SAKAI Materials for Library Orientations: A Collaboration between the UCSB Libraries and the Writing Program
Contributors: Karen J. Lunsford and Jane Faulkner (with Alison Brown, Vicki Chu, James Ford, Steve Miley, and Cassandra Nichols)
School Affiliation: University of California Santa Barbara
In this account, we describe a pilot program that our team has been working on since August 2006. We are developing model Sakai course sites for the Writing Program that highlight the integration between writing assignments and library research. Currently, we are testing several options for incorporating access to library materials directly within the course sites, and here we briefly outline our rationale and progress so far.
Sakai is an open-source course management system (CMS) that is currently undergoing collaborative testing and development by about 100 "partner programs" worldwide. It functions very much like other, more familiar course management systems such as Blackboard-WebCT and Moodle in that it allows teachers to create course websites and track student registration and grades. It provides an online space for teachers and students to post assignments and course readings, and it offers standard features such as bulletin boards, chat rooms, group emailing, quizzes, and so on. It also allows teams, such as research groups, to develop "project sites" to store, organize, and display their materials.
Sakai differs from other course management systems, however, in a number of ways, mostly notably in its grass-roots origin and its continuing emphasis on collaboration and user-driven upgrades and changes. Sakai began as a partnership between four academic intuitions (Stanford, MIT, Michigan and Indiana), all of whom had their own home-grown CMSs but who early on recognized the value of leveraging their combined expertise to solve common problems collaboratively. Sakai also has "commercial affiliates" that support the collective with various technical services. Although Sakai is open source and free for use, the "partner programs" pay dues ($5,000 or $10,000 a year, depending on size) and thus have a say in the collective's governance.
The University of California Santa Barbara is a Sakai partner. UCSB has never used a campus-wide CMS, so the announcement last year that we would be testing Sakai offered an excellent opportunity for input from all campus units. One of the attractions of a CMS is that it offers tools that can be tailored and modified to fit particular needs, and Sakai is recognized as having one of the most extensive collections of these tools. Typically, the local systems administrators are charged with tailoring these tools to fit campus requirements.
Our team represents the Writing Program and the UCSB Libraries, two campus units that have a long-established history of collaboration. We felt that this existing Writing-Library partnership would lend itself well to shaping UCSB's effort to implement Sakai, and we were determined to make our voice heard as the campus adopted and customized Sakai. We wanted to guide its design and implementation in a way that emphasized writing and library pedagogy, areas that we felt have been notoriously overlooked in course management systems. Therefore, last spring we wrote and received a campus project grant, and this year, we have been working closely with the local Sakai systems manager.
In thinking about what our pedagogical needs were, we took stock of the Writing Program (based on a self-study that instructors were then composing). The Writing Program serves some 8,000 students a year, most of whom conduct research projects that require the use of the UC Libraries' catalog, article databases, electronic journals, reserves, and interlibrary loan. Most Writing instructors (35 faculty and 40 TAs) make use of one-hour library orientation sessions ("one-shots") and bring their students to the Library's electronic classroom for instruction sessions tailored to the specific needs and assignments of each class. The 19 librarians who teach these one-shots for the Writing Program typically produce handouts, a research guide, web page, or other resource specific to that class. There is a designated librarian who schedules, consults for, and administers these classes.
This intense collaboration has paid off. Our experience has shown (and student evaluations have confirmed) that students are more likely to learn new research technologies when: 1. the technologies are directly relevant to class assignments, and 2. they are convenient enough that students will make the effort to apply them. Many undergraduates first become familiar with campus technologies because their Writing instructors require them, and librarians reinforce those requirements by providing continuous support and training. As a result, it has been imperative that both Writing instructors and librarians be prepared and continuously engaged as the CMS comes online.
