Chapter 6: Are we sharing our toys in the sandpit? Issues surrounding the design, creation, reuse re-purposing of learning objects to support information skills teaching – Information Literacy


Are we sharing our toys in the sandpit? Issues surrounding the design, creation, reuse re-purposing of learning objects to support information skills teaching

Nancy Graham


This chapter will look at a wide range of issues surrounding design and creation of information literacy reusable learning objects (IL RLOs) that are used to support information literacy teaching. Librarians, both in the UK and internationally, are creating electronic content to support the teaching of information literacy. Even though much of this content is generic and could be used by others, this content is usually kept within the creator’s institution or organisation. There are some obvious benefits (time saving, building on existing good practice) and issues (finding material in the first place, copyright) to sharing and re-purposing content, so how will librarians exploit the benefits and find ways to deal with the issues?

Key words

re-usable learning objects

information literacy

online library tutorials

open educational resources



This chapter will look at a wide range of issues surrounding design and creation of information literacy reusable learning objects (IL RLOs) that are used to support information literacy teaching. It will also focus on how that material can be reused and re-purposed by the library community. For this chapter, the definition of RLO will include not only small chunks of learning material (e.g. a one page diagram) but also more complex material such as library tutorials.

Librarians, both in the UK and internationally, are creating electronic content to support the teaching of information literacy. There is a wide variety of learning content, from basic Word documents explaining how to use a database through to interactive quizzes designed to teach referencing. Even though much of this content is generic and could be used by others, this content is usually kept within the creator’s institution or organisation.

The Good Intentions Report (McGill et al., 2008) outlines the current culture of sharing learning content and highlights strategies for successful sharing of content, including subject-based communities of practice, such as academic libraries.

There are some obvious benefits (time saving, building on existing good practice) and issues (finding material in the first place, copyright) to sharing and re-purposing content, so how will librarians exploit the benefits and find ways to deal with the issues?

After an encouraging symposium at the 2009 Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference (LILAC), in Cardiff in March (Graham et al., 2009), it was agreed that a community of practice was needed to encourage the sharing of learning content to support information literacy teaching.

Literature review

A literature review was undertaken to get an overview of the published evidence of work being done in this area. Databases searched included Library, Information Science and Technology Abstracts (LISTA), Library and Information Science Abstracts (LISA), Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts (ASSIA), the Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI) and individual journals.

Currently published literature indicates that there is less being done in the area of reuse and re-purposing but that the creation of RLOs is still widespread. From attendance at the Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference (LILAC) and visiting library websites (both in the UK and abroad) there is a lot of evidence to suggest that creation of IL learning material is still a major activity in all types of libraries.

This literature review is broken down into five areas:

 Overviews/literature reviews

 Individual projects


 Future innovations and use of Web 2.0


Overviews/literature reviews of IL RLO use

Nancy Dewald’s 1999 article is a good starting point and outlines some key aspects of IL RLO design. Dewald’s seven principles (noted later in both Somoza-Fernandez and Abadal (2009) and in Tancheva (2003)) lay the foundations for transferring face-to-face IL teaching to online tutorials. She concludes that tutorials should be explicitly linked to curricula and that other web developments should inform how IL RLOs are created.

Tancheva’s paper of 2003 builds on this to argue for what she considers good practice in developing web-based tutorials. She argues that there are five essential elements to include in a good IL RLO: preliminary assessment, branching capabilities, making the tutorial problem-based and concept-based, that it should always be interactive and that there should be some form of assessment and feedback. Tancheva concludes that online library tutorials are still a work in progress.

Two papers published in 2009 focus on reviewing existing library tutorials. Sharon Yang looks at 372 tutorials from colleges in the United States and Canada. Her own review concludes that IL RLOs are still too static and need to include more games, quizzes, etc., in order to be more effective.

