In summer 1996, the Ohio State University Libraries received an Academic Enrichment Grant from the University to support creation and maintenance of an interactive Internet tutorial program.
Seventeen initiatives were selected from more than seventy pre-screened Academic Enrichment Grant proposals submitted for the 1996-1997 academic year. All of the proposals were reviewed by a faculty panel representing each of the college clusters.
The Libraries proposal requested funding for a new professional position to develop and maintain this instructional program. The proposal envisions an interactive instructional resource for teaching Ohio State users to find and effectively utilize the best Internet resources as part of their comprehensive research strategy. The proposal notes that the Internet includes:
"a wide and varied range of resources, where the usual quality control mechanisms of publishing often do not apply; document permanency or integrity is not necessarily established; and the use of controlled vocabularies for document description is not applied. The quantity of information resources available via the Internet has reached a significant curricular and scholarly mass."
The number of Internet, primarily World Wide Web, sites is increasing exponentially, threatening to "overwhelm users rather than to inform them." University reviewers recognized the need for all students to quickly become literate and skilled searchers who can devise effective Internet research strategies and be discerning in their selection and use of these resources.
Nancy O'Hanlon was hired in November 1996 to fill this new position. As User Education Librarian for Internet and World Wide Web Instruction, she is responsible for managing all aspects of the project, including design, content development, evaluation and promotion.
The name chosen for this instructional program, net.TUTOR, includes an acronym which represents the overarching project goal: Teaching Useful Techniques for Online Research.
These broad goals guided development of the net.TUTOR program:
- Use a conceptual, as opposed to a procedural, framework for instruction,
relating Internet research concepts to general information seeking behavior in
- Employ active learning principles, providing practice opportunities and
constructive feedback whenever appropriate.
- Allow self assessment, flexible selection of tasks, and channels for user
- Use web technology appropriately and effectively.
- Insure that essential information is available to all users.
- Demonstrate relevant multimedia applications and learning resources.
Managing cognitive load -- the amount of information people can process -- is essential to effective teaching or training. Bombarding learners with too much information at once, called cognitive overload, is one of the chief obstacles to learning.
A commonly cited research study notes that working memory, the kind we use when learning new information, can hold seven (plus or minus two) chunks of information. Dividing each net.TUTOR lesson into segments (Classroom, Quiz, etc.) and then further subdividing these segments into a manageable number of chunks, allows users to digest new concepts and skills in a manner that prevents overload.
Web-based tutorial users will also enjoy a great deal of flexibility in managing their cognitive load, selecting instructional tasks from a menu of lessons, depending upon the amount and kinds of skills they bring with them, and once engaged in a lesson, selecting which portions of that particular lesson they wish to complete.
Because the limited capacity of working memory is rapidly overwhelmed by large amounts of new information, frequent opportunities to practice are important. Rehearsal encodes or moves information into long-term memory. The net.TUTOR user is presented with practice opportunities throughout the classroom portion of the lesson.
Finally, online testing is used to reinforce material. Elaborative rehearsal involves presenting questions which allow the user to apply knowledge in an appropriate context, thus encoding it into permanent memory.
When feasible, net.TUTOR test questions may also provide an authentic assessment of user skill levels by calling on the user to apply the appropriate techniques and practices from the lesson.