|Here they come again. Thousands
of new students arrive at information-rich academic libraries every fall,
thirsting for knowledge but not bringing a cup. They encounter electronic
databases, online catalogs, Web sites, multimedia—water, water everywhere
but no knowledge of how to drink. Without real information skills, students
searching for knowledge might as well be chasing a mirage in the desert.
The term "information literacy"
is on everyone's lips in college and university libraries these days. But
how do you take those thousands of fresh, new faces and help them to understand
when they need information, where to look, and how to evaluate what they
find—in short, how do you teach them to become information literate? Integrating
information skills into every class across the curriculum is the way to
go, but at San Francisco State we had a mandate to create a new information
literacy program and very little time in which to do it.
The Trek from Workbook to
Library skills instruction
is not new to the J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University
(SFSU). Beginning in 1981, the library administered an information-related
graduation requirement to all undergraduate students. This requirement,
Resources: a Self-Paced Workbook, and all its subsequent editions and
versions, introduced students to basic research techniques with topic-specific
chapters that concluded with a set of multiple-choice, matching, yes/no,
or true/false questions.
For the most part, the workbook
format was accepted by students and supported by faculty. However, when
the instructional goal changed from library skills to the broader concepts
of information competency, our library was in a unique position to turn
the workbook into a Web-based information competence program that could,
in turn, serve as the foundation to promote information literacy across
the university curriculum. The two of us worked on adapting, customizing,
editing, and creating the content pages of the OASIS (Online Advancement
of Student Information Skills) online tutorial at San Francisco State,
and we wrote and edited the quiz questions, which would assess student
Defining Students' Needs
With 27,000 students, San
Francisco State University is one of the largest of the 23 California State
University (CSU) campuses. The CSU system formally recognized information
competency as a strategic need in 1993 and created a work group to address
it. Composed of library directors, teaching faculty, and administrators
from throughout the system, it was formed to "recommend basic competence
levels on the use of recorded knowledge and information and processes for
assessment of student competence."
In its 1995 report, "Information Competence in the CSU," the work group
provided the following definitions:
To further define the skills
a student needs, the CSU Work Group also issued the following set of core
competencies that students should be able to demonstrate:
Information competence, at
heart, is the ability to find, evaluate, use, and communicate information
in all of its various formats.
Information competence is the
fusing or the integration of library literacy, computer literacy, media
literacy, technological literacy, ethics, critical thinking, and communication
1. State a research
question, problem, or issue.
2. Determine the information
requirements for the research question, problem, or issue.
3. Locate and retrieve relevant
4. Organize information.
5. Analyze and evaluate
6. Synthesize information.
7. Communicate using a variety
of information technologies.
8. Use the technological
tools for accessing information.
9. Understand the ethical,
legal, and socio-political issues surrounding information and information
10. Use, evaluate, and treat
critically information received from the mass media.
11. Appreciate that the
skills gained in information competence enable lifelong learning.
Each CSU campus was
directed to come up with a plan to address information skills.
At San Francisco State,
our plan involved replacing the self-paced library skills workbook with
a self-paced, Web-based tutorial. Though many university libraries already
had Web tutorials, the tutorial developed at California Polytechnic State
UniversitySan Luis Obispo incorporated the information skills identified
by the CSU Work Group, and these were the same competencies we wanted our
tutorial to address. Therefore our library sought and was generously given,
by the RFK Library at Cal Poly, permission to use, rearrange, and rewrite
any section of its tutorial that we thought was necessary. Weapplied for
and received an $8,000 CSU grant and used these funds to hire a student
assistant and to purchase both a Macintosh Web server and TopClass course
management software. TopClass is a software package that facilitates the
creation of online courses with features for testing, assessment, and record
Then in 1999, SFSU's Academic
Senate passed a policy mandating the library to create a "self-paced instructional
package" addressing the information skills of students. Though the senate
policy left the means of implementation to the library, it did change the
requirement's completion deadline significantly. Instead of the "by graduation"
deadline that had been in place for the library workbook, the senate policy
decreed that first-time freshmen had until the end of their second semester
and transfer students had until the end of their first semester to complete
the new requirement. The policy further stated the requirement be included
in "all orientation courses for first-time San Francisco State University
This was an important step for the library and the university, as it was
now recognized that, in order to be successful, students needed to develop
information skills early in their college careers.
