Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Changing to a Hypertext-Based Library Instruction Program Using Inexpensive Software for IBM Compatibles

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Changing to a Hypertext-Based Library Instruction Program Using Inexpensive Software for IBM Compatibles

Article excerpt

For ten years, Algonquin College Resource Centre (Library) had used an audio-cassette-based instruction package to teach basic skills for finding information in the Resource Centre. Students, in class groups, listened to instruction on how to use the catalogue, Library of Congress Subject Headings, and periodical indexes. They then answered ten questions designed to practice the points taught. Help was available. The answer sheets were computer marked, and the results sent to the teacher. A guide accompanied the results, so that a teacher could know the areas of strength or weakness of the students. The program had academic acceptance, and was a requirement for fun-time postsecondary students: about 3,000 first semester students received instruction each year.

In 1992-1993, the Resource Centre faced a decision point: the content of the instruction package was still valid and useful to students, as indicated by surveys conducted in 1990(1) and 1992, but there was increasing negative reaction to the method of delivery. The audiocassette players were old and the sound quality poor; the "voicing" of the tapes by non-professionals was of uneven quality, and the binder of examples was less than exciting. Also, the Resource Centre catalogue was now available on CD-ROM, necessitating revision of the instruction materials.

Developing a Strategy for Change

The first step was to look at the existing programme's strengths:

* the content was valid, though in need of revision for the new format of the catalogue;

* it was self-paced, allowing for the wide variation in the information literacy of our students; and

* it had the support of the academic sector, including a Library Instruction Committee composed of representatives of the four academic divisions (Applied Arts, Business, Health Sciences, and Technology and Trades).

...and its weaknesses:

* the technology (audiocassettes with binder of printed examples) was outdated and unappealing to the students;

* it did not include information about Resource Centre services, resources, hours; and

* some faculty members objected to having their students instructed using materials developed by librarians, not teachers.

The second step was to look for alternatives. Searches of ERIC on CD-ROM, and Library Literature were carried out to find library instruction methodologies that were self-paced, recent, and suitable for class sessions. The most relevant new developments were in hypermedia and multimedia. These new technologies are exciting, but require costly software and equipment, and expertise in programming and media that were not readily available. In a period of fiscal restraint, the only access to computers would be by sharing existing IBM-compatible computer labs at Algonquin College.

Given the current rate of change in information technologies, it is concepts of searching that students need to understand, not details of any specific system. Algonquin's catalogue is now available in two formats: online and on CD-ROM, and many of the students would also be using other libraries. Of particular interest was an article on "Concept-Based Instruction" using HyperCard(2) to instruct in the use of the online public access computer (OPAC) at the University of Toronto. The University of Toronto's package was developed by a committee representing computer services, teaching faculty, and library science. It was possible to meet with the author, Joan Cherry, who generously shared information on philosophy and development of their programme. The technical requirements were not overwhelming: it only required computers, not video, and so forth.

The search now focused on hypertext for IBM. Most commercially available packages required programming expertise, and software (full or runtime version) on the computers: both of which were beyond our resources. On the Ottawa PC Users' Group bulletin board was a shareware programme for developing help screens, called SimplyHelp! …

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