|ISSUE NO. 71||JANUARY 1999|
In the last few years technology has created an explosion of new information sources. This has
led to an overwhelming increase in the amount of information available to students in academic
libraries. With more online material available to them, students now require additional instruction
in the use of electronic databases as well as the basic skills of locating materials in the library.
Allocations for staff and classroom space have not kept up with this increased demand; therefore,
librarians often must learn to provide more instruction with the same or fewer staff. Faced with
this situation, many librarians and researchers are turning to computer-assisted instruction (CAI).
Many in the field view CAI as a more active learning approach, providing the student the opportunity
to interact in the instruction. Since CAI allows students to learn at their convenience and at their
own pace, students may complete the instruction at the time of need and may repeat modules in areas
where they are having difficulty. Although librarians may spend a considerable amount of time
developing an online tutorial, they ultimately save staff time and classroom use with CAI.
This study examined the effectiveness of computer-assisted instruction and students' satisfaction with it. I compared computer-assisted instruction in the form of an online library tutorial with the more traditional, classroom approach to bibliographic instruction. (See the next article for more about the tutorial.) One hundred twenty-five first-year students who were enrolled in seven English 11 composition classes in the fall of 1998 participated in the study; twenty-seven completed the tutorial, fifty-six participated in the class, and forty-two served as the control group. Both instruction methods focused on demonstrating basic library skills--using the online catalog, locating books in the library, accessing reserve material, and finding article citations through an online database (InfoTrac Expanded Academic ASAP). All students completed pre- and post-tests to measure their knowledge of library resources and search skills, and students in the tutorial and class groups completed evaluations of their instruction method.
Students participating in both instruction programs had significant improvement from pre-test to post-test; however, the control group did not. There were statistically significant differences between the post-test scores of the control group and the tutorial group, although there were not significant differences between the class and control group and the two instruction groups. This indicates that the tutorial is at least as effective as classroom instruction in teaching students basic library skills.
The students' evaluations did not indicate a clear preference between instruction methods. Students who completed the tutorial did rate the pace of the instruction more favorably; seventy-one percent found the overall pace to be just right, compared with only thirty-three percent of the class group. Students in both groups found the instruction on databases least clear, although there were not significant differences between the two groups. Most of the students in the tutorial group believed that the quiz questions in the tutorial were clear, although quite a few (thirty percent for the total and as much as forty-four percent for databases) found the questions fairly or very difficult). Students rated both methods effective (eighty-six percent). Although I had hypothesized that the students would favor the tutorial, which was not proven, it appears that the tutorial was perceived to be at least as effective as the classroom instruction. Furthermore, a majority of students (fifty percent of tutorial and fifty-one percent of class groups) indicated that generally their preferred means of learning was through classroom instruction. If students were more comfortable with the traditional lecture approach to learning, the tutorial may have been a departure from their regular mode of instruction.
An interesting discovery noted in the study was the discrepancy between students' post-test scores and their reported confidence levels. Approximately three-fourths of the students in both instruction groups indicated that they felt somewhat or very confident about their ability to use each type of resource demonstrated in the instruction. This sharply contrasts with the actual scores on the post-tests, where only thirty-seven percent of the tutorial group and thirty-four percent of the class group "passed" the post-test with a score of seventy-two or higher. These results lead to a new hypothesis that, regardless of actual performance, students who feel confident about their ability to use the library may be more likely to use its resources. Of course, further research in the area is needed to examine the relationship between students' confidence levels and actual library use.