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Next Generation Of Tutorials: Finding Technical Information At Purdue

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Engaging Uses of Course Management Systems, Blogs, and Open Source and a Database as Tools for Library Instruction

Tagged Division

Engineering Libraries

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1106.1 - 12.1106.12



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Paper Authors

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Megan Sapp Nelson

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Michael Fosmire

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Amy Van Epps Purdue University

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Bruce Harding Purdue University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


Purdue University recently developed a multifaceted tutorial to provide just-in-time assistance for students seeking technical information. The tutorial incorporates an instructional, animated component that stresses the reasons why different kinds of technical information are important in an engineer’s career. It also includes an expert system component, created with the open source program CLIPS, that allows the student to type in a question and receive a list of potential sources that could answer that question, with reasons why those sources might be relevant. By incorporating active and interactive elements, this tutorial will help students effectively fill their information needs whenever and wherever they are. This tutorial was created as part of an institutional grant to meet the needs of an introductory mechanical engineering technology design course that is famous for sending flocks of students to the library to find properties, standards, patents, and other technical information. The course also spawns intense loyalty of students that have completed the assignment, as they come back to campus to explain how they use their information skills on the job, and contribute new questions they have run across to the course. The components of the tutorial will be demonstrated, along with a synopsis of the assessment of its effectiveness. It’s relevance to lifelong learning for students will also be discussed.


Every April and November, the Siegesmund Engineering Library at Purdue University becomes extraordinarily busy for one week. The reason for this is that the Mechanical Engineering Technology 102 - Production Design and Specifications class is assigned an in-depth library research project. Over the years, the engineering library staff have come to both love and dread this one week. With anywhere from 50-100 students and a question database that challenges even the most experienced librarians, it is both an exhilarating time to practice our reference skills, as well as an exhausting experience.

Since the inception of the project, tools have been created to assist in guiding students to likely sources for answers to questions. Each semester, every section of students receives in-class instruction regarding types of sources and what types of information different sources contain. During the week of the assignment, the primary resource, an online bibliography, helps to ease the actual directing of students. However, the bibliography is not a great source for teaching students why they are looking at the sources they have been directed to find. The educational portion falls primarily to librarians and staff, and not even the best of reference librarians can give adequate information literacy instruction to an individual patron in the face of a line of 7-8 students who also need help.

In the fall of 2005, the librarians of the Siegesmund Engineering Library decided to write a grant to create an educational tool that would not only direct students to the appropriate sources, but would also give them an understanding of the kinds of sources available and what their uses are. The librarians wrote a grant for the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) program

Sapp Nelson, M., & Fosmire, M., & Van Epps, A., & Harding, B. (2007, June), Next Generation Of Tutorials: Finding Technical Information At Purdue Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1705

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