|by: Debbie Orr
Off-Campus Services Librarian
Central Queensland University
Ph: 079 309347
Fax: 079 309972
|and: Judith Edwards
Director, Division of Library, Information and Media Services
Central Queensland University
Ph: 079 309435
Fax: 079 309972
Information literacy is a key competency for all students if they are to become independent learners. Central Queensland University (CQU) Library supports several information literacy programs. The subject - Scientific Information Sources - which is offered as part of the Master of Science Communication course, is designed to give postgraduate science students an understanding of electronic information sources. In 1994 students undertaking this course were required to attend a compulsory residential school where they were shown how to prepare search strategies and search selected online databases. Emphasis was placed on the creation of a group learning environment and students were encouraged to share their topics and search strategies and to comment upon the topics and search strategies of others within the group.
By September 1995 the communications technology was available to deliver the residential school component electronically. The program was offered over two days and two students participated offcampus and three participated oncampus. Students who participated from a distance were loaned a laptop computer including a modem, a desktop camera and a 'hands-free' mobile telephone. Using teleconferencing and software such as CUSeeme, Timbuktu, NCSA telnet and Chat, the aim of the program was to demonstrate how to access and use various databases, to allow students to develop skills by completing exercises on these databases and to facilitate peer interaction and discussion of search strategies and techniques.
Much valuable information was gained about an electronically
mediated teaching environment, the socialisation of students in
that environment, the performance of the software, delivery strategies
necessary to support learning and the student's reactions to the
environment. The paper will provide the background to the virtual
residential workshop project and discuss some of the issues which
will need to be addressed if the model is to be expanded. It
will also discuss the plans for the enhancement of the residential
school program and the role of librarians in the provision of
Flexible learning and some of the technologies
In the last decade, trends in higher education have changed. Resources are limited, there are increasing demands for a skilled workforce and there is a demand for education to reach an increasingly diverse and geographically dispersed population. Just as new technologies are transforming the ways businesses operate and the ways people work, there is the potential to reshape the expectations, needs and opportunities in education and learning. As costs continue to rise, it may become not only physically but financially impractical to bring participants together in the same classroom for company training or university courses (Hamalainen, 1996). As communications technologies become more accessible, stable and cost-effective, the potential for distributed delivery of education and training increases. Central Queensland University (CQU), a multi-campus institution has been quick to explore some of these technologies.
There are currently many tools available for the distributed delivery of programs. The Internet provides relatively inexpensive and easy access to a variety of teaching and learning resources. Sources available on the World Wide Web can accessed and used, while the medium opens opportunities for communication between students and educators. Asynchronous communication technologies, such as electronic mail and bulletin boards, allow learners and tutors to send and receive messages without all being connected at the same time. This affords greater flexibility in the delivery of programs, yet facilitates interaction and discussion. Synchronous technologies such as desktop videoconferencing allow real time teaching and learning activities for widely dispersed groups. CQU Library staff have used a variety of communications technologies in the delivery of programs to distance education students.
Information in digital format
In recent years there has been an increase in the amount of information which is stored and accessed electronically. The number of electronic journals has increased, access to journal literature is available via online databases, there is a wealth of information on the World Wide Web and the catalogues of many academic libraries can be accessed through the Internet. These changes have instigated a change in the role of the librarian. Whereas traditionally librarians have collected and made information available through collections of books and journals, they are now responsible for providing access to information in digital format. Library staff have devised teaching programs to equip academics and students with the skills to search online databases and other electronic sources from their desktop without an intermediary. The role of the librarian is also to turn this unlimited access to information into a useful and meaningful result for the user. Teaching programs must not only include the practical skills for access, but the critical thinking skills for evaluating and utilising material. Technology that simply delivers information is not education or educational. The technology is merely a tool, a means to an end, and not an end in itself (Anderson, 1994).
