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Search tip #23: Truncation!

Monday, September 16, 2013 3:50 pm

Raise your hand if you’ve been here before: stuck in a library database, wondering why your search for articles about something like the role of computers in childhood development isn’t returning any really good results. Your search might look like this:

computers childhood development

Seems like a good search, right? Here’s the thing, though: if there are completely relevant articles that discuss the role of computing in how children develop using those exact terms, but they never use the terms computers, childhood, or development, you’re not going to find all of them. How do you rework the search to find all the relevant stuff?

Stand back, children, while I attempt some library-fu. If I rework the search to this:

comput* child* develop*

I’m going to find many more relevant articles.

Here’s what’s happening. Those asterisks (the little * symbols) are what we call truncators. Essentially, they tell the database to look for the root form of the word and include anything that comes after it. This means your search will now find alternate forms of your search terms.

comput* will find computer, computers, computing, computation, etc.
child* will find child, children, childhood, etc.
develop* will find develop, develops, developing, development, etc.

Although this doesn’t work in every single database (or on search engines like Google, which does something similar automatically), it’s a good tool to have in your belt. Now, go, and remember: with great power comes great responsib*.

ZSRx: The MOOC that wasn’t a MOOC

Friday, May 10, 2013 1:37 pm

Remember that time ZSR offered an online information literacy course? No, not that one. This one. The one we designed to be MOOC-like, free and open to anyone, focused on general web literacy skills, in the hopes that *maybe* 100 people would want to sign up. No? Well, let me tell you about it.

Let’s start at the beginning. It was a little more than two years ago that Lauren Pressley designed and taught her online version of LIB100, the first online course of any kind at Wake Forest. She worked hard to create a “Wake Forest” feel to the course: lots of reflection, video responses, close contact. And it worked. She was asked to go before the College Board of Visitors to show them what she’d done, and they were impressed. I’m told that many came up to Lauren after her presentation to ask how they could take her class. This was all before I came to ZSR, of course, but I know enough about this place to understand that when the College Board of Visitors wants to take your class, you find a way to let them take your class.

So we found a way. We gave LIB100 the MOOC treatment: we generalized the content and learning outcomes, focusing on web literacies that are relevant to everyone. We curated third-party content from around the web, finding readings, videos, and websites that anyone could access and easily fit into their busy schedules. We set up a discussion forum and a community blog. We organized everything into thematic modules and built a simple website with free tools to hold it all together. We called it ZSRx: The Cure for the Common Web, and then we told people about it, focusing our marketing efforts on parents and alumni, hoping 100 or so would be interested enough to sign up. Then 700 people signed up.

Let me tell you, dear reader: there’s nothing more real in the life of an eLearning Librarian than when 700 people show up to your party. It was terrifying. I was ecstatic.

As people started introducing themselves on the discussion board, we learned that we had participants from 23 states and 10 countries. There were parents of current and former students, alumni from the class of 2012 all the way back to the class of 1954 (old campus!), and folks here on campus who were just interested in what we were doing. We had folks who had very little computer or web literacy and folks who had taught online for the University of Phoenix. I met an alum living in Florida who is close personal friends with the minister who married me and my wife. People started connecting to old friends, swapping stories of their time at Wake, reminiscing over favorite professors. Although introductions were coming fast and furious, it all felt very… small.

Each of the four modules focused on a different aspect of web literacy. Module One focused on being a more strategic web searcher, Module Two on advanced search tools and techniques, Module Three on privacy, filtering, and SEO, and Module Four on using free web apps to make life easier. For each module, there was more content and more opportunities to participate than I expected anyone to actually get to in a week. The idea, as I shared with participants, was not to try to learn everything the course had to offer, but to treat the course as one would a candy dish–to pull out the one or two things that look most appetizing, and be OK with leaving the rest. If they learned one new thing each week, I emphasized, the course was a success.

It’s strange, actually, calling ZSRx a course. It felt vaguely “course-like,” in that it had a beginning and an end, students and instructors, content that was organized to address learning objectives, and interactions between participants and facilitators. And learning was happening: that much was obvious from the discussions. There wasn’t any traditional assessment of learning, though: no quizzes or assignments. And I think that was a strength, as it forced participants to rethink what a course is and what a course can be online. Although ZSRx was modeled after MOOCs, it was certainly not massive, and it was definitely not impersonal. ZSRx wasn’t a MOOC: this was Wake Forest gathering around a collection of online content and using it as a tool to learn new things as a community. This was a community and a platform for informal learning, and it was awesome. If you’re interested in participation numbers and feedback, I’m working on making it look pretty, but you can see what I’m working with here.

