For our second evaluation activity, Mareena and I evaluated OIL module 6: ‘Searching for Information’. In this module, students are taken through a step-by-step process showing how to analyse a topic and develop a search strategy to find relevant information, identify the principle resources for information used in academic study, and use search techniques to effectively find information. I know several of our staff at Otago Polytechnic direct their students to the OIL modules, and Module 6 is often used as a preparation exercise before going to the library for a hands-on with library staff. Then they have the online module to refer back to for reference.

The first thing I thought we needed to do was to put together a quick framework that we could evaluate this resource against. This included presentation (layout, readability etc), organization of content (logical sequence, chunking, navigation, links work, etc), resources and activities (information relevant and current, activities are appropriate and engage users, etc), support and help for users (clear guidelines/instructions provided, etc), and overall effectiveness of the module.

Our evaluation findings have already been posted to Mareena's blog, but I'll add them here for completeness.

Overall we agreed it was an effective learning object with a thoughtful design, easy to use interface, and useful resources.

The aims of lessons were clearly outlined at the very beginning of the module. The site allowed optimum readability with sufficient white space. There weren’t any long scrolling pages. The format was uncluttered and colour and fonts were used effectively and consistently. The writing style was clear and easy to understand. At the end of each lesson there were interactive quizzes to complete that provided instant feedback. This sequence was repeated for all lessons.

Lessons were organized in non threatening way with small chunks of information followed by graphic demos and animations which made the comprehension easier. Specific terminologies appeared in purple with a definition when the mouse hovered over the word/phrases. In addition there was also a glossary page at the end of the module.

The navigation menu appeared on the left hand side on each page offering a choice for the learners to complete the lessons at his/her discretion without following a linear order. There were graphical navigation buttons at the end of each page which allowed the learners to go back and forth from the lessons. There was also a handy print option available for selected pages or the whole module.

Issues / concerns:

We found some of the instructions were not very clear. For example, it was suggested there was a 'Help' for each search tool but it wasn't clear whether this was to be found in the module itself or in a real library search.

Some demos took a long time to download and Mareena lost interest and navigated away from the page, possibly because she was using a dial up connection. I’m on broadband and had no difficulty doing any of the activities or viewing any demos. We wondered if this problem was picked up during initial evaluations of the modules. If these modules were intended to be accessible to a wide range of learners then it needed to avoid slow downloads.

Lack of visual and audio technologies were obvious in the site. Highlighted terminologies with definition could have been much better if sound was attached to them. The option of listening to instructions could have been appealing to auditory learners. Catering for a variety of learning styles would help the learners to engage in the lessons. Incorporating different media types such as sound is something to consider in the future.

The module was very big and it would take a couple of hours to work through it. At the last elluminate session Alex commented that the learning units they develop take no more than 20 minutes to work through, in line with users attention spans.

Some sections are very specific to Otago University library services. The searching skills gained in this module should easily transfer to searching any library, but for novice learners it could be quite confusing. All the modules can be edited and republished (guidelines are provided in the Springboard module), so if this resource was to be used extensively in a particular setting it could be worthwhile customizing these with examples from your own library, although Bronwyn suggested this would require a bit of technical know-how to accomplish.

4 comments:

  1. Bronwyn hegarty said...

    this is a comprehensive description of the Searching for Information module which you evaluated with Mareena. You have identified some items which could cause big frustration for students on dial-up connections. At the level of digital information literacy for which this module was designed - lower level users - such problems could be very off-putting. This demonstrates the necessity of getting the balance of "fancy stuff" and "usable stuff" right doesn't it?

    You have done a good job on this, some constructive suggestions balanced with the "fish hooks" you encountered. Great work. I like the way you have referred to others' evaluations, e.g., Alex's suggestion about the legth of modules like this.

  2. Kevin Brennan said...

    Hi Veronique,

    I really enjoyed reading your evaluation findings and have raised some really good points in terms of navigation and engagement for learners.

    There appears to be a constant argument regarding the speed of access for learners and the amount of video, graphics one should include in a paper. All too often, we observe learners becoming disengaged when something takes too long to download. A constant challenge that can only get easier as we move forward with technology.

    Kind regards,

    Kevin
    :-)

  3. Rachel H said...

    I never noticed the Help function was missing on some of the pages ... I co-designed a system last year and we put all of the instructions for use on each page and it's amazing how many calls I get from learners who are stuck but never think to click on the intructions. Does you think this behaviour implies something about our workplace culture? Not very experimental or inquisitive?

  4. Veronique said...

    Thanks Bronwyn and Kevin for your comments about the fancy vs useable stuff. It's easy to get carried away with the fancy stuff in order to make things more interesting, exciting, and engaging; but in turn creating issues for learner access. My experiences with our school of occupatonal therapy have highlighted the need to trial the accessibility of learning resources even when you don't think there should be any issues (we had problems with access from another campus, firewalls, timing out etc). Hopefully as you say Kevin, this will get better with technological improvements.



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