Archive for the ‘Tutorials’ Category

How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists

Explorers on a mountain top

I want to help people become more scientifically literate, so I wrote this guide for how a layperson can approach reading and understanding a scientific research paper. It’s appropriate for someone who has no background whatsoever in science or medicine, and based on the assumption that he or she is doing this for the purpose of getting a basic understanding of a paper and deciding whether or not it’s a reputable study.

- How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists Jennifer A. Raff

Google Course Builder, why it’s cool and why it’ll fail

I was very excited when I saw the announcement for Google’s new Course Builder platform. Education is such a big part of libraries but they’re all on their own, constantly reinventing the wheel from scratch. A free, consistent platform librarians could build on and share the way they have other technologies could make life a lot easier for librarians in the public and special sectors as well as academics.

So I went digging for information.

  1. It looks like you can limit registration to your course using Google’s Apps for Education service so that only people from your school try to access restricted resources.
  2. It’s a hosted app so the URL is “”
  3. It won’t work for most educators I know.

The last is disappointing. Course Builder’s webpage describes several of the same options included in Blackboard except with more flexibility, making for a promising alternative. However, the problem is in the backend. These courses aren’t products of an application, they’re apps themselves.

In short, you have to be at least a minor programmer to make this work. To even start requires installing Python on your own computer which leaves most library systems out (IT departments tend to frown on that sort of thing). Creating the course needs HTML and more than light javascript knowledge at the very least.

I don’t know many educators with these kinds of  skills or the time to acquire them.

Course Builder is definitely in beta with several features already requested. It’s possible it’ll become more user-friendly in the next year but Google doesn’t have a very good track record with that.

In short,  join the community to provide much-needed feedback if you can, or check back next year to see if it’s still around. – Create Interactive Website Tours And Demos – Create Interactive Website Tours And Demos
Create a tour of your website that will walk your visitors through it, while it highlights features of the site and tells them what they need to know to get the most out of your site.

No software to download and tours start with a click on a link or image.

Currently in closed beta but you can give it a try using invite code 731125.

Roadshow Tools

If you’re giving a talk and you aren’t sure if there will be Internet access, powerpoint slides are a popular alternative/backup plan. However, I don’t like powerpoint because I tend to show a lot of websites and the transition from powerpoint to browser is distracting and usually an uncomfortable break in the talk. Screenshots work of course, particularly if there is no Internet, but pictures don’t make nearly as much of an impression as seeing the actual site. There are two alternatives combining the best of both options.

Basically, they use javascript to format webpages to emulate a powerpoint presentation. It takes more work to create them but the end-result is ready to post on a website or carried on a USB drive. Add Portable Firefox and you have a complete presentation environment ready to go.

Tutorial Sharing

COPPUL Animated Tutorials Sharing Project

Recognizing that creating and updating Tutorials for each online resource is a daunting task for any library to undertake on its own, librarians in COPPUL got together to find a way to share in their development. This project is an outgrowth of that initiative and our goal is to create a critical mass of Open Source Tutorials for online resources used by libraries everywhere. Participation in the project is both welcome and essential to it’s success. So please to join us in an initiative that we hope will greatly benefit library users everywhere!

This sounds like a wonderful idea. But …

Am I the only librarian who as a user hates tutorials?

If I’m looking to learn something specific, html-based ones are great. Graphical ones that are worth sitting through are few and far between. I’m quick to write off any service that I need instructions to use. It seems like a waste of time.

Seeing the students who come to me for help on a daily basis, I know I’m not alone. I can’t help but wonder how much use these are going to get. Yet I also don’t have a better answer. Services can only be “dumbed-down” so much without losing needed functionality.


What’s Jabber?

It’s an open instant messaging protocol.


You don’t need to know.

So I Care Because…?

Kids and Teens prefer IM to email. IM is interesting in that it’s more casual than email, you know whether or not the person is there by the away message so you can get an immediate response. It’s Hi, can you… instead of Hello, I’m ….