I see offering courses like ZSRx–lightweight, informal, communities wrapped around a collection of content–to be a huge opportunity for libraries of all kinds. We have so much more to offer to the MOOC discussion than locating public domain images or providing copyright assistance for “traditional” MOOCs (if there is such a thing). Libraries have always been hubs of their physical communities–let’s start being hubs of our digital communities. I’ll be helping that process along in the coming months by creating a more robust template of the course with lots of documentation for getting a course like this running for your own community. For now, here’s a quick-and-dirty version of the template. Use it if you’d like!

Finally, a special thanks to Lynn Sutton, for trusting me enough to do this crazy thing, and to Roz Tedford and Hu Womack for being right there alongside me during the planning and running of the course. This isn’t the last of these we’ll be doing. Stay tuned!

New Video Efforts

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 4:58 pm

One of my goals for my first year is to do a complete refresh of all of the content in the Toolkit. In my role serving online students, I understand the power of video in teaching library tools and selling the library as the place to go for research assistance, technology training, and self-help. Having a digital space like the Toolkit–a centralized location for all of our video and other digital learning objects–is incredibly valuable for reaching students and faculty both on campus and online. However, when a space like the Toolkit starts to show its age, we risk losing a bit of credibility. For as much power as they have, videos quickly become outdated as web interfaces or link paths change. It’s also no secret that we’re bound by constraints on our time, so producing video of high production quality often takes a back seat, resulting in videos that look outdated before their time.

So, to help restore the Toolkit to its former glory and to put in place more sustainable workflows, I’ve started using Camtasia Studio to create what I hope are high-polish, ZSR-quality videos that will stand the test of time. I just finished my first one–a teaser video for Zotero–and wanted to share how I did it.

Scripting

With any video project, I find it’s much easier to get the audio down first and make it perfect before worrying about capturing video. I’m not one for improv, so that means writing a script first and paring it down to what’s really essential to get the message across. Our users don’t expect elaborate, drawn-out explanations; they’re watching the video because they hope it will save them time. If the content requires a video much longer than two minutes, it should probably be split into two separate videos. So to keep things brief, I scripted and timed myself rehearsing the script. I kept paring it down until I was comfortably under two minutes, and only then was it finally time to record.

Audio Recording

The scripting and audio recording take up the bulk of the time, but I’d argue that they’re the most important parts. Even the shiniest video will be ignored if there’s annoying background noise or if the speaker is rambling or talks too quickly or too quietly. I used Camtasia to record myself reading through the script twice three four times, then cut and spliced the best parts into the final audio track. So the video doesn’t feel quite so librarian-sitting-in-an-office-talking-at-you, I used a royalty-free guitar track that came packaged with Camtasia to add some interest.

Screen Recording

Now that I had the audio ready to go, it was pretty easy to record the screen. Screen capture is really what Camtasia was made to do, and it does it beautifully. All I had to do was mentally map out my mouse clicks, record a few run-throughs of each “scene,” and I was ready to edit.

I want to note here the significance of recording audio and video separately. One of the major weaknesses of using free, web-based screen recorders like Jing is that you can’t separate the audio from the video; that is, when something in your video changes, like a database interface, you have to re-record the entire video to bring your video up to date. By separating the audio and video, I can feasibly use the same audio track and only update those portions of the video that need updating, saving tons of effort in the long run.

Editing, Callouts, and Text

To bring everything together, I had to manipulate the video clips to match up with the audio. Because this particular video was more of a teaser and not intended to be a “how-to,” I sped up the video clips to keep everything flowing quickly. I focused the user’s attention with some appropriate zooming and panning, then added photos, text, and colored backgrounds when there was no video to display. You’ll notice I like big, bold text that’s readable even on the smallest smartphone screen.

Accessibility Concerns

Finally, to make the video accessible to those with hearing impairments and to those who might not have a pair of headphones in a quiet room, I added a caption track that the user can turn on and off in YouTube. Camtasia makes this almost absurdly easy: all I had to do was copy and paste my transcript into my project, then Camtasia guided me through time-stamping the caption track to sync with the audio.

Looking Ahead

I plan on working my way through the content on the Toolkit as determined by the needs of the online counseling program. I already have planned an entire series of Zotero tutorials, followed by tutorials for the PsycInfo and PubMed databases. If you have ideas for videos I can add to my queue, or if you have a special project in mind, I’m all ears. I hope you enjoy!

 


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