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'E' is for Exploration

Robin Green & Subject Support Team, Library, University of Warwick


The Library is no longer solely defined by the material it stocks. Ideas and data are now more likely to be accessed remotely then to be found at hand. Learners are free to explore an abundance of electronic information sources. Exploration undertaken without some essential navigational skills, can be overly time consuming, sometimes futile, and may even terminate at completely inappropriate destinations. The virtual learning environment must be approached by learners equipped with far more than a belief in serendipity. The skill to assess the authority and provenance of an information source is integral to engaging with material, and is as important as being able to locate it. In this virtual landscape the library will not deliver particular pathways, but will offer an understanding of the topography itself.
The following initiatives have been undertaken by subject librarians working in conjunction with teaching and research staff and demonstrate some ways in which guidance can be given to facilitate access to resources for e-learning.

Facilitating autonomous and virtual learning

An important aspect of accessing resources for e-learning is the effective use of finding tools such as search engines and databases and a good knowledge of how to obtain electronic material from a particular library. Traditionally we have offered training to users in the Library either integrated into their course or on a sign-up basis.

We are gradually moving away from fixed-time demonstrations in the Library that students must attend in person, in favour of virtual on-demand demonstrations available from the Library web pages. We have created some self-paced tutorials, which the user can follow, at a time and place, best suited to them. At present there are tutorials on

  • how to use the library
  • how to use OPAC, the Library’s online catalogue
  • how to search the business, management and economics database ABI/Inform
  • how to search the literature within the Sciences

These tutorials can be found on the Using the Library Training page

For the students there is the added advantage, with a web-based demonstration of being able to repeat a section if something is not understood first time round and being able to review the demonstration months later, if the student needs a refresher. Web demonstrations can be used on their own, or as a refresher for, or supplement to live demonstrations conducted in training sessions.

Whilst we do plan to add demonstrations of databases in other subject areas, it is important to recognise that, even though tools may have very different interfaces, they generally follow the same basic searching principles, which apply to all reference databases. The demonstration of ABI, could be followed by students from other disciplines, to learn the key strategies and techniques to help them search the various web-based tools available in their relevant subject area.

These same searching strategies can be applied when using search engines such as Google. The tutorial on searching within the Sciences similarly focuses on searching techniques and is a good introduction to searching the literature within a subject area.

Further development of this ‘on demand demonstration’ method of user education is planned for next academic year with support from e-lab.

Rebecca Woolley and Hywel Williams (Business and Economics Subject team)

Embedding information skills into virtual learning environments

Within the Leicester Warwick Medical School, an online internet workbook is used for basic information skills instruction. This consists of a series of chapters introducing types of information available, retrieval strategies and worked examples from Medline and other databases. Self-marking multiple-choice quizzes test the students’ understanding of the salient points (something they feel they should repeat until they get 100%!) Assessment is via a Medline search using e-mail for submission and feedback and later another search as part of their OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination).

Feedback from the students is particularly positive as they can return to the workbook at any time and practice using the worked examples. They also feel that feedback on an individual basis to their assessed searches (albeit a lot of work for the assessor) is very valuable. This methodology can easily be extended to other subjects using a more generic approach for basic skills added to more advanced subject specific examples.

Richard Smith (Biomedical Librarian)

Developing web resources

The German Department has for many years worked closely with the Library to develop resources and training for e-learning. We have collaborated closely and developed the Warwick German Studies Web (WGSW.) In December 2002 the latest version went live in the new university corporate style ( ). WGSW now contains some 1200 links to scholarly resources on all areas of German Studies and as such represents one of the largest sites in the field based in the UK. High hit rates confirm its popularity in the university and beyond. In 2000 it was awarded a five-star rating by the teachers’ organization Schoolzone as “an outstanding academic site”.

The most recent development in WGSW is the incorporation of searchable bibliographies of texts (reviews, articles, books, electronic sources) on nearly all the set texts and films studied in the Department. These bibliographies began life as word-processed lists of articles on set films, but they soon expanded to index materials on the contemporary texts studied in the Department. The lists were then put into Pro-Cite databases, which are now searchable in the Bibliographies page of WGSW via Reference Web Poster software ( ).

