Friday, October 28, 2005

Our Reference Wiki and Online Tutorials

About a month ago, I promised to put up some screenshots of a wiki that I started for my library. I created the wiki using PBWiki, which is so named because it is supposed to take as much time to create a wiki using their software as it takes to make a peanut butter sandwich. My goal in setting up the wiki was to replace the handouts that we distributed to librarians being trained to work at our reference desk. I wanted something that would serve not only as a policy manual and list of services but also as a knowledgebase that my colleagues could add to or revise as needed. The need for some sort of shared documentation that could be annotated by anybody (at least, anybody who has the password to the wiki) was apparent to me when I noticed that the staff who were being trained for the reference desk were making notes on the sheaf of paper handouts they'd been given.

My colleagues have been to referring to the wiki while they're at the desk and have also begun to add new pages and flesh out currently existing ones. If you'd like to get a sense of what the wiki looks like, I have a demo here of how the wiki can be searched, browsed, and edited, which I thought might be more interesting than mere screenshots.

I should add a few words about the software that I used for the demo. I downloaded a month-long free trial of Macromedia Captivate, which is one of several highly regarded products for screencasting (see this page on the Library Success wiki for details on some of the different tools that can be used for creating online tutorials). I still need to work on my skills in creating, editing, and polishing demos using Captivate, but, alas, my trial ends in two days. I hope to convince the library to consider purchasing it for the staff to use so we can populate our website with more tutorials. Some of my colleagues have been involved in other efforts to create tutorials using other approaches; one of my favorites is this one, the "Beginner's Guide to Business Research," that the head of reference, Louise Klusek, did in conjunction with an outside design firm.

I enjoyed working with Captivate and found it easy to use, although the small amount of experience I already had with editing digital video on my computer helped me grasp the concept of editing the storyboard of screenshots that make up this demo. I was pleased with the way that as soon as the software was done doing the initial screen capture (i.e., recording my navigating around in the wiki, clicking on things, and typing things), it added in all sorts of animation (the blue captions explaining what I clicked on) and sound effects. During the editing process, I tinkered with the timing and pacing of the sounds and the appearance and disappearance of the captions. I also reworded the captions to give it more of a narrative. I hope I get the chance to do more of this, as it is really a blast and a powerful way for the individual librarian to quickly design and publish online tutorials. If you've ever animated a PowerPoint presentation, then you can easily handle Captivate. Do check out the sample tutorials that are linked to on the Library Success wiki page, as they offer ideas about ways to use screencasting software to reach out to our users and give them help where they are: online.

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