Somoza-Fernandez and Abadal (2009) looked at 180 online tutorials from academic libraries in countries across the globe. They set criteria and searched both aggregated sources and individual academic library websites. They found that there is still a tendency toward generic tutorials that do not specify user level or learning objectives and that do not include evaluation or assessment. They also note that few RLOs give any permissions information and only a handful utilise Creative Commons licences. This is particularly crucial if librarians are to share their learning material more openly. Their conclusion (a rather depressing echo of Tancheva six years earlier) is that ‘… web-based tutorials offered by academic libraries are at an early stage of development’ (p. 130, Somoza-Fernandez and Abadal, 2009).

Blummer and Kritskaya’s 2009 literature review concludes that there are five factors to ensure success including: knowing the purpose of the tutorial (learning outcomes/ objectives); collaborating with others (librarians, academics, learning technologists); the use of standards such as those developed by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) in the US and the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) in the UK; to map learning outcomes, student engagement and evaluation through assessment.

Individual projects

As indicated by the reviews above there have been hundreds of individual projects aimed at creating IL RLOs. Some literature is available but much of the information on these projects is presented at conferences (LILAC, 2010) and other face to face events. Of the articles found, the following provided some useful consensus.

In describing their IL Toolkit, Bent and Brettell (2006) outline the steps used to map their RLOs on to an academic module’s learning outcomes, making them truly practical for academics to embed in their curricula.

Jackson and Mogg (2008) at Cardiff University write about the creation of an Information Literacy Resource Bank (ILRB) which provides access to a range of freely available IL RLOs for both academics and other librarians. They highlight evidence of the reusability of the objects, through requests from external librarians to reuse particular RLOs. Lynwood and Flanders (2006) chart the development of IL RLOs at Birkbeck University. This project included both a subject librarian and a multimedia developer and, crucially, saw them sharing and adapting similar learning objects with Cardiff University.

The Hunsaker et al. (2009) article highlights a project in which librarians not only gathered information on existing RLOs available for reuse but also developed a suite of locally-appropriate objects, using criteria to ensure that they collated high quality content. These criteria could be used by anyone undertaking a similar task.

Smith (2007) explains how using active learning techniques and humour in developing IL RLOs helped her to engage students in IL classes. Both Matesic and Adams’ (2008) article and Emily Dill’s (2008) article stress that using ‘clickers’ and the associated RLOs do not improve retention of knowledge, but do improve student engagement with a topic.

Wales and Robertson (2008) from the Open University describe how the literature informed development of their Adobe Captivate RLOs, focusing on the use of storyboarding and self-assessment to ensure both granularity and active learning. Their article shows how starting with an overview can help with creating at a micro level.

Newton et al. (1998: 129) describe a project in public libraries to collate existing IL RLOs. However, they found that most IL RLOs are created ‘… expressly for use by academic staff and students …’ rather than public library users. So, rather than reusing existing content they had to create their RLOs from scratch.

Bailin and Pena (2007) chart the development of a library tutorial using scripts to reproduce a structure akin to a face-to-face reference interview. Interestingly, their evaluation shows that the majority of students did not use the tutorial in this linear fashion but instead used it to find key information at point of need.

Graham and James (2007) describe the Birmingham Re-Usable Material (BRUM) project in which librarians developed IL RLOs and presented them on an open website for academics to use with minimal librarian support.


Pedagogical considerations are crucial when developing IL RLOs, as this can affect take up and effectiveness of the RLO. The experience of librarians at Southampton Solent University is outlined in two articles (Browne and Dixon, 2010; Apps, 2009) both looking at their development of IL RLOs using a constructivist approach. They changed their approach from purely subject-based RLOs to also providing generic material for some topics (referencing).

Norwegian librarians (Skagen et al., 2008) describe how they used a didactic relation model as a framework to create an online IL tutorial, which focused on learning goals, learning process, learning conditions, settings and assessment to develop material.

