Approaches & Theories to Effective Guides

Guides, pathfinders, portals… they’ve been called many things over the years, but the way that librarians curate content for point-of-need assistance remains a fundamental way that users access library content. The library’s website is often referred to as the “virtual branch” and as such should maintain the same high quality, organized, and well assessed services as our physical locations.  But what physical equivalent do our subject- course- and topic specific guides have when compared to our physical spaces? As the UT Libraries migrates and unites our guides on the LibGuides platform, I thought it was a good opportunity to reflect on the purpose of these stand-alone instructional materials.

 

Thankfully much has been written about creating user-centered and teaching focused library guides. Recently, University of Georgia librarian Jason Puckett published Modern Pathfinders: Creating Better Research Guides to offer insight into best practices for creating guides that are guided (pun intended!) by foundational principles of writing for the web, content assessment, and instructional design. He also offered a companion webinar, which can be accessed through the UT Libraries HR staff development wiki.

 

Additionally, the 2013 LITA text, Using LibGuides to Enhance Library Services, edited by Aaron Dobbs and Ryan Sittler, offers a well-rounded resource covering many aspects of LibGuides beginning with its purchase, installation, training and finally creating guides. The two chapters in particular I found helpful and relevant address specific instructional design elements when creating guides.
Nedda Ahmed’s “Design: Why It Is Important and How To Get It Right,” perfectly summarizes how and why aesthetics really matter when striving for content engagement. Drawing from Donald Norman’s book, Emotional Design, she summarizes that, “Norman and his cognitive science colleagues have come to understand is that objects offering a good balance of aesthetics, practicality, and usability are more effective—essentially, he says, attractive things work better—their attractiveness produces positive emotions, which causes mental processes to be more creative and more capable of working through obstacles” (104).  It follows, then, that we, like many of our students, have negative reactions to aesthetically displeasing pages, sometimes discarding them wholesale despite their authority!

 

Visual elements such as composition and visual hierarchy help us process information; by using techniques such as entry points, focal areas, rest points, and uniformity, we can create calm, inviting and memorable instructional materials. Ahmed also mentions color as a technique, but personally, this remains questionable as it seems less compatible with principals of universal design. Lastly, she covers the importance of writing for the web, which cannot be overstated and are summarized as:
  • Be concise
  • Be objective
  • Make it scannable

 

In Chapter 7 entitled, “Integrating LibGuides Into The Teaching-Learning Process”, co-authors Veronica Bielat, Rebecca Befus, and Judith Arnold use pedagogical and instructional design theory to illuminate best practices in creating specific and targeted LibGuides for a variety of instructional needs. Because the LibGuides platform is so flexible, it can be used to support many different type of teaching: asynchronous, point-of-need, course integrated, and train-the-trainer.

 

The authors promote scaffolding as a way to help individual learners succeed no matter what point of entry they take to this content. Scaffolding is described here as providing the students “with all of the resources they need for a learning task plus guidance by an expert to support their discovery of new concepts and knowledge” (123). Learning tasks are broken up into smaller, more manageable pieces and can be accomplished at different paces according to learners needs which is especially useful when there is not an expert available.  Additionally, other theories such as metacognition and cognitive load are also expanded and explicitly tied to the LibGuide. I’ve reproduced their chart with the examples below:

 

Table 7.1: Incorporate these learning theories to make LibGuides a Teaching Tool
Table 7.1: Incorporate these learning theories to make LibGuides a Teaching Tool

 

Taking into account these user-centered design principals and instructional design theories, here are few potential conversation starters for tomorrow:
  • How have you incorporated elements of writing for the web, user-centered design, scaffolding, and instructional design into your guides (course or subject) previously? What worked and didn’t work?
  • Is there support that you feel you need in order to better integrate these principals into your guides?
  • What do you personally respond to when reading instructional materials on the web?

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