School of Library and Information Science
University of Washington, Seattle Campus
Associate Professor Terry Brooks of the School of Library and Information Science is in the process of "webifying" all his courses. Because he teaches "Bibliographic Databases," several courses in Web Development, and Literature Searching on the World Wide Web, the Web is an important part of all his courses. Libraries and information centers are increasingly using Web-based materials, and the librarians of the future must know how to use these tools.
Students Need to Learn Complicated Syntax
Dr. Brooks teaches Bibliographic Databases (LIS 503) almost every year. This course teaches students to search databases effectively and requires them
to learn the exact syntax that several different database systems use. The task is similar to learning a foreign language, as particular phrases must be used to achieve the desired results. Brooks had noticed that his students had a difficult time learning the syntax. The only effective way for students to practice was to use the actual database service, called Dialog, which was expensive and required the students to practice in the School's computer lab.
Tool to Help Students Learn a Different Language
To help students learn the rules which govern the query language, Brooks created a Java applet called the Query Tutor. This gave students an opportunity to answer practice questions and test themselves as much as they want to, from wherever they have computer and Internet access. The tool can be used at no cost to the University or students. Brooks noticed that the Query tool "had a demonstrable effect on student achievement levels and their capacity for learning" because they were learning to be competent searchers. Students used the tool quite extensively when preparing for exams, and it served as a good brush-up tool for later in the program when they had forgotten particular commands.
Migrating to the Web
As Brooks revises his courses, he moves more content to the Web, with the goal of teaching a paperless course. Readings are available through the Libraries' Course Readings on the Web (CROW) program, sign-ups for group projects are available online so students can check the status of a group at any time, and student projects are up on the Web so that students can see what their classmates are doing.
Record of a Working Scholar
Students also need to learn about the profession they are entering. Brooks places the papers he submits for publication on his site, both in submitted and in accepted form. He wants students to be able to see what happens to papers in the peer review process; he has posted the reviewers' comments on his site so that students can follow the process themselves. He believes that it is important for people to see each other's work, and that this gives students access to unusual material-things they have "never seen" before.
If Brooks had to do it all over, he says that he would start slower and take more time to plan and learn before jumping into a project. However, students have benefited from rough material he places on his Web site, and his site has become more interactive because of students' recommendations.
by Dana Bostrom, June 1999