Piloting a Course: Using a Pilot Project to Identify Training Needs
First Monday

Piloting a Course: Using a Pilot Project to Identify Training Needs by Allison Zhang, Nancy Finlay, and Kathleen S. Foulke

Connecticut History Online, a collaboration of The Connecticut Historical Society, The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at The University of Connecticut and Mystic Seaport, has recently completed a pilot project that is helping to define and shape future training for students and teachers. An initial panel of Teacher Advisors helped create the original program for Connecticut History Online. Further input was obtained through meetings with Teacher Advisors, e-mail responses, and statistics regarding the use of the site. This input is being used to plan training workshops and online tutorials to expose teachers to potential uses of primary research material in the classroom and to encourage them to create their own lesson plans. Ongoing feedback from teachers will assure that Connecticut History Online continues to meet their needs in training students to build observation, analysis and critical thinking skills while preparing for the Connecticut Mastery Test and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test.

Contents

Introduction
Discussion
Conclusion

 

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Introduction

Connecticut History Online (CHO) is a digital library project funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. When complete, this digital library will be the largest collection of Connecticut historical images on the Web, offering about 14,000 photographs, drawings and prints depicting Connecticut's social, educational, political, civic and cultural life from 1800 to 1950. It will serve as a resource database for teachers and students in grades 7-12 and will encourage them to make meaningful use of primary material. A digital gazetteer will provide access by specific geographic citations.

CHO is a collaboration between three institutions: Connecticut Historical Society, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, and Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea. The Connecticut Historical Society holds 239,000 photographs, prints, and drawings depicting Connecticut people, places and events. The Dodd Research Center holds more than one million photographs, with special strength in the areas of Connecticut businesses, towns, railroads, nursing, and education. Mystic Seaport houses the world's largest collection of maritime photography, numbering more than one million images. Connecticut History Online draws from the rich reservoir of these three collections. The selection of images focused on five subject categories identified by a group of Teacher Advisors: diversity, livelihood, lifestyle, environment, and infrastructure.

Photo of a men's outing, in the New London, Conn. vicinity (circa 1900)

Figure 1: Photo of a men's outing, in the New London, Conn. vicinity (circa 1900). An example of a image in Connecticut History Online, from the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society.

The project uses a commercial library system, Voyager, developed by Endeavor Information Systems, to manage the images and to deliver the information through the Web. Endeavor's ImageServer is used to manage and index the images. The Voyager cataloging module is used to create metadata in MARC format. Information delivery and image display is through the Voyager Web OPAC. Three full-time catalogers were hired for the project, one for each partner institution. Each cataloger is expected to catalog about 5,000 images in a 14-month period.

In May 2000, it was decided to conduct a pilot project in order to establish an efficient and consistent cataloging system, to experiment with the Voyager system and Web interface design, to test the catalogers' workflow, to develop teaching materials using the images, and to provide a basis for the digital gazetteer. The pilot started with 300 images, 100 from each institution. These images were cataloged and loaded in the database. The Voyager database was configured to perform all functions. A Web site was developed to link the database and to deliver the information seamlessly. The powerful search engine allows users to search efficiently. A user can now perform basic and refined searches by keyword, subject, creator, and place name. Searches may be limited by location or by date. Two sample lesson plans were developed and were linked to the Web site. Since the completion of the pilot, new images continue to be added to the database every day and are available to users immediately.

 

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Discussion

Identifying Training Needs

Although the primary purpose of the pilot was to test a number of functions and features, having a fully functional site has also yielded valuable information relevant to training needs. User responses to the pilot have helped identify training issues and possible avenues for addressing them. Several strategies have been used for soliciting and gathering this information:

Teacher Advisor Group. Teachers from a variety of middle and high schools, subjects and grade levels, were invited to become part of a Teacher Advisory Group. The Group included social studies and history teachers, a school library media specialist and a teacher who works with academically talented middle schoolers. Urban, suburban, and small town school systems were represented. Prior to the first meeting, teachers were given the URL of CHO and asked to explore the site and identify its strengths, weaknesses, and usefulness to their curricula. The teachers shared their observations and recommendations and also provided some lesson plan ideas. One of their strong recommendations was to include lessons and activities that will support teachers in preparing their students for the Connecticut Mastery and Academic Performance Tests. Several of their sample lessons addressed this need.

Public Comments. The CHO Web site was publicized through a press release to various media, through postings on museum, archival, library, and K-12 educational listservs, and through registering with Web search engines and directories. The announcement included an invitation to teachers and other site visitors to contribute ideas and suggestions for developing and using the site. Feedback has come through several channels, but most has taken the form of e-mail messages to the Project Coordinator.