Information literacy and the role of librarians
As outlined in the University's Teaching and Learning Management Plan, CQU has outlined a commitment to information literacy and the need for lifelong learning skills to be incorporated into academic programs. "Information literacy is the capacity to execute high level problem solving processes, requiring a wide knowledge of information sources, systems and technologies, as well as information retrieval, management and evaluation strategies" (Bruce and Candy, 1994). The need for information literacy skills has been identified as a national priority in studies such as that by Candy (Candy, 1994). CQU library is a key component of quality education and aims to provide all students with lifelong learning skills. The Library staff have a comprehensive reader education program and through classes and individualised help at the reference desk, play an active role in teaching undergraduate students how to use information resources. Over the last two years this role has intensified as librarians have actively promoted the availability of classes to teach staff and students how to use electronic sources. Programs have included instruction on how to use databases such as Firstsearch, UnCover and Current Contents, as well as introducing the user to the wealth of information available on the World Wide Web. Some sessions are generic, while others target specific groups and give users the skills to access, retrieve, evaluate and manage highly specialised resources. The role of library staff is central to the teaching and learning processes of any University and they are change agents in the restructuring of the educational process (George and Luke, 1996).
Scientific Information Sources
The Library staff at CQU are responsible for the creation and delivery of a subject - Scientific Information Sources - which is part of the Master of Science Communication program. The unit is offered through distance mode and is designed to give postgraduate science students an understanding of electronic information sources. Modules studied in the course cover an introduction to scientific communication and the body of knowledge in the sciences, the literature review, information management, copyright, telecommunications, database searching, the Internet, document delivery and the future of information dissemination. Students are required to participate in a residential school program where electronic databases are demonstrated, hands on experience is facilitated and the students are shown how to prepare, execute and evaluate a search strategy. In 1995 it was decided that the technology was available to offer the program without insisting the students visit the campus.
The teaching team was keen to trial this type of delivery. CQU has more than six thousand distance education students, many of whom never have the opportunity to participate in information literacy programs. It was felt that should the project be successful, the model could be used deliver programs to remote students. There was also a feeling around campus that the University would attract more distance education students, if courses did not require that students travel to the campus to participate in residential programs. One of the main objectives was to create a program which used relatively inexpensive and readily available software and allowed the students to participate from their homes.
Planning for the Virtual Residential School program
The group initially met on 11 May and began planning the program for the September break. It was a mixed group involving the four librarians involved in teaching the subject, the library network manager, a member of staff from the Division of Information and Technology, an instructional designer and the Director of the Library, Information and Media Services. After this meeting individuals formed two groups.
The first group consisted of the subject specialists who designed and delivered the program. It also included an instructional designer, who advised on strategies best suited to the delivery of a program in a virtual setting. At this stage it was realised that there could be problems with equipment or making connections at specific times. A lot of time was spent identifying potential problems and making contingency plans should the program need to be altered at any time.
The second group was responsible for the technology and their tasks included selecting, testing, evaluating and despatching software and hardware. Several software packages were evaluated before identifying those which would meet the needs of the program. This group also ensured that all participants could connect to the library, and that when connected, the various applications functioned in such a manner that everything other than the content of the program was invisible.
Training for the instructors was seen as a vital component of the planning. More than 20 hours were invested in training sessions. This included training in the use of teleconferencing in teaching, desktop videoconferencing and training in the use of Chat and Timbuktu. Simulated sessions were used to enable the instructors to become familiar and confident with the software and with teaching and integrating two physically separate groups. By the time the residential school was run all instructors felt comfortable with the technology and were able to concentrate on the delivery of the program.
By September there were five students enrolled in the subject. The small number allowed for an ambitious trial project and gave staff the opportunity to give attention to all minute details. Students were given a choice in their mode of participation and three chose to visit the campus, while two participated offcampus. One offcampus participant was located in Toowoomba and one in Canberra.
Students participating virtually were loaned a laptop computer including a modem, a desktop camera and a 'hands-free' mobile phone. The students were required to register with OpenNet and pay for 20 hours of connect time. The laptops were pre-configured with software and logons and despatched two weeks before the workshop to enable participants to practice and participate in trial connections beforehand. Trial connections prior to the program were imperative as they minimised student apprehension about the technology and gave everyone confidence about the viability of the program. One student didn't have a technical background and instructors had time in a trial connection to ensure that she felt comfortable with the equipment and software and was able to participate without feeling threatened by the electronic medium. Oncampus students came to the campus the day before the program to familiarise themselves with the equipment and software.
