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Building Bridges: Restructuring Online Library Tutorials to Span the Generation Gap and Meet the Needs of Millennial Students. Dianna E. Sachs, Carrie C. Leatherman, Kate A. Langan Western Michigan University. Today We Will Cover. Our Study: Compare 2 Online Research Tutorials

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Building Bridges: Restructuring Online Library Tutorials to Span the Generation Gap and Meet the Needs of Millennial Students

Dianna E. Sachs, Carrie C. Leatherman, Kate A. Langan

Western Michigan University


Today We Will Cover

  • Our Study: Compare 2 Online Research Tutorials
    • Millennial learning outcomes
    • Millennial satisfaction
  • What is a “Millennial”?
  • Working on a tutorial?
    • Strategies for “Millennial-friendliness”
  • What happens next?
searchpath researchpath
ResearchPath Modules:

College-Level Research

Key Research Concepts

Using the Library Catalog

Finding Articles

Using the Internet

Citing Sources

ResearchPath Module 3

Searchpath Modules:

Starting Smart

Choosing a Topic

Using WestCat

Finding Articles

Using the Web

Citing Sources

Searchpath Module 3

Searchpath → ResearchPath


  • “Searchpath”
    • Created 2001 – award-winning in its time

Searchpath Today

  • Seen as:
    • Text-heavy
    • Clip art
    • Visual only
    • Too linear
    • Not very interactive
    • Overwhelming content
    • Awkward quiz reporting structure

What is a Millennial?

  • Millennial Generation/Generation Next/Gen Y
    • Born 1982-2002
    • “Digital natives”
    • Process information differently
    • Learning Style: experiential, interactive, authentic

Millennial Learning Preferences

  • Multi-tasking
  • Graphics
  • Hyperlinked
  • Networked
  • Games
  • Interactivity
  • Fast-paced

Millennial Students

  • “A Vision of Students Today”

Source: “A vision of students today”. Michael Wesch, Kansas State University. YouTube,



  • Think back to when you were 12 years old.
    • Did you…

So what did we do?

2007-2009 – developed technical infrastructure

Summer 2009 – created ResearchPath!



  • Used video, audio, and kinesthetic
  • More concise content
  • Interactivity throughout
  • Student narration
  • Photos of actual WMU students
  • Up-to-date visual components

Did we succeed?

  • Conducted 4-part research study

Part 1: Student satisfaction survey

Part 2: Focus groups

Part 3: Quiz results

Part 4: Mock research assignment for research skills


Study Methods and Procedures

  • HSIRB – using students as our test group
  • Advertise, Advertise, Advertise!
  • Incentives, Incentives, Incentives
  • Multiple session times 
  • Proctored sessions


Part 1. Student Satisfaction Survey: 13 participants

Part 2. Focus Group: 9 participants

Part 3. Quiz Results: 23 participants

Part 4. Research Project: 6+ participants


Part 1: Student Satisfaction Survey

  • 11 questions – ResearchPath vs. Searchpath
    • 4 multiple choice
    • 7 open ended
part 1 student satisfaction survey
Part 1: Student Satisfaction Survey
  • Watch three comparable modules of each tutorial
  • Assigned as they entered site
  • 45-60 minutes depending on individual and modules

Part 1: Student Satisfaction Survey

Quantitative Results

  • Preferred ResearchPath to Searchpath:
    • 85% more interesting
    • 78% easier to understand (retained more information)
    • 9 out of 14 found audio helpful

Part 1: Student Satisfaction Survey

Qualitative Results

  • 4 main areas of student comments:
    • 19 comments - self-pacing is important feature.
    • 9 comments - audio is more engaging.
    • 8 comments - embedded quizzes as useful
    • 7 comments - Searchpath is overwhelming due to to much information.

Part 2: Focus Groups

  • 6 Millennial participants
    • 1 Borderline (1981)
    • 2 Gen-Xers
  • 8 “Compare and contrast”
  • Student-driven discussion
  • 90 minutes recorded

Part 2: Focus Groups

It was like someone was sitting next to me!

A buffet of information!

It flows, makes it easier to understand

Tutorials à la carte!


Part 2: Focus Groups

  • What they want:

Conversational; informal; self pacing; get more if you want more;  audio; simpler, straight to the point; hands-on; broken-up into “chunks”; neutral color scheme; enthusiasm; options for visual or non-visual, audio or non-audio; larger screen; different formats and presentations


Part 2: Focus Groups

  • Things to avoid:

Cheesy; distracting/loud color schemes; small screen; bad logos; lack of control over content; not enough meaningful graphics and images; too much information all at once; don’t make me mad!


Part 3: Quiz Analysis

  • Did better in ResearchPath
  • Identified areas of weakness in tutorials
    • Consistent trouble with certain concepts
    • Reevaluate presentation of those concepts

Part 3: Quiz Analysis

  • Similar not identical quizzes
  • Effectiveness:
    • Of each individual tutorial
    • For Millennial students

Part 4: Learning Outcomes

  • Still in progress…
  • Take tutorial & “hypothetical research project”
  • Compare results with control group
  • Blind evaluation
part 4 learning outcomes
Part 4: Learning Outcomes
  • Image of project they do
part 4 learning outcomes1
Part 4: Learning Outcomes

Preliminary Results:

  • Students are equally able to complete research project after taking either tutorial
  • Taking a tutorial increases abiltity to complete research project, compared with control group

What’s Next for ResearchPath?

  • Technical issues
  • Culturally sensitive content
  • Go further! More interactivity, customization
  • Specialized populations at WMU
    • ADA compliant “text only” version
    • ESL version
  • Learning management system
continue the study
Continue the Study
  • More participants = more representative sample
  • Part 5: use identical quiz questions for both tutorials
things to consider
Things To Consider
  • What can you do to make your own online tutorials (or other materials) more Millennial-friendly?
    • Learn from others
  • Invest time and technical expertise to do it right
  • Ask your students!
    • Ask many students
    • Listen to what they say – and what they don’t say

Use Your Crystal Ball

  • Food for thought – what will the next generation look like?



Clip art obtained from


Your Stories

Created online resources for Millennials?

Share your experiences!



  • Moon, T. (2007). [Untitled compilation of data on Millennial students] Western Michigan University. Unpublished pamphlet.
  • Oblinger, D. (2003). Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials: Understanding the new students. Educause Review, 2003(July/Aug), 36-47.
  • Reith, J. (2005). Understanding and appreciating the communication styles of the millennial generation. Vistas (2005).
  • Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).
  • Prensky, M. (2001b). Digital natives, digital immigrants, part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6).
  • Taylor, P., & Keeter, S. (Eds.). (2010). Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next. Retrieved from Pew Research Center website:
  • Western Michigan University Libraries (2009). ResearchPath. Retrieved from
  • Western Michigan University Libraries (2001). Searchpath. Retrieved from

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