As of this writing, we have learned much about Sakai's tools and have completed five sample course sites out of a projected ten. Visitors can access three course sites by going to the following website to request a guest password: http://benning.ic.ucsb.edu/sakai/writing.php
Currently, our challenge is to determine how best to integrate the Libraries' training materials and research guides into each Writing course site, and how, indeed, to establish what is commonly referred to as a "library presence" on the CMS. This is an issue within library science for any CMS, not just Sakai. We are considering several solutions, but we are still in the early stages. Here, we outline the possibilities, focusing particularly on the pros and cons of the first (the simplest solution, but not the best):
- A separate Library website (tailored to a specific course) located outside of the Sakai system. In this scenario, a course instructor would develop a Sakai course site, and a librarian (or the librarian plus the instructor) would create a custom website on the Library's server to support that course. The customized Library website would direct students to specific databases, journals, and other resources directly relevant to that course's assignment(s). It would also provide links such as the online research skills tutorial, the "ask a librarian" page already on the main Library site, and the online sign-up form for the Library's one-shot orientation classes. The course instructor would then place a link (or links) within the Sakai course site to this outside Library website. Sakai does allow instructors to link to a site anywhere on the Web, so this scenario is technically very feasible.
- There are a couple of advantages to this option: Many of the customized Library websites already exist at UCSB, so it would be simple enough to just include their links. Moreover, they require no new knowledge of new tools; most of the Writing instructors and the librarians are already familiar with Web authoring.
- However, the disadvantages outweigh these advantages. Most important, this solution does not create a library presence on the CMS. One purpose (and selling point) of Sakai is that it is meant to be a one-stop portal for students and instructors, so that a single login will yield access to all electronic resources on the campus (registration, grades, library, financial aid, etc.) In contrast, this scenario means that students must first login to Sakai, find their class website, click the link to the tailored Library webpage, and (if connected from an off-campus computer) login to that Library site. That lengthy pathway could be very confusing as well as cumbersome—why not go straight to the Library site, or better yet (from the students' point of view), to Google and skip the Library altogether? Because we are attempting to train students to recognize relevant, authoritative materials by providing them with appropriate examples, we want to more closely link the course assignments and the sifted, tailored library resources.
- Since we are not satisfied with this first option, we are also considering the following possibilities for better integrating the Library into the Sakai course sites. However, it is too soon to assess or rank them:
- A Library site within the Sakai system. Each Sakai course or project site may link to any public site within the system. In this model, the librarians would build their own course or project site, and individual Writing instructors would provide a link to it somewhere within their own sites.
- A "Resources" folder dedicated to Library materials. Each Sakai course or project site contains a Resources folder that holds documents, URLs, or multimedia clips. In this model, librarians could create a Resources folder of library orientation materials, including web pages, research guides and other documents designed for specific classes. Individual instructors could then copy the folder into their own course sites.
- A new Sakai "role" called "Librarian." Sakai allows systems administrators to define various roles that can be assigned within Sakai sites. The "Instructor" role, for example, allows access to all parts of the course site, while the "Student" role makes certain areas (such as the grading tool) off limits to these users. The "Librarian" role could be designed to allow librarians to add materials directly to a collaborating instructor's course site.
- A link to Library resources embedded in the standard tool list, which appears in a left-hand menu. In other words, the systems administrator could create the type of link that would automatically appear on all Sakai sites in the standard list of tools. Instructors would have the option of removing the link, if desired.
- A set of 2-minute videos that explain different Library resources, stored either in the Resources folder or made accessible through links.
We are interested in trying each of these solutions (none of them are easy) and interested in analyzing what each signals about the relationships between research materials and writing assignments, librarians and instructors. Over the next few months, we hope to report further on our trials and assessments of all of them.
With thanks to the Office of Instructional Development for the grant that funded this project.
Karen J. Lunsford, Assistant Professor of Writing, Writing Program
Jane Faulker, Coordinator for Instructional Resources and English & French Literature Librarian, Davidson Library/UCSB Libraries
Alison Brown, in the Language, Literacy, and Composition graduate program (Gevirtz Graduate School of Education) and TA for the Writing Program
Vicki Chu, undergraduate assistant, Davidson Library/UCSB Libraries
James Ford, in the Language, Literacy, and Composition graduate program (Gevirtz Graduate School of Education) and TA for the Writing Program
Steve Miley, Manager-Academic Systems, Instructional Computing
Cassandra Nichols, in the Language, Literacy, and Composition graduate program (Gevirtz Graduate School of Education) and TA for the Writing Program