Whether students participated oncampus or offcampus there was a certain amount of preparation required by each student. The major piece of assessment for the subject required each student select a topic of interest and prepare an annotated bibliography. By the time of the residential school program they were expected to have decided on a topic and done a certain amount of searching in an endeavour to find at least some information. They were also required to have logged into some of the databases. The aim of the workshop was to build upon some elementary concepts.
Desktop computers were considered and discarded because of the higher cost of freight, increased risk of damage during transport, complexity of assembly, and lack of portability compared with laptop computers. It was not possible to connect a video camera to an IBM notebook computer, so Apple seemed the obvious choice. Apple powerbooks have a high speed serial/printer port and Connectix make a camera to fit (QuickCam). The computers were fitted with 12MB memory, 320MB hard disk and an internal 14.4kb/s modem. External modems were not an option because the 520C's have only one serial port and this was to be used for the camera. A PowerMac 6100AV with 16MB memory, 500MB hard disk and a 15 inch monitor was purchased to operate as the server and instructor's computer.
Software packages used in the workshop included CUSeeme (desktop videoconferencing), Timbuktu, NCSA telnet V2.6 and Chat. It was necessary to choose software packages which were relatively inexpensive and that could run effectively on low bandwidths.
Using CUSeeme students could see real time pictures of each other and this was used during teleconferences so that students could see pictures of all contributors. It was hoped that the ability to see each other would put all participants at ease and encourage interaction. Although two students were physically remote from the classroom, it was hoped that the group would function as one cohesive unit.
The main function of Timbuktu was to enable all participants to connect to the instructor's computer and view a demonstration. Used in conjunction with a teleconference the instructor was able to explain procedures, answer questions and elicit responses from participants. The software allowed the instructor to point and highlight specific items on the screen with the mouse, thereby drawing the student's attention to specific details. Timbuktu also proved to be a useful diagnostic tool. A few students experienced problems and the instructor was able to use Timbuktu to connect to the remote machine, view the activity on the screen, identify the problem and talk the student through the procedure. It was possible to both view the screen of the remote machine and to take control if the student could not complete an exercise.
The nature of the workshop made it imperative that students have the facility to telnet to various online databases. NCSA telnet V2.6 was selected because it proved stable and it was possible to resize windows and use several applications simultaneously.
One objective was to provide and maintain continuous communications when not using the mobile phones. Teleconferencing is expensive and it was hoped to trial alternatives. Peter Lewis' chat server was run on the host computer into which all participants could telnet. Every message sent to the chat server was viewed by all logged onto the server. It was planned to use this medium for some of the interactive sessions and to provide students with a facility for constant interaction and socialisation.
The print based workbook formed an important and integral part of the program. It outlined the objectives, protocols and exercises; included spaces for students to take notes; incorporated specific logon instructions and provided a reference facility for future assignments. It was also formed an important backup device, as students were instructed told that should there be technical difficulties, they were to continue working through the workbook until the problem could be rectified.
The objectives of the program were to enable students to develop sophisticated database searching skills, to encourage the students to develop critical evaluation skills of the material researched, to enable the students to understand and perform some basic document delivery processes and to enable the students to institute their own effective current awareness schedule.
Databases included those available through Firstsearch and the CD-ROMs mounted on the CQU server, while UnCover was used for document delivery purposes and to establish current awareness profiles.
Databases were demonstrated using Timbuktu and a teleconference. Participants then completed an exercise using the specified database. Upon completion of the exercise students discussed their results in an interactive session using either a teleconference or a chat session.
A panel session was also held on day one. The Director of the Library, Information and Media Services spoke on the changing role of libraries and access to electronic information, while two researchers described the research process and the use of electronic sources in their daily work. The inclusion of people actively involved in research made the process real and emphasised the relevance and importance of information retrieval in everyday situations.
