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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

EDUCATE - a networked user education project in Europe

Nancy Fjallbrant Chalmers University of Technology Library, Gothenburg, Sweden


This paper will describe the EDUCATE - End-user Courses in Information Access through Communication Technology project for end-user training in information access. EDUCATE is a CEC Libraries Programme Project which involves six Members: Limerick University, Ireland (co-ordinator) and the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees, France, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, Imperial College and Plymouth University, United Kingdom and the University of Barcelona, Spain.

The aim of the EDUCATE project is to produce a new type of model self-paced user education course in the selection and use of information tools. EDUCATE courses have been produced within two subject areas: physics and electrical and electronic engineering.
The EDUCATE project started in February 1994 and will run for a period of three years. This paper starts with by describing the need for courses in Information Retrieval and Handling in the age of the information superhighways. It continues with a presentation of the course design. The goals for the EDUCATE Project are given, together with a short description of the media developed. The use of networks in connection with EDUCATE is then discussed, followed by a presentation of tools and interfaces used. The paper concludes with a description of the potential uses of the program.


1. The teaching role of the university library

A particularly interesting study on the Scientific, Technical and Medical Information System (STM) in the United Kingdom was carried out by the Royal Society, the British Library and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) in 1993.(1) The individual scientist and engineer often has a need to obtain information rapidly and cheaply. What emerged very clearly from the Royal Society report was that a surprisingly large number of users of the STM system in the United Kingdom were unaware of many of the new tools and methods for information retrieval. It was found that users preferred the use of familiar and well-established information resources and that the newer technologies tended to be avoided. In principle, users were willing to explore the use of novel services, but, in practice, they continued to use the familiar material and methods. The Report made a number of recommendations, including the following:

A numbers of academic libraries have seen the need to provide this formal training. During the 1970s and 1980s, many academic libraries in the United Kingdom, the United States, Scandinavia and Australia started fairly ambitious programmes of user education, bibliographic instruction, or reader education.(2) Under the latter part of the 1980s there was a feeling that the use of expert systems and computer-based tools would reduce the need for this kind of education and training, but as has been pointed out by Fjallbrant (1990)(3), the increase in complexity of both media and methods has resulted in an even greater need to teach the users of scientific, technical and biomedical systems basic concepts about their information systems and to provide training in information skills. It is interesting to note that well-known universities such as Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have recently started to emphasise the teaching role of the university library. It is apparent, however, that many academic libraries have not been able to start the types of formal training suggested in the Royal Society Report. This is partly due to lack of economic resources and partly due to inertia or an inability to change direction and divert resources from one function to another.

Learning, like communication, takes place both formally and informally. Formal learning is systematised and often organised by schools, colleges and universities. There are formal courses and examinations. Continuing education often takes the form of seminars, workshops and on-the-job training programs. Libraries play an important role in this formal education world, in that they provide access to an organised collection of information and knowledge. Much learning is, however, informal - learning from other people, learning by experience. This type of learning is rather like browsing, spontaneous and unplanned. It is user controlled and pleasant to use and often exciting. The 1990s is the decade of the information networks - the information superhighways, infobahn, cyberspace, global information infrastructure. How does this contribute to learning? The networks facilitate distance learning. Suddenly people are beginning to have the opportunity to link up to fantastic global information sources. They have the opportunity to discover information themselves, to link up to newsgroups and discussion groups, to articles and reports, to classical texts and to sets of original scientific data. The information networks are, however, still relatively unorganised, and finding your way about can be both time-consuming and frustrating. How can you relate the new sources to the traditional journal articles and textbooks? You need some kind of three dimensional map.

Within this context the EDUCATE Project - End-user Courses in Information Access through Communication Technology has been planned both as a means to provide a stimulus and help to libraries wanting to start courses on information handling, and as a support tool for people taking part in individual informal learning. A proposal was submitted to the CEC Libraries Programme (second call for proposals) in February 1993. This proposal was selected as one of 15 projects from the 97 applications, and work formally started on February 1st 1994. The project will run for a period of three years.