At the 2010 LILAC conference Cathy Palmer from the University of California, Irvine (Palmer and Canaday, 2010) ran a workshop on developing an online IL tutorial which included a checklist of key factors to consider in the planning stages. She emphasises the use of a sound pedagogical structure before embarking on using technology.

Web 2.0 and beyond

A survey of librarians’ use of Web 2.0 (Luo, 2009) highlights the different levels at which IL can incorporate new technologies. As well as discussing the disadvantages (technical challenges, online vandalism and students’ own Web 2.0 knowledge) the author reiterates the importance of looking at pedagogy before technology to ensure that students’ information skills needs are met.

Developers at the RLO Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) discuss how they created and honed a multimedia learning object (MLO) for use with mobile phones. They went through several iterations of the MLO, testing with both peers and students and conclude that MLOs are appropriate for use with mobile devices as long as: ‘The underlying design, or pedagogical pattern, is viewed as providing the true basis for reuse’ (Bradley et al., 2009: 176). The ongoing work of the RLO CETL provides librarians with much needed development advice in terms of both reusability and help with technical challenges.


Mardis and Ury (2008) discuss a small scale research project focused on getting students to rate the reusability of IL RLOs. Many of us request student feedback on how effective RLOs are but not much on what they think of the reusability of it, so this is an interesting article for those researching into student participation. IL trainers at Staffordshire University (2010) have also involved students in providing feedback in order to update their Assignment Survival Kit (Adams et al., 2008; Walton and Pope, 2010).

In their final report (Wrathall, 2009) the Study Methods and Information Literacy Exemplars (SMILE) project team outlines several barriers to re-purposing existing IL RLOs including not having a central location to look for material, time taken to re-purpose material, lack of evaluation criteria (which they then developed), and copyright issues. The findings of this project, which was part of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded ReProduce programme of projects looking at re-purposing, will be invaluable to any librarian wishing to reuse or re-purpose existing IL RLOs.

A project team at Limerick Institute of Technology (LNSS, 2010) has also been experimenting with reuse/ re-purpose of existing IL material from other higher education institutions. They plan on expanding this project to include sharing material with librarians in other EU countries.

On a more general note on re-use, Campbell and Currier’s 2005 article includes criteria to ensure that digital learning material is developed with true reusability in mind, learning from the JISC funded 5/99 projects (JISC, 2009). Nicky Whitsed (2004) also offers some introductory insight into designing learning material with maximum re-usability in mind, referencing Rachel S. Smith’s (2004) practical online monograph ‘Guidelines for Authors of Learning Objects’.

The need to provide evidence or ‘proof’ of re-use is an obvious follow-on from creating IL RLOs and Paul Betty’s (2009) excellent article describes how to use Google Analytics to track use of library learning material. He advises that collaboration with IT departments on implementation and not taking the usage at face value are important to bear in mind.


Other articles cover sharing in repositories (Satta, Chaudhry and Khoo, 2008) and frameworks from which librarians can produce learning material (Jennings and Cashman, 2008) to then be deposited in repositories. The latter, a highly practical guide to developing RLOs from the Republic of Ireland’s National Digital Learning Repository (NDLR, 2010a), includes a development model, ADDIE (Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) that takes the developer through a process of planning, creation and evaluation. The NDLR has also supported an information skills community of practice (ISCoP). This community, brought together online by a shared repository, aims to share expertise in face to face meetings and share material online (NDLR, 2010b).

Building on the concept of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Open Course Ware project (MIT, 2010) the JISC funded Open Educational Resources (OER) projects (JISC, 2010) have explored many issues surrounding sharing learning and teaching material and their individual final project reports will make crucial reading for those looking for advice on sustainable sharing.

Use of Creative Commons licensing is something that has been an inherent part of the OER projects and needs to be explored further by librarians wanting to share material. Creative Commons recently released a new web page specifically aimed at those wanting to share educational resources (Creative Commons, 2010).