So what is it really?

Instant messaging with MSN,
ICQ, and AOL IM are fun but you can only talk to other people with accounts with them. It’s like only being able to email people on the same server. There’s no reason for it except self-interest of the services.

Jabber, on the other hand, is like real email, you have a username like an email address ( and any other person using jabber, no matter what the server, can talk with you. The software for running a jabber server is open-source so you can set up your own or there are plenty of open servers that will let you register for free. Just install a client and try to login, the server will automatically create a new account for you. I’m using Adium on my Mac and Gaim on my PC because they support both Jabber and AIM accounts (as well as MSN and ICQ). My webhost supports Jabber on all hosted domains, contact me and I’ll set you up with one.

Why would I use Jabber when I would still have to have an AIM (MSN,ICQ) account?

Because it’s a wider channel of communication between you and your users. Jabber users are relatively few right now but it’s only a matter of time before teenagers get as sick of the restrictions of proprietary systems as scholars have. If you’re already using software to manage multiple IM accounts, it’s just one more to add. A Jabber server would be a useful service to the community that would only cost the server hardware and the installation time while getting your library’s name in front of them every time they used it.

Easy site updates

This was the answer to a problem of mine. I like it because it keeps the website dynamic and interesting while also providing a service to my users by aggregating content of interest to them.

The Problem

I manage the website of a local non-profit group. There is a section of the frontpage set aside for news updates but new information is rarely posted. It isn’t that the group doesn’t do anything, they members simply don’t think to use the website for communication. I wanted to encourage the members to use the website more and to provide updates to the website on a regular basis without having to handle it manually.

TutorialsComments Off on Easy site updates

Educause Article

Stephen Downes writes about blogs as educational tools in Educause. I highly recommend you read it for yourself because it’s very well-balanced and insightful. I couldn’t resist including some of my favorite bits below.

…the events of September 11 brought home to me the immediacy of blogging. We ran ongoing coverage, submitted via SMS to my e-mail, as one of our own made her way from the dust and debris of New York’s financial district to her home on the west side. Blogging not only allowed us access to the event; it made us part of the event. And with that, the form had indeed finally come into its own.

Blogging is something defined by format and process, not by content.

What makes blogs so attractive, in both the educational community and the Internet at large, is their ease of use. A blog owner can edit or update a new entry without worrying about page formats or HTML syntax.

As Richardson says, blogging as a genre of writing may have “great value in terms of developing all sorts of critical thinking skills, writing skills and information literacy among other things. We teach exposition and research and some other types of analytical writing already, I know. Blogging, however, offers students a chance to a) reflect on what they are writing and thinking as they write and think it, b) carry on writing about a topic over a sustained period of time, maybe a lifetime, and c) engage readers and audience in a sustained conversation that then leads to further writing and thinking

Despite obvious appearances, blogging isn’t really about writing at all; that’s just the end point of the process, the outcome that occurs more or less naturally if everything else has been done right. Blogging is about, first, reading. But more important, it is about reading what is of interest to you: your culture, your community, your ideas. And it is about engaging with the content and with the authors of what you have read—reflecting, criticizing, questioning, reacting.

Educational Blogging, EDUCAUSE REVIEW | September/October 2004, Volume 39, Number 5

What is a Blog?

You’ve no doubt heard of them on your email lists, you may even have seen them in your favorite print publication. But what is a blog and why are they such a big deal?


TutorialsComments Off on What is a Blog?

RSS Vs Atom

Syndication is the direction web information management is headed in. Just by starting my aggregator I can check over a hundred websites, including those for the intranet at my library, the news section at my school, several organizations I am member of, and my friends sites, to see if any changes have been made and get the latest information from those places.

When you start investigating syndication, you soon get mired in the various formats. Comparing RSS 2.0 and ATOM – For the Rest of Us! discusses the differences between 2 of the most popular ones.

TutorialsComments Off on RSS Vs Atom