Previous Contents Next
Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2012


Library Video Tutorials to Support Large Undergraduate Labs: Will They Watch?

April L. Colosimo
Liaison Librarian

Emily Kasuto
Liaison Librarian

Schulich Library of Science and Engineering
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Copyright 2012, April L. Colosimo and Emily Kasuto. Used with permission.


Video tutorials were designed for students working on a General Chemistry scientific inquiry laboratory in 2008, as a supplement to in-class instruction from a librarian. In 2010, with no opportunity to provide in-class instruction, one of the videos was redesigned and offered to assist students with the exercise. In both years, students were asked to provide feedback on the usefulness of the videos and their willingness to watch library tutorials in general. This study compares feedback from 2008 (533 respondents) to 2010 (850 respondents). The changes in circumstances had little effect on student attitudes towards this mode of teaching.


The video tutorial is a popular form of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) appearing on library web sites, YouTube and iTunes U. With access to low cost yet sophisticated programs, librarians have been prolific in their creation of videos on any and all aspects of library services and resources. The first experience creating videos at the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering was for a large undergraduate chemistry laboratory in 2008, to accompany an in-class information skills session. Student feedback on the videos was positive, with the majority of respondents indicating they would be willing to watch videos offered by libraries in general, whether or not they had viewed a tutorial. From the comments given by those students who would not watch, several themes emerged providing insight on negative attitudes. They either did not see a need for library videos, had no interest in them, or felt that they did not have the time or energy to dedicate to watching.

Due to the overall positive feedback in 2008, one of the videos was redesigned in 2010 when dedicated laboratory time was no longer available for library instruction. The authors hypothesized that student attitudes towards library video tutorials in 2008 might have reflected the fact that the four videos did not introduce new material and were each approximately five minutes long. This study compares the results of the feedback from 2008 and 2010 and aims to equip librarians to anticipate any reluctance to take advantage of video tutorials.

Literature Review

There is conflicting evidence as to whether students and faculty prefer CAI methods to lectures delivered by librarians, but they have been proven to be effective teaching and learning tools (Armstrong & Georgas 2006; Kaplowitz & Contini 1998; Michel 2001; Schimming 2008). For example, Zhang et al. performed a systematic review of the literature published between 1990 and March 2005 that showed no difference in the effectiveness of CAI compared with in-class teaching (2007). Ten studies were included in the review, the majority of those were from academic libraries in the United States. More recently, Kraemer et al. collected 224 pre- and post-tests to compare online and in-class teaching, along with a hybrid model that was a combination of both (2007). Even though the greatest improvement was seen in the hybrid group, all methods were successful at improving test scores.

From an analysis of 180 tutorials produced by academic libraries, Somoza-Fernandez and Abadal concluded that most are at an early stage of development (2009). Still, there is a considerable amount of data in the literature accrued from students who have watched videos. Attitudes and feelings about CAI are often solicited in studies measuring the effectiveness of a particular digital tool (Lindsay et al. 2006; Michel 2001; Schimming 2008; Zhang et al. 2007). This type of feedback is used to make improvements and enhancements to existing tutorials and contributes to best practices for librarians (Blummer & Kritskaya 2009).

The question remains as to whether or not students would choose to use video tutorials on their own when no other form of library instruction is available. They are often overconfident and overestimate their information skills (Freeman 2004; Gross & Latham 2009; Maughan 2001; Ren 2000). Gross and Latham interviewed undergraduate students on their information seeking behaviors and compared their perceptions to actual test scores (2009). As they observed in their study, there is a "lack of awareness that there is more to know about information seeking or that their abilities could be improved" (Gross & Latham 2009). Students may also have preconceived notions of the content of library videos. As Maxymuk concluded, "...both the dullness and complexity of the subject matter ensures that most of these tools will not be used without compulsion, rendering their benefit dubious" (2004).

Background Information

For many years, McGill University librarians from the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering have been supporting freshmen-level students taking a general chemistry course (CHEM 120). One of the assignments for the laboratory component of this course consists of a scientific inquiry exercise whereby students must search the relevant literature in order to select an experiment to conduct within a laboratory period. Librarians led a 2.5 hour session during class time that was devoted to supporting this exercise. They taught students how to make the most of library resources to locate experiments and supporting information. The learning objectives were for students to be able to 1) identify chemistry experiments from an authoritative source on a topic of interest, 2) obtain the full text of experiments, and 3) locate materials from a reference list.

