Designing and implementing a pilot program has many rewards and challenges. Elementarily, a pilot initiative is designed to test logistics and gather information prior to the launch of a larger study or program, with the aim of improving the intended program’s quality and efficiency. A pilot study can reveal gaps in design and these can be addressed well before the larger study or program is executed. Conducting a pilot study does not guarantee success of the final program but does increase the likelihood.
Developing a suite of skills and competencies for designing and executing pilot studies and programs can be viewed within a constellation of already acquired skills, transferred to a specific project. Librarians designing pilot studies have foundational skills, such as:
- Developing criteria for programs
- Establishing event, instruction, activity outcomes
- Designing instruction sessions
- Estimating variability in outcomes
- Collecting preliminary data
- Determining what resources are required for planned study
- Assessing collected data and feedback
- Developing a research question and research plan
At the small university campus where I am installed as the branch librarian, faculty and staff support the aims of the University’s Strategic Research Plan and institutional Strategic Plan through the delivery of high quality instruction, programming, and other academic pursuits. The importance and value of developing information, digital, technology, and computer literacy skills for students was recently identified as paramount to student success. Initiating an integrated skill development program into select courses targeting first year students was designed and the pilot study is currently underway. I instigated this initiative and have the full support of campus administration, faculty, the Academic Planning and Standards Committee, and my colleagues on the other campus.
Developing this pilot study started with conversations among colleagues and faculty regarding their perceptions of student technology and information literacy levels. While truly inductive research, these conversations proved revealing and insightful into some issues experienced by instructors in the classroom. For example, many students attending campus for the first time have little or no experience with using computers at the level expected of university students in current higher education learning environments. Students are expected to know how to logon to networks, login to software and online programs, open and correctly format and use Microsoft Office Suite specifically Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, understand how the Internet works, and be able to identify what is a reliable source and what is not.
In my experience during my first term as the branch librarian, I witnessed students struggling to logon to computers networked to the University’s servers. Students would ask me what PowerPoint was and how to find it on the computers because their instructors want them to create a presentation. On more than one occasion, a student would come to my office in tears of frustration because they were unable to figure out how to open a software program and felt inordinately overwhelmed at the prospect of them having to use that software – Word or PowerPoint specifically. Some students, even second year students, were only using what information they could find on the Internet through a Google search rather than the library’s resources. When questioned, these students would say that they didn’t know how to find the library’s website, they thought the university’s website was all that was available and it didn’t help them, or that they believed that everything required of them could be found on Google (not knowing that Google is a search engine and not the Internet). Some students felt that the widest barrier to their education was solely the technologies required for them to use. These students had much difficulty navigating the course management system – Moodle or Blackboard.
Exploring the possible reasons why so many students were having difficulty, I learned that living outside the city proper meant that if the student had access to the Internet at home – which many did not and did not own a computer having relied upon their school for access to both computer hardware and software and Internet access, that Internet connection might be dial-up or satellite, never high speed. Those types of Internet connections thwart most efforts to effectively research topics and precluded access to electronic resources that required authentication. Downloading one page of a PDF might take 5 or more minutes and experience “timed out” issues due to the server recognizing slow connection speeds as inactivity.
Arriving at university with low computer, technology, digital, and information skills can defeat even the most enthusiastic student. I felt it imperative to provide an appropriate, responsive, and relevant learning experience for all students and specifically first year students, where they could develop skills in a safe, fun, and encouraging environment.
Starting in the second term, two instructors have volunteered their classes to participate in a pilot designed to deliver basic computer, technology, digital, and information skill development strategies to first year students.
The pilot study is designed to:
- Identify potential practical problems in delivering a larger scale integrated program
- Uncover attitudinal perspectives of this suite of literacies
- Uncover localized interdepartmental problems that would affect the program delivery process
- Identify resources required for program delivery
This pilot study is designed to delivery basic skill development sessions over a period of 10 weeks in 30 minute blocks, every second week. The courses in which the study is delivered are a second year Philosophy and first year Math. I am aware that some of these students would already have had an introduction to information literacy the previous year; however, it became evident at the first session that even those student were still having difficulty with computer logon and software login. Ideally, the IT support staff would have been involved in part of each of the first two sessions but due to scheduling conflicts did not attend. The IT component was delivered by me. The feedback instrument used is an online survey given to each class at the end of each session, and completed before moving on.
Two sessions of the study have been completed and I am optimistic that what we learn from it will inform the scope and mechanics of a program to be delivered in the Fall 2014 term. I am also rather confident that I will have developed another level of competencies in the context of the use of technology in the classroom, short session delivery practices, establishing realistic outcomes, analyzing data, and developing a robust integrated literacy skills development program.