Web Access Statistics. Statistics are collected and used to track which pages are visited the most, which the least, and how they are navigated. Statistics also help to identify search patterns that indicate user skills and areas where training is needed.

Areas of Training

Feedback indicated that training is needed in the following areas:

What CHO Is. Some of the feedback indicated that users have a range of expectations of Connecticut History Online, not all of which match the site's projected content and features. This was especially the case with some members of the Teacher Advisory Group. What CHO is (and is not) must be made much more evident to site users. It must be clear that CHO is a database of primary source material rather than a systematic exploration of Connecticut history. While ideally suited to supporting a historical narrative, CHO does not supply that narrative. Rather it affords access to the raw material for constructing a synthesis and/or supporting one that may come from a textbook, classroom or other source. In addition, as an online repository of historical visual material related specifically to Connecticut, CHO can extend and deepen understanding of the past and put a personal and local face on events, trends, and topics. Finally, the CHO database reflects the unique missions and collections of the three institutional partners and will not necessarily support all topics related to Connecticut history. CHO reflects the particular strengths of each institution's collections. It provides the means to explore certain subject areas in great depth with materials previously difficult to access. It affords the opportunity for users to search across collections from all three institutions and to retrieve groups of related images regardless of their physical location.

How to Retrieve Information. Feedback on the pilot site indicated that all CHO audiences, but especially teachers and students, need help learning database search skills and strategies. The Connecticut History Online database provides powerful search options, but the skills and strategies associated with retrieving relevant images efficiently and effectively must be taught and supported in some fashion. Some users will also need help with Web site navigation skills, including how to find the site online. In addition to the frustrations less sophisticated users experience with online information retrieval in general, some technical limitations of the Endeavor system present users with additional challenges. For example, it is possible to click on the gallery photographs to retrieve full-size images, but not on the thumbnails that appear with the search results. Users need help adapting to such idiosyncrasies and challenges. Finally, users need information about how to obtain and use copyrighted materials. Teachers and students especially need guidance in this area. Information on how to download images and obtain physical copies and guidelines to understanding fair use and possible restrictions are both needed.

How to Interpret Primary Resources. The Teacher Advisory Group members recognized and were eager to utilize the power of primary sources in working with their students. Historic visual material such as photographs, drawings, and prints can be used effectively to engage students' interest and stimulate their curiosity for historical investigation. Though the Teacher Advisory Group recognized the power of images and were excited about having ready access to primary sources via the Web, not all were conversant with instructional strategies for teaching students to observe and interpret images in ways that enlarge understanding. Learning to work with primary source images and to develop relevant skills of observation, analysis and synthesis are important areas of training for teachers and students.

How to Integrate CHO as an Effective Instructional Resource. Teachers' comments indicated that they will view Connecticut History Online as an extremely valuable resource if it proves relevant to their existing curricula and supports the content and skills goals that define their programs. Training will address ways of integrating CHO into the curriculum to support expanding knowledge of the historical content, increased proficiency in those skills for which classroom teachers and school library media specialists are responsible, and preparation for the Connecticut Mastery and Academic Performance Tests. Part of this integration will involve developing and demonstrating expanded instructional models and roles for teachers and students in keeping with current research on effective practice. In this way, CHO training will support new ways of teaching and learning. For example, teachers may act as curators and students as historians, constructing their own historical narratives using primary visual source materials from the CHO database.

Avenues for Training

Once users' training needs have been identified, training programs may be initiated. Analysis of the pilot project has revealed that both online and face-to-face training are needed. As documented above, many of the Teacher Advisors have either expressed or revealed problems in the use of the database. All have emphasized the need for better online assistance. This will be provided in several ways:

Online Training

Online Manuals. Project catalogers have made extensive use of online manuals and their experience has shown just how useful such resources can be.

Improved Help Pages. Teacher responses have shown a need for help pages to address their special needs and concerns. However, statistics have shown that few users take advantage of the existing help pages. Teachers must be made aware of the existence of help pages and online manuals and ways must be found to encourage them to use them. Links to the online manuals will provide more in-depth information.

Special Instructional Lesson Plans. These plans will be designed to familiarize users with how the database works and will provide an introduction to the use of visual materials as primary sources. Although most lesson plans will be designed by actual classroom teachers, CHO project staff will need to work closely with teachers to design these special instructional plans. Such plans may be used in workshop situations to train teachers in the uses of the database and should be simple enough so that teachers will also be able to use them on their own to improve their skills and to introduce the database to their students.