Delivering the Program
The first session introduced participants to each other and asked everyone to describe their surroundings and tell the group something about themselves. The objectives, content and method of delivering the program were discussed; as were the characteristics of an electronic classroom; the reasons for the interest in this new teaching medium and the protocols which would minimise problems in this electronic classroom. Possible problems had been identified in the training program and included issues such as the need to ensure that all participants got sufficient time to contribute during interactive sessions, the need for participants to identify themselves before contributing, the possible time delays which could occur in getting connected for the various sessions, the need for all participants to hear all contributions clearly and the possibility that there could be technical failures. Solutions to each of these issues were suggested and printed in the front of the workbook.
Observing the Electronic Classroom
Instructors observed a number of important factors in the electronically mediated classroom. While demonstrating a procedure it was necessary to continually ask for feedback and to allow plenty of time for remote students to intercept with queries. Although CUSeeme enabled the transmission of real-time images, it was so slow that it was not possible to see a puzzled look on the face of an off-campus student or to see a hand raised because of a question. In fact, without continually asking for feedback and ensuring that all participants were active, a student could have been easily disconnected without the instructor even realising.
During the teleconferences it was important that the instructor reiterate all questions and comments whether they were offered by oncampus or offcampus participants. This ensured that everyone heard all contributions and understood the implications. On occasions chat was used for the interactive sessions and it was necessary to establish rigid procedures and ask participants to send contributions in a predetermined order. This ensured that everyone had the opportunity to participate, that no one dominated the discussion and that questions and answers were sent and received in a logical order. It had been noticed that if discussion on chat was not controlled, incoming messages were scrambled and it was not possible to decipher who had sent which message. Rational discussion of issues using chat was not possible without control of incoming messages and therefore the usual spontaneity of a tutorial discussion was lost.
Another observation was the passive nature of the medium experienced by the offcampus students. Although there were only two offcampus students, there were several occasions when they did not completely finish the required exercises. They did not seem to experience the same urge which compelled the oncampus students to spend time in the breaks finishing work.
Student Evaluation of the Program
A questionnaire was given to each student at the conclusion of the program. All participants found the workshop enjoyable and one even commented that it was stimulating. The two students who participated offcampus appreciated not having to travel to Rockhampton and felt that the workshop held potential in the delivery of distance education programs.
Students were asked to comment on the selection of software and all participants stated that Timbuktu worked well during the demonstrations of the databases. Some commented that they could see everything and that it was easy to follow even the most detailed procedures.
For instructional purposes all students commented that they found interaction via chat slow and boring. They hated having to type their contributions and the slow typists were embarrassed about the lengthy delays while they typed their contributions. Participants kept their contributions minimal and a lot of the description and reiteration inherent in a face-to-face tutorial was lost. However, all students liked to socialise using Chat. On numerous occasions students remained at their work station over breaks, sent messages to each other and shared images via CUSeeme. All participants stated that they felt an important part of the group and were completely comfortable communicating with each other.
At least at one stage within the two days all students commented that they found the technology frustrating. However, no one found it nerve wrecking or intimidating and all were happy to persevere with the technology in order to pursue the objectives of the program. It would be fair to say that whereas the technology wasn't completely invisible, it wasn't intrusive and it didn't detract from the delivery of the content.
Instructor Evaluation of the Program
It cannot be denied that the program was without technical problems. After the introductory session on day one it was found that the University server was down and that no remote databases could be accessed. Although it was possible to reorganise the program and ask students to work on another activity, it was disruptive.
Although Timbuktu worked well for demonstration purposes, it was frustrating when low bandwidths created lengthy delays. Timbuktu worked by transmitting images from the host computer to each of the remote computers and depending on how much detail was on the screen and how quickly the screen was updated with new data, there would be delays.
All members of the teaching team agreed that it would have been useful to have a common space for collecting and sharing data throughout the program. Although the team had investigated the possibility of using audiographics software and the associated whiteboard facility, at the time it was not available for a mactintosh platform. Early in the program participants were asked to share their individual topics with the group. As participants searched for information on databases they were asked to suggest sources to other participants. Since there was no common space for writing, it was difficult to remember all topics and to make suggestions. As a result the search strategies of some participants were not as well developed as they may have been.