In 2008, the liaison librarian to the Department of Chemistry experimented with the screencasting software Camtasia Studio to create video tutorials to accompany the information skills session. The videos covered the same content as the session and were designed to meet the same objectives. Four videos were offered in order to keep the running time for each under five minutes: 1) finding experiments using the article database General Science Full Text (Wilson), 2) understanding the components of a citation, 3) locating an article from the library, starting with a citation, and 4) locating a book from the library, starting with a citation. The videos were narrated and consisted of a combination of PowerPoint slides and screencasts of searches. The video on finding experiments had interactive features such as the requirement to click appropriate buttons and links to advance to the next screen.

The videos were introduced to students who attended the sessions as tools for self-directed learning that could be played concurrently with database and catalogue searching. They were posted on the library course guide web page for CHEM 120, which also contained: 1) the link to the General Science database, 2) instructions on locating articles and books, and 3) a list of useful titles at McGill Library.

As this was the library's first experience with this mode of teaching, a feedback form was distributed to evaluate the usefulness of the videos along with the in-class session and the online course guide. Given the large class size of 912 students it was also an opportunity to gather information about whether students were willing to watch library videos in general.

In 2010, there were 1,057 students registered in CHEM 120 and the number of laboratories held was reduced due to the limitations of the physical space. Students still had to perform an experiment of their choosing for the scientific inquiry exercise but the laboratory period taught by librarians was eliminated by the course instructor. The new liaison librarian to the Department of Chemistry concentrated on promoting a library video tutorial to provide students with the necessary information skills to complete the exercise.

The new video was based on the content of the 2008 video on finding experiments using General Science Full Text. It was shortened to 3 minutes in order to reduce the overall time commitment and consisted almost entirely of screencasts of a sample search, narrated by the librarian.

The video was supplemented by a six-page PDF document containing notes on using library resources to locate experiments. Both of these resources were linked from the online course guide as well as being posted to the CHEM 120 learning management system. In addition, these resources were heavily promoted by laboratory instructors within class time. See Table 1 showing the library support for this class in 2008 and in 2010.

Table 1. Library Support for CHEM 120 in 2008 and 2010

As two years had passed since the first videos were made available to students and the situation had changed with respect to library support for the course, the feedback form first circulated in 2008 was adapted and distributed to CHEM 120 students in 2010. Comparison of the data from both years allowed the authors to investigate any changes in student attitudes.


In 2008, a paper feedback form was distributed and collected for the librarians by the laboratory supervisor during the final week of classes. It consisted of four questions and a space for comments, all on one side of a sheet. The form was clearly identified with the McGill Library logo and the title of the laboratory exercise ("Scientific Inquiry Lab").

The first three questions were multiple choice and asked students to rate the usefulness of: 1) the online course guide created by librarians, 2) the session given by the librarian, and 3) the video tutorials (each listed separately). The options for the multiple choice questions were: "not at all useful", "somewhat useful", "quite useful", and "I did not see it".

To hear from students who didn't see the videos and could not comment on their usefulness the fourth question asked "Even if you did not see the videos would you watch other library video tutorials?" They were given the option to circle "yes" or "no" and further asked "If no, why not?".

The evaluation form used in 2008 was adapted in 2010 to reflect the changes in library support offered to the general chemistry students. The multiple choice options remained the same but the questions became: 1) "How useful was the CHEM 120 library course web site?" 2) "How useful was the PDF document 'CHEM 120 - Library notes'?" and 3) "How useful was the video tutorial on finding experiments using General Science Full Text?" Again, students were asked: "Even if you did not see the video would you watch other library video tutorials?" and "If no, why not?" Responses were collected by the instructor along with the course evaluations.

Responses were entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to tabulate results and look for patterns to why students would choose not to watch library videos. Both authors went through the 2008 and 2010 data separately and categorized the responses. The authors then compared the results, which revealed an inter-coder consistency of 94%. In the few cases where consensus could not be reached by discussion, responses were considered ambiguous and placed in a category "other".


