

The librarians who provided content and development guidance on this project are Ulrike Dieterle, UW- Madison, Health Sciences Library; Betsy Richmond and Jill Markgraf, UW-Eau Claire; Anne Kasuboski, UW- Green Bay; and Linda Piele, UW-Parkside. Debbie Cardinal of WiLS acted as Project Manager. Cheryl Olson, WiLS, edited the HTML content and assisted with organization. Sheila Zillner, WiLS, designed the graphics and layout.

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