2. The EDUCATE Project

The original aim of the EDUCATE project was to produce self-paced user education courses in the selection and use of information tools. These courses would then be distributed by means of the academic communication networks. This would hopefully result in material which could be used by many libraries for the provision of courses in Information Retrieval and Handling for users of information systems. As the project is developing, we have realised that the EDUCATE Discovery programs can provide guides for students in a variety of situations, both in formal learning courses and as a help in the informal learning situations. They have the great advantage of being available over the networks and can be used as and when required. The EDUCATE programs can not only be distributed by means of the networks, they can utilise the global hypertext links of the WWW to connect to information resources and their descriptions. EDUCATE courses have been initially produced within two subject areas: physics and electrical and electronic engineering . These subject areas have been selected in order to have one model course in science and another in technology. An important factor is to produce courses related to the needs of individual students at a number of levels.

3. Course design

The design for the EDUCATE courses aims to facilitate the learning of fundamental concepts about information retrieval and handling and to provide practical experience at a point related to student needs. In terms of libraries and information resources, the basic concepts of information literacy (4) are based on the underlying ideas of the logic of scholarly communication - itself in a process of change.(5) These concepts will be experienced in qualitatively different ways by different people. An understanding of the basic concepts facilitates a qualitatively deeper type of learning. The latter implies understanding and helps retention, whereas matter that is acquired by surface learning is soon forgotten. The student's conception of learning is of considerable importance, as has been pointed out by Laurillard, because this is the way that they believe that they can come to know (or learn). It is important for teachers to know as much as possible about the views of their students in this respect (Laurillard, 1993)(6)

In planning the use of the EDUCATE courses, it was felt to be desirable to try to provide situations which would encourage deep learning rather than surface learning. The possibilities for this vary in differir immediate studies, but also throughout their working lives, it is vital that the students experience the relevance of the course. Instruction in information retrieval is likely to be successful if provided at a point when people are working on a project which requires them to acquire information.

The design of the EDUCATE courses started with the definition of the main goals and objectives, the course contents, and the teaching methods and media to be used.

3.1. Goals for the EDUCATE courses
The goals for the EDUCATE project have been based partly on the reflective experience of teachers and library practitioners, partly as the result of negotiation with students. These are expressed in terms of student learning, as follows:

The Aims of the EDUCATE courses are that after the course you should have:

The Objectives of the EDUCATE course in Information Literacy are that you should:

4. Production of the basic teaching material

The basic texts:

Communication in Science and Technology - an Introduction

Information Sources in Physics.
Information Sources in Electrical and Electronic Engineering have now been written. The first versions of this teaching material has been produced in English. This is now being translated and adapted for Spanish and French users.

Demonstrations and exercises in online information and Internet based information resources have been designed and produced at Imperial College. A selected part of this material is now being used as the basis of the EDUCATE Discovery programs.

5. EDUCATE and the use of the networks

As stated earlier, the original aim of the project was to use the academic networks for the distribution of the texts and the demonstrations and exercises for the delivery of EDUCATE products. The design of a user-friendly interface was envisaged. Network development has, as usual, moved on at a rapid pace, opening up new and exciting possibilities for education and training.

The World-Wide Web (or WWW or W3) hypertext information system appeared to offer a very suitable tool for the development of a global information system, which could be linked to other navigational tools such as the Gopher and Archie (for locating files) as well as to database systems such as WAIS. On the WWW, any word in a hypertext document can be specified as a pointer or link to parts of the same document and to other documents. The linked documents may be located at different Internet sites. WWW merges the techniques of networked information and hypertext to provide a powerful global information system that is easy to use. Hypertext is really a system of nodes and links, in which a document can be a node that contains hyperlinks to other documents or information sources. The WWW is a set of protocols that allows for the location of any document on the networks by means of the Uniform Resource Locator - URL - which will provide a unique identifier. URLs can point to resources available for file transfer (FTP) or to the Hypertext Transfer Protocol - HTTP, or be used to route queries to WAIS servers, or documents available on Gopher servers or to News and telnet sources. How could we make the best use of these new possibilities in the EDUCATE Project?