In 2008 there were 912 students registered in CHEM 120 and 533 responses to feedback forms were collected, generating a response rate of 58%. In 2010 there were 1057 students registered in the course and 850 filled in the evaluation form for a response rate of 80%. The higher response rate in 2010 was likely due to the fact that the laboratory instructors distributed and collected the feedback forms along with their own end of term course evaluations.

Student feedback on the usefulness of the different library offerings is summarized in Table 2 (2008) and Table 3 (2010). The librarian's session in 2008, which was largely reported to be useful, was held during the regular laboratory period where attendance is taken, effectively ensuring high participation. A much smaller percentage opted to view the tutorials, which did not introduce new material for the students. This situation is in contrast with 2010, where the video was the primary method of instruction offered to students.

Table 2. Evaluation Results, 2008

Table 3. Evaluation Results, 2010

In 2008, the library course guide was an integral part of the librarian's session; it was demonstrated as a starting point for accessing library resources and the video tutorials. In 2010, the library's course guide was not the only path available to students to access the library video and PDF notes. They were also posted to the CHEM 120 course management page and it was possible for students to bypass the library course guide completely. This situation could account for the large increase in the percentage of students responding that they had not seen the library's course guide.

A majority of students from both years (69% and 71%) indicated that even if they hadn't watched a CHEM 120 library video tutorial, they would be willing to watch others (answered yes to the question "Even if you did not see the video(s), would you watch other library video tutorials?").

In 2008, comments were provided by 21% of students explaining why they would not watch other library video tutorials. These responses were analyzed and the following categories emerged: "no need", "no time/energy", "no interest".

The category "no need" encompassed those that stipulated that they do not need help because they already understand how to use the library. The category "no time/energy" applied to those cases where students stated that watching videos was too time consuming or they were too lazy to watch. The phrase "no interest" was used frequently as well as other ways of expressing that library videos are boring and they simply don't want to watch. This category also included preferences for other methods, like listening to or reading instructions or asking a librarian for help. Responses that did not fit into these categories, such as "I don't know" or "maybe", were attributed as "other". If more than one reason was provided in the response then each reason was counted under the appropriate category.

In 2010, 18% of students provided comments indicating why they would not watch library video tutorials. Responses were consistent with the previously identified groupings. As shown in Figure 1 both years follow the same pattern with "no need" as the most common reason given, followed by "no time/energy" and "no interest".

Figure 1. Reasons behind negative attitudes of students towards watching library video tutorials


The Schulich Library of Science and Engineering created video tutorials in 2008 that were tailored to an assignment for a large undergraduate chemistry laboratory course to accompany an in-class information literacy session. The overall positive response to the tutorials led to the design of a video again in 2010 when it was no longer possible to offer in-class instruction. In 2010, despite changes made (no librarian-led session, shorter and fewer video offerings), the number of students indicating they would watch library video tutorials increased only marginally, from 69% to 71%. Concerns remain about the approximately 30% who indicated they would not watch; in a large class such as CHEM 120, this could equate to a few hundred students. The reasons given by students why they would not watch library video tutorials were consistent across both evaluation years with "no need" as the top category cited, followed by "no time/energy", and "no interest".

In 2010, even without an accompanying in-class session, students once again reported "no need" as the top reason they wouldn't watch videos. Although it is possible that students were exposed to information literacy training in other classes, positive feedback from students who attended the mandatory librarian's session in 2008 and from those who watched the library video in 2010, suggest that library instruction does fulfill a need in this case. Given these results, coupled with the fact that students tend to overestimate their abilities (Freeman 2004; Gross & Latham 2009; Maughan 2001; Ren 2000), promotion of the video will focus on raising awareness of the information skills needed for the assignment.

In comparison to the video offerings in 2008, several adjustments were made for 2010: only a single video on finding experiments was made available, eliminating three videos covering different aspects of locating materials, and the video was shortened from five minutes to three minutes. Although the overall time commitment to participate was greatly reduced in 2010, the percentage of respondents who commented "no time/energy" went up marginally from 24% to 27%. Having good library research skills can help a student save time, and, with careful planning of tutorials on the part of librarians, the effort to gain this knowledge is more profitable than ever. Unfortunately, the attitude that they cannot spare the time or energy to watch video tutorials is still clearly a barrier. For the 2011 class, the video was revised again for length and the web site was updated to highlight the short time commitment. The new caption reads: "Got a couple of minutes? Don't waste it! Save time by watching our CHEM 120 video".