The design of the program was effective. A demonstration, followed by an exercise and concluding with a discussion of the exercise was instructionally sound. All exercises were scheduled around breaks, so that students had a reasonable time away from the screen and had a certain amount of flexibility in designing their own work schedules. Exercises were structured so that as students worked through the program they progressed from simple searches to more complicated searches, and it was a shame that this sequence had to be rescheduled because of network problems.
Implications for the Future
The team still considers the virtual residential program experimental and realises that although the concept shows potential for the delivery of distance education there is still a lot of work in perfecting the model. There is clearly a need to learn more about the dynamics, characteristics and limitations of an electronically mediated classroom, just as it is vital to ensure that the most appropriate software and hardware is used. A mismatch of the use of interaction and technology can lead to the loss of the student's attention, information overload, or frustration, proving costly in time lost. One challenge, therefore, is to seriously consider which media will best enhance and empower the learner. The creation of the student's opportunity to interact with content, instructors and peers in ways that enhance the construction of meaning is essential to the success of distance education (Berge, 1996).
It is also important that the feelings of the students are considered and that there is adequate opportunity for them to evaluate and comment upon the program. Although we have a wealth of accumulated knowledge and expertise about individuals' communication with each other in real-time, face-to-face interactions, we know considerably less about such interactions in interactive distance learning environments. Patricia Comeaux examined eight courses taught over the distance learning network in North Carolina and offcampus student comments included "they forgot about us; we felt like we were intruding in their classroom; it was like watching a documentary that was not particularly interesting" (Comeaux, 1995) A further project at the CQU Library will pay particular attention to how students feel they learn and interact with peers in a technologically mediated environment.
In 1995 there were only five students enrolled in the subject and it is realised that the extensive planning and delivery involved with the project make it an expensive exercise. Although at this stage there is no evidence as to the exact number of students who could participate in a program of this type, it is thought that since the program centres upon student interaction and discussion, twenty participants would be the maximum - the optimal number for a successful face-to-face tutorial. In 1996 it is anticipated that there will be eleven participants.
Participants in the 1995 program used macintosh computers issued by the Library. All necessary software was preloaded. A major objective in 1996 will be to make the program platform independent and to incorporate at least two off-campus participants using their own personal computers. It was found in a project conducted by CQU Library in 1992 that although it is possible for remote students to access library resources electronically, using their own equipment, they need a lot of support and comprehensive, detailed instructions and documentation (Appleton, 1992). The teaching notes have been rewritten incorporating detailed instructions, the Library network manager has joined the teaching team in an endeavour to solve the technical problems and there will be trial connections with all students early in the semester to familiarise them with the technology.
Regarding the development of the program, the only change will be to expand the panel session. Access to experts and the facility to ask questions about their work and research habits proved invaluable in the learning process. Using a teleconference and CUSeeme it is possible and relatively inexpensive to draw upon the expertise of experts anywhere in the world. In 1996 at least one expert will be remote from the campus and will interact with the group using the technology.
In the long term knowledge gained through the virtual residential workshop project will assist librarians in preparing and delivering information literacy programs to all students remote from the CQU campus. In 1993, staff at Edith Cowan University conducted a survey into the possibility of providing information literacy education to remote distance education students. This study discovered that distance education students were aware that they were disadvantaged by their mode of study and perceived a need for better communication with both lecturers and the library (Wilson, 1994). The report from the Distance Education Working Party at CQU reinforced this finding. Student comments included : "student education on online databases should be promoted", "we can't go and look through journals", and "if you're external your resource capabilities diminish" (CQU. Rural, Social and Economic Research Centre, 1995). The technology has the potential to restructure educational opportunities and assist students remote from the campus gain the skills they need for lifelong learning.
The project has implications for the delivery of information literacy
programs for off-campus students. Whether the students are undergraduate
or postgraduate, it is possible to demonstrate the techniques
necessary to access and retrieve information, to supervise exercises
which develop searching skills, to generate discussion and learning
within a group and to plan programs which facilitate the development
of lifelong learning skills. Students have indicated that they
appreciate the opportunity to collaborate and interact with peers,
and would prefer to persevere with the technology in an effort
to participate in tutorials. Although the technology is still
being developed, it has the potential to change the way in which
distance education is delivered and to reduce many of the problems
of isolation and frustration experienced by some remote students.