A particularly important issue was the choice of suitable hardware and software for network applications. We wanted to use software that could be applied over many hardware platforms PCs - Macintosh and IBM-compatible, UNIX workstations, and terminals type VT100. Another important consideration was the long term availability, support and maintenance of the software. It became obvious that the creation of a WWW browser such as MOSAIC provided a powerful tool for WWW access and use.(7) So it was decided to make use of the WWW and its browsers as a platform for the EDUCATE teaching material. The plans of major software developers to include similar capabilities as part of the normal functionality of standard packages such as word processing - attests to the long term viability of the WWW and its underlying protocols and standards. There has been a rapid proliferation in WWW Browsers in recent months. These differ in detail but share the same basic functionality. The wide availability of a number of browsers means, in the EDUCATE context, that the teaching products will be available to a wide range of users, who will be able to access them from a broad range of hardware/software configurations.

It was decided to input the EDUCATE programs in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). HTML is a subset, a Document Type Definition, of the Standard Generalised Mark-up Language (SGML). SGML which was designed in the context of print publication, is extremely powerful and particularly suited to large scale publishing activities. HTML is much more limited, particularly in the area of formatting, but it has the advantage that it is relatively easy to learn to use, and for this reason was selected for the EDUCATE WWW input. The tools used at the University of Limerick for the production of EDUCATE programs are Hotmetal Pro and Hotmetal Assistant Pro from SoftQuad. These include a spell checker, thesaurus, HTML file import filters, a document validation feature, a preview command for checking a document against a chosen WWW browser, and a publish command for the insertion of URLs. (8)

7. Discussion

The initial concept behind EDUCATE was to use the Internet for the distribution of training material on information retrieval and handling. As the project has developed we have realised that the advent of the WWW allows for the provision of links to a wide variety of global information sources. Our aim is to provide a structured interface to many relevant high quality resources. Where possible, links will be provided to these sources or to information about them. At the same time we will try to show the relationship to other traditional non-networked sources.

The EDUCATE Discovery programs will be available for students to access at the point and time of need, thus providing a useful tool in different situations such as when writing essays, starting project work or in the writing of a thesis. Hopefully users will be directed towards the selection of useful information handling tools. This should lead to cost-efficient information searching. EDUCATE will be ideal for distance learning, in that it will be accessible over the networks. We visualise that the EDUCATE programs can be used by both librarians and academics in their education and training programs on information literacy, as well as directly by the information users. Just as the traditional library provided support for education and teaching, the digital libraries will have an important role in both formal and informal learning - extending resources and their availability.

We have recently started to publish the EDUCATE Newsletter on the WWW. This is available in three languages: English, Spanish and French. It contains information on the project, and its main goals, together with recent publications. The WWW address is:
[URL: http:// www.lib.chalmers.se/EDUCATE/eduhp.html]


1.The scientific, technical and medical information system in the UK. British Library R&D Report 6123. London, Royal Society..., 1993.

2. Fjallbrant, N. & Malley, I. User education in libraries. 2nd ed, London, Bingley, 1984. pp.21-42.

3. Fjallbrant, N. "Why user education and how can user education help?" IFLA Journal Vol.16(1990)4, pp.405-413.

4. American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy . Final Report. ALA, Illinois, 1989.

5. Denning, P. J. & Rous, B. "The ACM electronic publishing plan." Communications. of the ACM. Vol.39(1995)4, pp. 97-109.

6. Laurillard, D. Rethinking university teaching. A framework for the effective use of educational technology. London, Routledge, 1993.

7. Schatz, B.R & Hardin, J.B. "NCSA Mosaic and the World Wide Web: Global Hypermedia protocols for the Internet." Science Vol.265(1994) 12th August. pp.895-901.

8. Kelly, B, "Becoming an information provider on the World Wide Web." In: Proceedings of INET'94/JENC5, Prague June 15-17.1994.pp.122-1 - 122-5.

Nancy Fjallbrant
Director Information Technology Centre
Chalmers University of Technology Library
S-412 96 Gothenburg, Sweden

Tel: +46 31 7723754
Fax: +46 31 1684 94
E-mail nancyf@lib.chalmers.se

Oili Kokkonen
Tel. -358-41-603373

Jyvaskyla University Library
Fax -358-41-603371
Fax -358-41-603511

POB 35 (only short messages)
40351 Jyvakyla Finland

E-mail oili.kokkonen@jyu.fi