The category "no interest" remains the most difficult to address. A number of students candidly expressed that a video created by the library would be too boring to watch. To generate interest in 2012, a more rigorous promotional campaign will be launched by creating short trailers for the videos to be played during class time. Additional plans involve offering alternatives to video tutorials including librarian office hours dedicated to CHEM 120 and webinars where students can participate by asking questions. As McGill University will soon be switching learning management systems, librarians will also investigate the possibility of designing an interactive module dedicated to the course.

Although the study provided insight into the negative attitudes of some students towards library videos, there were limitations. The number of questions in the survey was minimized in order to encourage feedback. For example, no information was collected about the students' prior experiences with library video tutorials, or regarding confidence levels in their information skills. Also, no information was collected on which department they were registered in to determine if there was a correlation with attitudes. Students take General Chemistry as a required or complementary course for the faculties of Arts, Education, Engineering, or Science. Additionally, the feedback form only offered the choice to answer yes or no to whether they would watch library video tutorials in general. A "maybe" option would have been interesting as it would have allowed a greater depth of response, such as the types of videos they would watch and under what circumstances. Pairing the feedback forms with focus groups may provide a deeper understanding of responses in this category.


Student attitudes towards library video tutorials followed the same trend from 2008 to 2010. The categories of comments to why they would not watch were consistent across both years ("no need" as the most common response, followed by "no time/energy" and "no interest"), despite the absence of in-class library instruction and edits made to the video in 2010. Although the majority of students are willing to take advantage of library videos, the authors will continue to explore other avenues of instruction to reach as many students as possible in large undergraduate classes. Future efforts with respect to library video tutorials will concentrate on marketing to highlight the benefits to students and short time commitment.


The authors would like to thank the CHEM 120 laboratory supervisor, Jean-Marc Gauthier, and Rebecca Nicholson for her help in the creation of the 2010 video.


Armstrong, A. & Georgas, H. 2006. Using interactive technology to teach information literacy concepts to undergraduate students. Reference Services Review 34(4):491-497.

Blummer, B.A. & Kritskaya, O. 2009. Best practices for creating an online tutorial: a literature review. Journal of Web Librarianship 3(3):199-216.

Freeman, C.A. 2004. The relationship of undergraduate students' self-assessment of library skills to their opinion of library instruction: a self-reporting survey. Southeastern Librarian 52(3):39-46.

Gross, M. & Latham, D. 2009. Undergraduate perceptions of information literacy: defining, attaining, and self-assessing skills. College & Research Libraries 70(4):336-350.

Kaplowitz, J. & Contini, J. 1998. Computer-assisted instruction: is it an option for bibliographic instruction in large undergraduate survey classes? College & Research Libraries 59(1):19-27.

Kraemer, E.W., Lombardo, S.V., Lepkowski, F.J. 2007. The librarian, the machine, or a little of both: a comparative study of three information literacy pedagogies at Oakland University. College & Research Libraries 68(4):330-342.

Lindsay, E.B., Cummings, L., Johnson, C.M., Scales, B.J. 2006. If you build it, will they learn? Assessing online information literacy tutorials. College & Research Libraries 67(5):429-445.

Maughan, P.D. 2001. Assessing information literacy among undergraduates: a discussion of the literature and the University of California-Berkeley assessment experience. College & Research Libraries 62(1):71-85.

Maxymuk, J. 2004. Work is not play. The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances 17(4):152-154.

Michel, S. 2001. What do they really think? Assessing student and faculty perspectives of a web-based tutorial to library research. College & Research Libraries 62(4):317-332.

Ren, W.-H. 2000. Library instruction and college student self-efficacy in electronic information searching. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 26(5):323-328.

Schimming, L.M. 2008. Measuring medical student preference: a comparison of classroom versus online instruction for teaching PubMed. Journal of the Medical Library Association 96(3):217-222.

Somoza-Fernandez, M. & Abadal, E. 2009. Analysis of web-based tutorials created by academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35(2):126-131.

Zhang, L., Watson, E.M., Banfield, L. 2007. The efficacy of computer-assisted instruction versus face-to-face instruction in academic libraries: a systematic review. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33(4):478-484.

Previous Contents Next

W3C 4.0