Appleton, M. (chief investigator) (1993) Library Services for
remote postgraduate distance education students. A report to
DEET. Rockhampton, UCQ Library.
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Berge, Zane L. (1996). Where Interaction Intersects Time. MC Journal : the Journal of Academic Media Librarianship, vol.4, no.1.
Bruce, Christine & Candy, Phil (1994). Higher education contributions
to information literacy education: towards a checklist for evaluating
curriculum and institutional culture. HERDSA 1994 Annual Conference.
Candy, Philip C; Crebert, Gay; and O'Leary, Jane (1994). Cease
not to Learne until thou cease to live: Report on the enabling
characteristics of undergraduate education. Higher Education
Council & Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee.
Comeaux, Patricia (1995). The impact of an interactive distance
learning network on classroom communication. Communication Education,
George, Rigmor and Luke, Rosemary (1996). The critical place
of information literacy in the trend towards flexible delivery
in higher education contexts. AARL, September, pp.204-211.
Hamalainen, Matti, Whinston, Andrew B., and Vishik, Svetlana (1996).
Electronic markets for learning :education brokerages on the
Internet. Communications of the ACM, vol.39(6), pp.51-58.
Rural, Social and Economic Research Centre (1995). Student experiences
of distance education at Central Queensland University. Rockhampton
: Central Queensland University.
Virtual Residential School Project Report (1995). Rockhampton
: Division of Library, Information and Media Services.
Wilson, Vicky (1994). Information Literacy and Remote External
Students : Exploring the Possibilities offered by New Communication
Technologies. Australian Academic and Research Libraries,
vol.25, no.4, pp.247-252.
Wilson, Vicky (1994). Developing the adult independent learner
: Information literacy and the remote external student. Distance
Education, vol.15, no.2, pp. 254-271.
Debbie Orr commenced work at Central Queensland University Library in 1978 and is currently the Off-Campus Services Librarian. She is also the co-ordinator for a postgraduate subject - Scientific Information Sources, which is part of the Master of Science Communication program.
Debbie has been involved in several projects which analysed at the provision of library services to distance education students. She is interested in how services, especially the provision of information literacy programs, can be offered to distance education students. Also interested in the potential of technology to change the way services are offered.JUDITH EDWARDS, B.A., A.L.A.A.
DIRECTOR OF LIBRARY, INFORMATION & MEDIA SERVICES
CENTRAL QUEENSLAND UNIVERSITY
Commenced training in librarianship in New South Wales, Australia
at Penrith City Library Service. After some time in public libraries,
spent twelve months as Special Librarian at Standard Telephones
& Cables. The rest of experience has been in academic libraries
including Chief Librarian at Lismore College of Advanced Education
and Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education. Currently Director
of Division of Library, Information and Media Services at Central
Queensland University, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia.
Special interests have related to use of technology to facilitate
speedy access to information and to compensate for regional isolation.
Has been heavily involved in automation projects from an early
date being one of the first libraries in Australia to convert
their catalogue into machine readable form using the then Blackwell's
conversion service and has been involved in the early introduction
of automated circulations systems. Supervised the conversion
and completion of the first Queensland library catalogue into
machine readable form and the development of a machine assisted
collection development evaluation programme.
Has served as a member of Australian Library and Information Association
(ALIA) Executive for the greater part of thirty-three years.
Has served on Australian Council of Library and Information Services
(ACLIS) (Queensland) Committee and represented Queensland on Australian
Council of Library and Information Services National Council.
Has been President of Australian Libraries of Colleges of Advanced
Education (ALCAE), Chairperson of LDEC (Librarians in Distance
Education Centres). Has served on sundry committees relating
to library services to remote users and has acted as Convenor
of the Automation Sub-Committee of ACLIS (Queensland). Served
on the National Cooperation and Coordination Committee of the
Australian Council and Library Information Services.
Instrumental in setting up a regional library and information
co-operative scheme in Lismore and helped establish the academic
library at the College of Advanced Education in Lismore.
A number of small consultancies on automation of school and special
Current interests lie in digital libraries and the impact of
changing technology on libraries, library personnel and library