The Universe at Your Fingertips
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Navigating the Universe of Web Information in the Multimedia Classroom

Doralyn H. Edwards
Data Librarian
Rice University

Copyright 1997, Doralyn H. Edwards. Used with permission.


As higher education institutions continue to increase the amount of technology in the classroom, the amount of world wide web information that supplements coursework continues to grow. Making a web page with links to related sites for use in class and instructing students on finding web information can be a daunting task for many faculty members and teachers. Librarians are filling a new role in the classroom by providing assistance in searching the web for class resources and teaching internet searching techniques. This paper will focus on librarians experiences in a new, experimental multimedia classroom at Rice University. In particular, it will detail the role one librarian has had in re-examining the traditional roles of a librarian and how those can be applied to working with faculty using the world wide web in a multimedia classroom environment. As is particularly appropriate to the universe theme of the conference, the librarian will discuss her work in selecting web resources and teaching web searching techniques for a Physics and Astronomy class at Rice. While this presentation details the experiences at one institution, the topic is applicable to any librarian working with teachers/faculty members. This presentation is primarily geared towards institutions of higher education, but is appropriate for all levels. It will cover how librarians can manage the collaboration process with faculty, searching the internet for resources, evaluating resources, organizing web pages, and teaching internet searching to students. Specific examples of web pages and instructional tools will be provided.


While most librarians are aware of the increasing amount of electronic resources available in and from libraries, they may not realize how much web information is being used in today’s higher education classrooms. Librarians have the opportunity to go beyond the walls of the library and help teachers and students understand how to search the web effectively, find resources, evaluate these resources, and use these resources for teaching and learning.

At Rice University (, the construction of a multimedia classroom in the library has provided an opportunity to examine the roles a librarian can play in such an environment. In the Summer of 1994, Rice University was awarded a grant from the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation to provide a data librarian and an educational specialist for support of a new Electronic Studio. This studio, known as the Gardiner Symonds Teaching Laboratory ({}), houses semester-long classes from a wide-variety of disciplines, as well as single-session workshops and seminars. The Symonds Laboratory is housed in {Fondren Library} (, the main library at Rice, and it is maintained by Information Technology's Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning (, of which the data librarian is a member. In the Spring of 1996, the Lab was officially dedicated and a data librarian for the facility was hired in the Summer of 1996.

Collaboration with Course Instructors

This librarian was charged with working with course instructors in the Laboratory to help them acquire and organize materials for educational purposes. The librarian first worked with the teachers and students from the course Natural Science 111 (NSCI 111), Science Today I: Physics and Astronomy. Experiences from this course would then be used to gauge what librarian skills were most and least helpful in a multimedia environment, especially in relation to using the web. The NSCI 111 course is an integrated survey of key principles in physics and astronomy, intended for nonscience/engineering majors.

The two sections of the class were conducted in the Symonds Laboratory. Given the collaborative architecture of the facility, classes were taught on a part lecture, part individual and teamwork basis. The class was equally divided between lecture and the instructors working with students individually as they navigated the web and worked on class assignments.

Prior to the first day of the course, the librarian met with instructors to discuss the goals of the course and the resources that would best assist in achieving these goals. The instructors wanted to use many web resources to supplement students’ research. In addition, students would be submitting their homework on their own personal web pages, which would require students learn how to build such pages. The instructors and librarian agreed that there would be a main course page, linking to other related pages. The instructors were responsible for maintaining the following sections: Syllabus and Weekly Schedule, Important Current Announcements, Course Instructors, and Class Roster. The librarian maintained links to relevant web resources for each week’s assignments. The result of these efforts can be found at the Natural Science 111 course page site (

Selection and Evaluation of Resources

As many collection development librarians know, it can be difficult to evaluate resources in an area where you have limited expertise. In the case of the Physics and Astronomy course, the librarian used standard search engines and subject guides such as Yahoo (, Excite (, {HotBot} (, AltaVista ( and {MetaCrawler} ( to find some initial resources related to each week's topics. In addition, many selected sites had links to other sites that were deemed useful. Each web site that was eventually linked from the NSCI 111 page was selected using several evaluative criteria.

Those sites such as those presented by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), educational institutions, and museums were generally preferred to pages such as ones presented by individuals with an interest in a particular topic, but without expertise in the area. The selected sites tended to have reliable, accurate information with a mission to educate the users of the information. Those sites that were excluded were ones that contained inaccuracies, out-of-date information, and highly biased information. All sites were reviewed by course instructors, as well as the librarian, before inclusion on the course web page.

By attending all of the classroom sessions, rather than just coming to the class for one bibliographic instruction session, the librarian was able to become more familiar with the topics covered, the needs of the course instructors, and the skills of the students. As the semester progressed and the librarian learned more about the class and the topics, web resources were added and removed from the course web page.

Teaching Internet Searching to Course Instructors and Students

While many resources were presented to students for each week's assignments, students were also asked to find their own web sites to support their research. At the beginning of the course, the librarian taught the students and teachers a one-hour class in {Internet searching strategies} ( which covers the following topics:

In a variety of settings, librarians can use their traditional bibliographic instruction skills and apply those in teaching how to effectively search the Internet. This requires that librarians become familiar with several things:

A librarian can gain and refine these skills by regularly using the Internet, reading articles and reviews of web sites and search engines, and working with experts in the subject areas being searched. Unlike traditional print and CD-ROM resources, Internet resources may be unstable and vary in the information contained from day-to-day. Librarians need to be flexible enough to effectively handle unpredictable situations.

In having the librarian working in the classes throughout the semester, the students were able to develop a relationship with the librarian where they felt comfortable asking for help with searching for information on the Internet. In addition, the students were able to build on and refine their web searching skills and learn more advanced searching techniques from the librarian. Also, the students gained a better appreciation of the web and its construction by building their own web pages for class.

The two faculty members who taught the NSCI 111 class were very positive about their experience in working with the librarian to find and identify useful resources for their class. In both their survey feedback and in-person interviews, both instructors said that working with the librarian in the classroom was an extremely valuable experience that allowed them to use a much wider-variety of resources that were very useful in the course.

Next Time Around: Lessons Learned

As noted earlier, the librarian working with the NSCI 111 classes gained insights into what types of roles could play in future courses. Several of these lessons can be summarized as follows:

In addition, several questions were raised by this experience:


Librarians bring a number of useful skills to accessing today’s technologically-based information. Experience in organizing, retrieving, and evaluating information, as well as the ability to teach these skills to others, is very applicable in the Information Age. Librarians can take these skills beyond the library walls into the classroom, campus, and community. With the increasing number of ways we can access information, librarians have more opportunities than ever to discover how their skills can be used to help others trying to find the information they need.

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