There is a wide variety of locations where librarians (and other educators) can share their learning material including: national repositories (Jorum, NDLR) that host objects; international repositories, such as the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) (MERLOT, 2010); International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) that host dynamic links to material hosted elsewhere (IFLA, 2010); individual IL RLO sources such as the ILRB (Cardiff University, 2010); and individual library websites.

MERLOT is an interesting example as an organisation that has championed open sharing but via dynamic links rather than hosting material centrally. MERLOT also utilises user comment facilities and peer reviewing editorial boards for different subject areas in order to ensure material is of a high standard. An online book chapter (Iiyoshi and Kumar, 2008) explains how the system works and the benefits of the community approach.

Design of RLOs for information skills

Where to start: pedagogy vs technology

For many of us it is very natural to play around with technology to see if it will be useful for us when developing RLOs and allow the software to dictate what sort of RLOs we use. This testing and discovery needs to be encouraged in all librarians as it is the only way that innovation and good practice can flourish. The Creatively Using Learning Technology website (University of Worcester, 2010) can help librarians to decide which technologies will be useful for specific learning contexts.

However, this exploratory phase has to be followed by a focused planning stage looking at the learning context of your RLOs. Without taking pedagogy into account from the very beginning, the true purpose of your RLOs can quickly become lost in the excitement of wanting to use the latest bit of kit. Remember, your most effective RLO could be a simple Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. As Blummer and Kitskaya (2009) argue, it is crucial to collaborate with others in the development and this is a good opportunity to work with our learning technologist colleagues who have expertise in both pedagogy and technology.

Looking at existing good practice

Blummer and Kritskaya (2009) advise on first looking at existing examples of RLOs. The IL RLO Share wiki (Graham, 2010) is a good place to start looking for existing material to reuse, both in the UK and beyond. There is an A-Z listing of repositories and individual projects, all with material that is freely available for others to reuse. Licence information is included where known.

Aspects of good design for IL RLOs

The key to these design aspects are that we are creating with reuse in mind. We all spend time creating RLOs for our own use, but how many of us are thinking of colleagues, internal and external, when planning what our RLOs will be like. As well as other generic design advice, Table 6.1 will include design aspects to consider, making your learning material as re-usable as possible.

Table 6.1

Design aspects

These guidelines are by no means thoroughly comprehensive and you may pick and choose the sections that are appropriate for your needs. However, they are a collation of expertise and advice from the literature and by adhering to them as closely as possible will ensure that you build on existing good practice.

Sharing your content

Opening up your content

The section on designing for reuse in Table 6.1 covers those aspects which you may want to consider if you want to open up your learning material for others to use. There is an international open educational resources (OER) movement aimed at encouraging and supporting open sharing of learning material. This movement includes the setting up of repositories and funding projects (Jorum, iTunesU, JISC OER, MIT Open Course Ware) to get educators sharing.

The Good Intentions report (McGill et al., 2008) outlines several successful business models for sharing, including one which is founded on the concept of a shared curriculum. Librarians are already set up to share both curriculum and content. We already have a community of practice; all we need to do is gather material together, host it and then regularly raise awareness of what is available.

We do not, as a matter of course, tend to link our content to the outside world as this is not the primary purpose of why we create content. However, we must change this view and design both our material and the host environment so that it is as open as possible. Find out if your institution has a repository, and if it has, upload your material to it. If your organisation has a website, find out if you can load material to be accessed openly. There are also a number of national and international repositories where you can upload your material for others to use. JorumOpen (Jorum, 2010) in the UK and MERLOT (MERLOT, 2010) in the US are country-based websites but anyone in the world can access and download material from the sites. Other sources are listed on the IL RLO Share wiki (Graham, 2010).

The biggest issue in opening up your content will be the licensing and each organisation will have a different view of your intellectual property rights (IPR) and what you will be allowed to do with your own content. However, the JISC has encouraged those running the OER projects to use Creative Commons licences. The questionnaire at the end of Keller and Mossink’s 2008 report is a very practical guide through tricky licensing decisions.