At the click of a mouse button, students can get a comprehensive list of all the relevant secondary material available to them - which increasingly includes electronic sources and texts (webpages, newspaper reviews, electronic journal articles). Where a text is available electronically a link is provided in the reference. Users are thus referred not just to printed sources in the Library, but can choose from a wide range of web-based texts, and can increasingly work at a distance. These online resources are ideal for incorporation into future VLE developments in the Library and University.

Richard Parker (Subject Librarian for German)

Adapting traditional user education to incorporate mail group support

The Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, which is based in the Theatre Studies department, runs two MA programmes. 32 of the 45 students are from overseas, many of them non-native English speakers. The students, many of them coming with arts undergraduate degrees, are at a further disadvantage in that the courses involve topics that necessitate use of law, statistics, business, European Union & UK government publications. We have tried various training programmes to get across the enormous range of information needed. At present, the subject librarian runs 5 sessions of 30 minutes in the first 6 weeks of term, devoted to databases, electronic journals, alerting services & statistics and marketing information in the arts and creative media areas. There is of course the traditional problem of relatively low attendance, as students fail to appreciate the need for Library training at such an early stage. Many (especially those whose first degree was at Warwick) seem to believe that they already know about everything they need in the Library.

We have also been experimenting in reinforcing some of this information by running sessions at a point when students are starting to think about essay topics. The course leader introduces each option question, with hints about which authors to look at, and the subject librarian can then demonstrate use of an appropriate database (e.g. Westlaw for essays on intellectual property). Unsurprisingly, these sessions have the best attendance levels.

Each course has also set up its own e-mail group on Yahoo with all students and lecturers as members. As well as students posting their seminar presentations for the benefit of the group, the subject librarian alerts them to articles relating to forthcoming seminar topics. Since we also subscribe to a number of alerting services (e.g. The Cultural Policy listserv, The Arts Management Newsletter), interesting information can be fed in concerning new sector reports or journal / newspaper articles. Many of these articles will have come from online sources – by posting such links, the usefulness of such resources is emphasised and students can see tangible benefits from using them. This type of filtering is felt to play an important role in helping students and academic staff to cope with the ever increasing floods of information, which threatens to engulf us all.

Richard Perkins (Subject Librarian for Film and Theatre Studies)

Computer aided learning: using specific CD ROMs and viewlet presentations for user education

Probably the best-known e-learning resource in Law in the UK is IOLIS, which is produced by the Law Courseware Consortium based in the School of Law at the University of Warwick. Although we make IOLIS freely available to students within the Library as a networked CD-ROM, we cannot claim any credit for it! It is, however, an excellent example of what can be produced to help students to learn at their own pace. It is encouraging us to consider ways in which Law students might be assisted by electronic alternatives to the sort of database training currently provided during the induction period.

Viewlet presentations

The Library has created viewlet presentations to explain WestlawUK and these can be located at

The WestlawUK tutorials explain the basics of using the database. There is a programme demonstrating how to access WestlawUK followed by separate tutorials on how to locate UK legislation, UK cases and the other types of legal material. Finally, there is a tutorial on downloading material. The cursor moves as if someone were conducting a search, which can be unnerving if an unsuspecting student was intending to use the live database! Useful “pop-up” notes appear to explain what is being demonstrated. The student can run through this several times, which could not be done by a librarian conducting a user training session.

Helen Riley (Subject Librarian for Law)

On the horizon

The Library is committed to shifting emphasis to the provision of electronic information resources. Growing proportions of all our user groups are becoming distant learners, accessing our resources from outside the physical Library, and doing so at all hours.

As described above, Subject teams are working with Departments to provide tailored resources and services. They are also exploring how best to adapt our provision of support and information skills development to meet the needs of a Warwick student accessing our electronic resources at 3 a.m. from South Africa as well as one sitting at an Enquiry Desk in the Library.

This summer we will implement the new Millennium library management system (LMS). This will offer scope for better management of OPAC, reading lists and course materials, and will work with the University’s content management system (SiteBuilder) to provide an integrated resource base.

If you are interested in incorporating any of the initiatives described here into your own teaching, or would like to explore other ways to develop e-learning approaches to information resources, please contact your Subject Librarian

Robin Green
Head of Information Services and the Subject Support Teams
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76524678

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