A Comparison of Computer-Assisted Instruction and Classroom Bibliographic Instruction

By Holman, Lucy | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

A Comparison of Computer-Assisted Instruction and Classroom Bibliographic Instruction


Holman, Lucy, Reference & User Services Quarterly


This study compares computer-assisted instruction in the form of an online library tutorial to the more traditional classroom approach to bibliographic instruction. First-year students enrolled in English composition classes who completed either an online tutorial or classroom instruction were tested both prior to and following the instruction and were compared with first-year students who had not participated in instruction. The study found no statistically significant differences between the two methods of instruction in terms of post-instruction performance, although students did favor the pace of the tutorial. Students in both groups showed a fairly strong confidence in their ability to use the resources demonstrated in the instruction that did not correspond with their post-test scores. Further study in the area of confidence levels and library use is needed.

How do students learn and retain the skills necessary for successful use of the library? Many library educators believe that an active learning approach, using hands-on instructional techniques, is the most effective method of instruction. One such approach is computer-assisted instruction (CAI). Librarians have used CAI since the early 1970s, beginning at the University of Denver, the University of Illinois at Urbana, and the Ohio State University.[1] Even traditional classroom bibliographic sessions increasingly contain some element of online demonstration in their presentations of library resources. Instructors face the dual challenge of teaching practical skills (such as locating material via an online catalog or finding items in the stacks) and teaching critical thinking skills (such as developing effective search strategies and evaluating the wealth of online materials for use). As library online resources continue to outpace the hiring of librarians, new methods of instructing students on the use of these new resources must be created.

This study was designed to compare CAI and traditional classroom instruction as methods for teaching practical library skills. The posed research question asks, "Will first-year undergraduate students at the University of North Carolina who complete a CAI program perform skills--such as accessing materials via the online catalog and locating reserve items--with greater success than students who participate in a bibliographic instruction session?"

Literature Review

An Asian proverb states, "Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand."[2] The idea of library instruction stands on this premise: students learn the tools of library research by actively using those tools in an instruction program. Many educators believe that student practice is a crucial element in developing cognitive and psychomotor skills. Instruction without an active learning component provides no reinforcement of the skills taught. Indeed, instruction librarians see active learning as a key component in successful educational programs.[3]

Although there is not a wealth of research upon which to draw conclusions, most studies comparing CAI to other forms of user education demonstrate advantages of CAI. Studies have found CAI to be more effective in teaching undergraduates specific skills for accessing library materials.[4] While classroom instruction may transfer information to a number of students at the same time and provides some amount of personal contact, it does not allow for much variation in student ability or learning style, nor does it have a high motivation factor.[5] Computer-assisted instruction, on the other hand, offers high flexibility in the amount of information conveyed and can address differences in student ability and learning style. In addition, by offering test questions throughout the tutorial or at its conclusion, CAI can provide immediate feedback to allow the user to gauge his or her progress. This can increase interest and provide motivation to proceed.[6] Pask saw a number of advantages of CAI: CAI allows students flexibility to complete the program at a convenient time and at their own pace and students immediately receive feedback about their performance.

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