Who Would We Be Serving?
While the Cal Poly tutorial
provided the basic structure, our library needed to do a good deal of work
in order to adapt it for San Francisco State's student population which,
in addition to differing significantly from that at Cal Poly, is one of
the most diverse in the nation.
Many of our students work part time or full time, are the first from their
families to attend college, are older than average, and speak a first language
other than English.
Though the tutorial would
be accessible to the entire SFSU community, the target audience—in terms
of tone, vocabulary, examples used, etc.—was the 18- to 19-year-old entering
student. Therefore, we paid particular attention to the way the tutorial
presented concepts and ideas, avoiding library jargon and technical terminology
whenever possible and changing wording that might be confusing.
To ensure consistency across
all pages of the tutorial, one librarian assumed control over all content
and editing changes. Student assistants and librarians created graphics
and illustrations to augment the text and to help explain and simplify
concepts where appropriate. We made the tutorial less text-based by editing
long portions of narrative into bulleted lists of major points whenever
possible. The goal was to create a clear and inviting look and feel, challenging
enough to hold a student's interest, but easy to follow, understand, and
navigate. We attempted to establish a tone and voice that were not overly
stuffy or formal, but that also did not "dumb down" the important information
Filling Up the Pool
By early 2000, the overall
content had begun to take shape. Sections were reorganized, explanations
simplified, and graphics added. In the OASIS tutorial, as in the print-based
workbook, a quiz followed each online chapter. But, unlike the workbook,
students had to pass each 10-question quiz before they could go on to the
next one. However, the online quizzes presented a particular challenge
because if a student didn't pass the quiz the first time, a new quiz had
to be randomly generated. This meant that once a quiz was submitted, it
had to be automatically graded and delivered back to the student's computer
monitor immediately. Consequently, many questions had to be written for
each tutorial chapter so that the courseware had a large pool of questions
from which to randomly generate unique question sets asnecessary. This
method of question generation also prevented students from easily sharing
information about quiz questions and answers, which had been a problem
with our old library skills workbook.
In order to fill the large
pool of potential questions, many public service librarians were called
upon to write quiz questions for the eight chapters, with several librarians
working on each chapter. We provided guidelines on how to construct high-quality
test questions. Quiz questions had to be in multiple-choice, true/false,
or yes/no format to accommodate automatic computer grading. A total of
340 raw quiz questions were submitted and again, to ensure consistency,
one person edited them to make sure that they actually covered the chapter
material and were at the proper degree of difficulty. Student assistants
who worked in the library helped beta test the tutorial by reading the
chapters and actually taking the quizzes. Afterward, they were interviewed
extensively about the usability of the tutorial and their understanding
of the concepts and quiz questions. The input from these students helped
us to further refine the tutorial.
Planning and Marketing
Moving from a workbook-based
library requirement to a Web-based tutorial represented a major change
for the entire campus community. We knew that a smooth transition would
require a great deal of logistical planning and support. After all, you
can lead a student to water but you can't necessarily make him drink. To
assist in this effort, we formed an implementation team, consisting of
public service librarians and staff. The team met often during the 8 months
leading up to the online tutorial's launch date. Tasks were divided up
and individuals or sub-teams were given specific responsibilities. But
overall, marketing the tutorial was our first order of business.
The implementation team
decided that marketing would be easier if the tutorial had a name, a logo,
and an identity that would be easily recognized around campus. During spring
2000, team brainstorming sessions generated a list of 30 possible names,
and from that list, the team chose the name OASIS: Online Advancement of
Student Information Skills. The team felt the name had positive connotations,
a catchy acronym, and lent itself well to graphic representation. Next
came a logo. We teamed up with a faculty member in the Design and Industry
department, who made this a class project. We held a competition to create
an OASIS logo. Students submitted over 25 varied and colorful designs,
and the implementation team chose the winner.
