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Using Technology to Promote Student Success: Strengthening Information Literacy skills in Distributed Education Classes


Defining and Promoting Student Success
A National Symposium
November 21-22, 2008
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, California


Mary Ann Trail, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

An increasing number of students at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey expect to take a distributed education (DE) course during their time here. Students often have inappropriate expectations about the research and self discipline needed for this instructional modality and hence do not plan appropriately for success in DE courses. In addition, they often do not anticipate the need for any non-internet support and do not have the appropriate information literacy competences to support their choice of delivery.

As Coordinator of the Library’s Education Program, I see numerous examples of students struggling with the literature research required in DE courses because they do not receive the information literacy instruction readily available to students on campus. To address this information deficiency for DE students, I have spent some time looking for ways to engage them and offer alternate ways of acquiring the necessary skills. When Stockton’s IT people mentioned a new web-based tool called Wimba Classroom that seemed ideal for reaching DE students, I jumped at the chance to use it. Wimba Classroom supports audio, video, application sharing, polling, whiteboard, and content display, with a goal of promoting live interaction between instructors and students in an online setting. It is similar to those programs used by participants in online workshops or conferences.

Unfortunately, my original plan did not work out as I hoped. After spending a good part of the summer learning how to use Wimba Classroom, I found that only two faculty members at Stockton used the program, neither of whom was teaching a DE course. The need to reach off campus students was still there, but my strategy needed to change.

New Plan
At the same workshop where I learned about Wimba Classroom, a brief mention had been made about a screen capture utility that allowed the user to make a video, with voice over, of what crosses their monitor. The product, Camtasia, was not interactive but it did allow the possibility of making short video tutorials of how to use library databases. As a literature search showed, screen captures programs like Camtasia are currently being used in a variety of disciplines and in a variety of ways.

The learning curve for Camtasia seemed flatter than that of Wimba; even better, the possibility of making short tutorials videos available to off campus students seemed a viable alternative to traditional methods of library instruction.

It seemed perfectly simple to do a screen capture in Camtasia. After watching the video tutorial that came with the program, I felt I could jump right in. After all, I was used to giving 50 to 60 lectures each semester on the same material I would cover in a video. Predictably, my first efforts were abysmal but it wasn’t long before I had some useful videos to edit.

In a screen capture, one can use a Power Point presentation or live internet searches. Whatever is displayed on your screen during the screen capture recording will be part of the video. I quickly found that it was possible to start with a Power Point presentation, link to a live database search and then back to Power Point. For certain topics, such as evaluating periodical articles, the entire video was based on a Power Point presentation.

In the beginning, I would try to record the screen capture and the voice over at the same time. The results were never satisfactory. Trying to make sure I was on the right screen while maintaining a professional sounding voice-over proved to be very difficult. I imagined it was like riding a bicycle and juggling at the same time. However, saying the presentation as I performed the screen capture did give me a good idea of how long each video would be. This was important as I was trying to keep the videos to a length of five minutes. With the video in the can, so to speak, I would re-record the audio.

The first project I chose was to demo CINAHL, the major database in the nursing field. It immediately became apparent that the material I wanted to cover was too long for a single video. We knew students did not want to watch long instructional videos but would check out something shorter if it seemed to answer their immediate informational need. The Nursing Toolkit evolved into 4 videos devoted to the actual database and three videos of more general material available that actually applies to all disciplines. It was organized as follows:

1. Four videos

  • Constructing your search
  • Basic CINAHL searching
  • Advanced CINAHL searching
  • Preserving your results

2. A written assignment, reinforcing the material in the videos, which students were required to turn in to their professors.

3. General Videos

  • Distinguishing Popular from Scholarly Periodicals
  • ILLIAD registration
  • Submitting a request in ILLIAD

Fall 2008: Pilot Launch
Now that we have a product that seems to be fairly well received, the next step is assessment. Can students learn anything from screen captures? My initial feeling, reinforced by the anecdotal response to tutorials, is that some learning takes place. If the faculty member reinforces the videos with a hands on exercise, the whole process very much mirrors what happens in the classroom.

However, because the project is designed to occur through a DE course, assessment is not going to be easy. I am now conducting another literature search to see what is said about assessing screen captures as a learning tool. My hope is that by the Spring semester I will have an assessment plan with a pre/post test to administer and some faculty willing to cooperate.

Why should faculty be interested in this project? Distributed education is now an established instructional method in an ever increasing number of institutions and among a growing group of faculty. Faculty often overestimate the information literacy skills of today’s college student because of their much vaunted technological dexterity. Having the online tutorials available on a variety of research topics is one more arrow in the faculty quiver supporting engaging and learner-centered practice in a distributed education mode.

Some recommendations for producing screen capture tutorials:

  • Use a USB mic. A wireless mic is just not clear enough.
  • Use a script. Without a script even the best of us stumbled, hemmed and hawed too much for a video.
  • Don’t be afraid to do it over and over. Remember, people will be listening to your efforts through headphones. There should be little background noise to distract them.
  • Keep it short, five to seven minutes.

The available online library tutorials, including the elements of the Nursing Toolkit, can be viewed here

Arnold, J., Sias, J., Zhang, J., (2002) “Bringing the Library to the Students: Using Technology to Deliver Instruction and Resources for Research.” Journal of Library Administration 37(1/2): 27-37.

Hartsell, T., & Yuen, S. (2006). Video streaming in online learning. AACE Journal, 14(1), 31-43.

MacDonald, L., et. al., (Spring 2007). “Techtalk: Screen Capturing.” Journal of Developmental Education 30(3):38-9.

Selvester, P., Mulholland, R., & Wong, P. (2007). “Camtasia: A new tool for universal design for learning”. College and University Media Review, 12(2).