Online contact. Teachers need to be able to contact CHO staff with their questions. E-mail contact is already provided, but this could be made more obvious and helpful to teachers. Direct access to members of the CHO educational team, will connect teachers with those who can best answer their questions. In this way Connecticut History Online will remain interactive and responsive to the needs of its users.

Personal Contact

However effective our online training may prove to be, personal contact remains essential to spreading the word about Connecticut History Online. During the next few years, as Connecticut History Online continues to expand, close contact with Teacher Advisors should be maintained through a program of regular meetings. Teacher interest in the project remains high and most current teachers are enthusiastic about continuing their involvement.

Teacher Workshops. Workshops will provide a way to reach out to new teachers and inform them about the project. These workshops will both train teachers in the use of CHO and prepare them to design new lesson plans that can be added to the database.

Mentoring. Teachers and school library media specialists who participate in these workshops will be encouraged to share what they learn with other teachers as well as with their own students. In this way, they will be able to provide mentoring to other colleagues at their schools.

Conference Presentations. Talks by project personnel will assure that statewide teachers' organizations know about CHO. Members of the educational team and other project staff will be encouraged to give special presentations for interested teachers, school administrators, and school media specialists both at the partner institutions and at schools throughout the state.

CHO is intended primarily as a classroom resource, and most training for students will be provided by their teachers in the classroom. The staff of the educational departments of the partner institutions will be encouraged to incorporate Connecticut History Online into their ongoing work with students. Staff members at the Connecticut Historical Society have already expressed interest in incorporating CHO into existing programs for helping students develop research skills. Online, students will have access to the lesson plans, manuals, and search tips. A new feature - photo essays which will provide context and interpretation for selected groups of related material - should have special appeal for students who use the site either as individuals or as part of classroom activities.

All of these resources will be available anyone using the site. The photo essays and the improved help pages and manuals will probably be most helpful to users other than the target audience of teachers and students in grades 7-12. Examples of such other users include college students - several of whom have already discovered CHO-picture researchers and amateur history buffs, and genealogists.

 

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Conclusion

By September 2001, Connecticut History Online will include about 14,000 images illustrating diversity, lifestyle, livelihood, environment, and infrastructure in Connecticut between the early nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century. A new, user-friendly design, enhanced help pages, online manuals, and a photo essay section to provide examples of how visual materials can be used in primary research will be available at that time. Efforts to raise funds for the support of a full program of teacher workshops continue. Once funding is obtained, a part-time Education Coordinator will be hired to work with existing education staff to organize workshops. Current projections suggest that this will take place in the fall of 2001. By that time, all 14,000 images will be accessible online. The teachers who participate in the workshops will then design new lesson plans and classroom activities to be added to the site.

Meanwhile, Connecticut History Online will continue to grow. Current plans encompass the addition of new kinds of primary research materials, including manuscripts and documents, oral histories, and film and video and for the addition of new institutional partners, including large and small museums, historical societies, and libraries throughout the state. This will provide an ever richer context for explorations of Connecticut's past. End of article

 

About the Authors

Allison Zhang is Project Coordinator for Connecticut History Online. She has a B.A. and an M.A. in Economics, an MBA, and an MLS. She has worked as Electronic Resources Librarian, Web Designer, and Cataloger for Internet Resources. She has written and spoken on issues regarding cataloging and providing access to Internet resources and librarians' roles in digital libraries. She is the author of the book, File Formats on the Internet: A Guide for PC Users, published in 1996 by the Special Libraries Association.
E-mail: Allison_Zhang@chs.org

Nancy Finlay is Project Director for Connecticut History Online and Curator of Graphics at the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford. She has a B.A. in art history from Smith College, and an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in art and archaeology from Princeton University. She has worked as a print specialist and visual materials cataloger at the New York Public Library and has published widely on nineteenth century book illustration, decoration, and design.
E-mail: Nancy_Finlay@chs.org

Kathleen S. Foulke is the Connecticut History Online Cataloger for Mystic Seaport. She has a B.A. in History from Boston University, an M.A.T. from Harvard University and an MLIS from the University of Rhode Island. She has worked in K-12 public and private schools for over 20 years as a history teacher and school library media specialist.
E-mail: kathleenf@mysticseaport.org


Editorial history

Paper received 5 March 2001; accepted 16 March 2001.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2001, First Monday

Piloting a Course: Using a Pilot Project to Identify Training Needs by Allison Zhang, Nancy Finlay, and Kathleen S. Foulke
First Monday, volume 6, number 4 (April 2001),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_4/zhang/index.html





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