Recognizing that campuswide
acceptance of the tutorial depended on a successful marketing campaign,
library management provided a $2,000 marketing budget. The OASIS implementation
team, as it was now called, paid the student designer for the exclusive
use of the new logo. Then, during the summer of 2000, we ordered mouse
pads, bookmarks, notepads, pencils, and other items, all with the new OASIS
logo, from a local advertising specialty company. We placed the mouse pads,
with the OASIS Web address prominently displayed, at library workstations
and computer labs to take advantage of point-of-need marketing. We also
distributed pencils, bookmarks, and notepads at student and new-faculty
orientation sessions and in Freshman Year Experience classes. Additional
marketing efforts included prominent signage and banners in the library,
articles in the campus newspaper and faculty newsletters, and librarian
presentations at every type of campus meeting that was appropriate for
The Pilot Year of OASIS:
Problems and Partnerships
The OASIS tutorial went
online and replaced the library workbook in the fall 2000 semester. The
OASIS content pages and the quizzes were residing on separate servers and,
though there were no problems with the tutorial content pages, it became
apparent to us almost immediately that some students were not able to successfully
log in to the OASIS quizzes. The TopClass courseware handled random quiz
question generation and recorded students' progress through the quizzes.
After several months of working unsuccessfully with the TopClass support
staff to try to solve the problems, we had no choice but to go to our backup
plan and briefly administer the OASIS quizzes to students in paper form.
This solution got the job done but was very unpopular among librarians,
staff, and students and spurred us on to finding a more permanent and stable
In the spring 2001 semester,
the library began a new partnership with our campus' Division of Information
Technology to build a homegrown version of the OASIS quizzes that did not
use TopClass. Not only did this partnership produce problem-free quizzes,
it allowed us to strengthen the relationship between the library and the
Division of Information Technology. It also changed the nature of the endeavor
from a library-sponsored program to one that was owned and supported by
the entire campus. The library still maintained control over the content
of the tutorial but systems support for the quizzes and record-keeping
software was now provided by our campus' IT division. Despite the initial
problems we encountered, a total of 4,770 students, on a campus of over
27,000, successfully completed the OASIS tutorial during the pilot year.
Reconstructing the OASIS
In fall 2001, San Francisco
State unveiled the second version of the OASIS tutorial. Though the content
and appearance of the tutorial had not changed, everything under the hood
was completely new. The computer software that randomly generates quizzes
and monitors student progress had been entirely redone, and 150 new quiz
questions had been added to the total. Our campus IT division had custom-built
an Oracle-based back end to the OASIS system that serves up and grades
quizzes and automatically reports the grades to a student's record. This
new home-grown system is also capable of generating statistical profiles
of our students' progress and of tabulating statistics. For example, we
can see the frequency of correct or incorrect responses for each quiz question.
OASIS now works smoothly and does what it was originally designed to do.
So far, we've encountered no major problems, and students have been working
successfully through the OASIS chapters and quizzes. As of October 2001,
just over 1,000 students had completed the new version of the OASIS tutorial.
You can see it at http://oasis.sfsu.edu,
and there are OASIS sample quiz questions at http://oasis.sfsu.edu/testsample.html.
Quenching Their Thirst
Our plan for the future
is to begin to formally assess the benefits of the OASIS tutorial and its
impact on the information literacy of students at San Francisco State University.
For now, we are pleased with the anecdotal evidence from student comments,
faculty interviews, and library professionals, which indicate that OASIS
is useful and an overall success. For example, one student wrote to say,
"I just want to thank you; doing the tutorial has cleared up a lot of the
mystery of how the databases work." An instruction librarian at another
university wrote to us in an e-mail message, "You folks have done some
awesome work on Information Literacy for your campus. It's a good model."
Another colleague commented, "Even your quiz questions are impressive—using
some images, clicking out to search, etc. Thanks!"
We consider OASIS to be
just the start of our efforts. It's the basis for us to work with faculty
across the campus, to help bring information literacy more fully into the
1. "Information Competence
in the CSU": http://www.calstate.edu/LS/Archive/info_comp_report.shtml.
2. SFSU Academic Senate
Policy on Information CompetenceSenate Policy #S99-207: http://www.sfsu.edu/%7Esenate/S99-207.htm.
3. SFSU Student Needs and
Priorities Survey (SNAPS): http://www.sfsu.edu/~acadplan/snapsresults99.htm.