Guide on the Side: A breakfast discovery


Published: January 5, 2013 by Dr. Michelle Holschuh Simmons

One morning last April as I ate my Cheerios and paged through the recent issue of American Libraries, I came across an article written by SJSU SLIS instructor Meredith Farkas. Knowing that she always writes thought-provoking pieces, I paused to read it before I got to my work for the day. The article, “Incorporating Active Learning into Online Instruction” was about a tool developed by the librarians at the University of Arizona called Guide on the Side. Since my own work centers upon teaching and learning in library and information centers, I knew this was a tool about which I had to know.

The Guide on the Side tool allows librarians to develop online tutorials that guide the users in a step-by-step manner through a process such as searching a database. Unlike screencasts that show a user a process without providing the opportunity for hands-on engagement, Guide on the Side provides the opportunity for users to read step-by-step instructions in a box on the side of a live browser window, and then try out these instructions as they move from screen to screen. See the image below to see what I mean:

This type of online tutorial allows a student to use the database or other tool while receiving tips and instruction from the librarian. Here are a few examples developed by the librarians at the University of Arizona:

As soon as I learned about this tool, I knew this was something I wanted to introduce to my 287 Information Literacy students. In this class, we discuss diverse ways of teaching people to find, use, and evaluate information. My students create short instructional screencasts, which are narrated videos that record one’s computer screen movements, as an asynchronous way to teach users. They also plan and teach a lesson in Collaborate, which gives them practice teaching in a synchronous environment. But the Guide on the Side software would provide yet another medium through which my students to sharpen their teaching skills. I knew I didn’t have time to incorporate this tool into my summer 287 class, and I was not teaching 287 in the fall, so I tucked it in the back of my mind to pursue later.

Then in October, as I assisted presenters in using Collaborate at the Library 2.012 conference, I was delighted to discover that one of the sessions in which I was helping was a session by Susan Mikkelsen, an instruction librarian at UC-Merced, about Guide on the Side! Her session (recording available here) was about the experience of the librarians at the University of California Merced who have begun using Guide on the Side software. This was just the reminder that I needed to get Guide on the Side set up for my Spring 287 classes.

Guide on the Side is free, open source software that needs to be installed on the host institution’s servers (click here for technical requirements and installation information and click here for a GoogleGroups discussion group). SJSU SLIS is fortunate to have talented and dedicated IT staff members, and so Stan Laufer is working right now to install the software on the SLIS servers and test it for my spring 2013 Information Literacy classes. I am excited to develop an assignment to give students the opportunity to use a new tool that delivers online tutorials in a way that supports active, participatory learning. Check back here at the CIRI blog in June, when I’ll write another blog post about the successes and challenges of using this new tool for a class assignment.