Another useful guide (with the emphasis firmly on designing content for openness) to help you open up your material is the CORRE (Creation, Openness, Reuse and Re-purpose, Evidence) framework (University of Leicester, 2010), devised as part of a JISC OER project.

Reusing/re-purposing others’ material

The flip side of opening up your own content is you may also want to reuse or re-purpose material that you find created elsewhere. The ReLo logbook (see Appendix) uses a checklist approach and guides the user systematically through reusing content. This checklist should ensure that you take into account all the key factors of reuse and re-purpose including learning outcomes, technical information and, probably most importantly, licensing.

The ReLo logbook was developed as part of the ReLo project at the University of Birmingham and its aim is to explore issues in sharing IL learning material and to encourage librarians in re-purposing each other’s IL RLOs. The logbook is designed to support re-purposing by providing a practical checklist to ensure those that want to re-purpose do it thoughtfully and as sustainably as possible.

Flickr now has a dedicated Creative Commons section (Yahoo! UK and Ireland, 2010) in which all images (currently standing at over 12 million) have a CC licence attached, clearly stating permission. This is a real step forward and means that users can reuse and re-purpose safe in the knowledge that they have permission.

Sharing good practice

As was obvious from the attendance and feedback from the 2009 LILAC symposium on IL RLOs (Graham et al., 2009) there is a demand from librarians to share both content and expertise. Both face-to-face events and an online presence are necessary to ensure this community of practice is pro-active in sharing. It is imperative that as librarians with a reason to share, we attend the appropriate conferences, keep up with the literature and contribute to the events and online spaces so that we capture and learn from good practice.

The LILAC is a good place to start, both to see the content that is being produced and to discuss best practice and reuse with others. The Information Literacy website (Information Literacy Group, 2010) is the starting point for the online community of librarians with an interest in information literacy and associated resources. The IL RLO Share wiki (,Graham 2010) is an informal space, which includes listings of freely available resources, the 2009 LILAC symposium findings and a discussion forum.


Librarians have been creating learning material in order to teach information skills to users for decades. We have, between us, an enormous amount of expertise in pedagogy and instructional design and this expertise needs to be shared to support the development of learning material. We already have communities of practice within which we can share best practice and, instead of keeping our material in silos, we now need to use these communities to embrace open sharing of our learning material and building on existing expertise in designing, reusing and re-purposing RLOs.

Appendix Reuse logbook

(Re) Logbook

Unique Object Number Plate:

Creation details

 Object name





 Description of intended use (level and number of students, generic/subject-specific)

 Associated learning outcomes

 Learning Design details (DDA compliant, pedagogical considerations)


 Reuse restrictions (CC licence terms listed)

Usage details

 How does this LO support the following: independent learning, EBL, transferable skills and competencies?

 Success rate (including student feedback) – did it achieve its objective/learning outcome?


New ‘owner’ details




 External LO/Internal LO (if external, please give details of location)

 Description of reuse (level of student, generic/subject-specific)

 Associated learning outcomes


 Reuse restrictions (CC licence terms listed)


Reuse/re-purposing details


 New audience/intended use

 How does this LO support the following: independent learning, EBL, transferable skills and competencies?

 Associated learning outcomes

 Success rate (including student feedback) – did it achieve its objective/learning outcome?



 Details of technical changes

 Time taken

 Software/hardware used

    Ease of re-purpose

    Very easy

    Fairly easy

    Fairly difficult

    Very difficult

 Further comments (why user chose object, was user searching for similar LO or was it serendipitous, was the re-purposing worth it, how well did the object work after re-purposing, would you look for other material in this way?

 Associated learning outcomes

 Success rate (including student feedback) – did it achieve its objective/learning outcome?

 How does this LO support the following: independent learning, EBL, transferable skills and competencies?

Catherine Robertson and Nancy Graham,

University of Birmingham

September 2009


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