The eight pillars of pain, some reflections on designing an online information literacy resource.

Last year at OER I was carried away on a cloud of enthusiasm and promised faithfully to write a blog post. This year’s OER is staring me in the face and I have done nothing about it! So here are my thoughts on designing and building a web based resource. They are derived from a chapter that I wrote called Parallel lines in Distributed Learning: Pedagogy and Technology in Online Information Literacy Instruction edited by Tasha Maddison and Maha Kumaran, Chandos, 2016 – but basically I have chopped it right down and dumped the literature review! I apologise in advance if it comes under the heading of “teaching Granny how to suck eggs!”

The issues that I’m going to talk about have been collated from a literature and my experiences in designing and building our online information literacy resources SMILE, SMIRK and PILOT. Basically it is a big shopping list of things to worry about when you are planning and building an online resource!

So, here are my eight pillars of pain (with apologies to the SCONUL seven pillars of wisdom)

  • Market scan or literature review
  • Planning: design and project management
  • IL frameworks
  • Development software
  • Hardware and delivery methods
  • Testing and piloting
  • Teaching: timetabling and delivery
  • Futureproofing

It may not be possible to go through all eight stages. But I have found after not doing so, that it helps to adopt a structured approach!

Market scan or literature review

Is a market scan necessary? Yes! Did we do it? No! Why? Even if you are adapting an OER it is worth finding out what resources exist and the best delivery methods. It is always worth learning from others. It can save time in the long run and you can make some friends along the way.


  • Define target users: consider stage of course, mode of study, language and IT skills? Broadband availability?
  • Decide on style: set up a style guide (this is very useful for teams!)
  • Look and feel: consider are all graphics necessary? they can slow loading and response, clear font, scrolling, institutional branding
  • Navigation: clear menus, location signposts, platform agnostic, Flash player?, test on variety of devices
  • Develop content: build from scratch or adapt OERs (or both?), create storyboard, copyright?
  • Accessibility: consult specialists at all stages, if none in institution, use external organisations. Build in from start!
  • Write project plan: with timeline (Gantt chart), build in time for revision!


OK, so this stage applies more to my subject area of information and digital literacy, but you could also build in some time to consider other appropriate frameworks or reports. They can make handy ammunition when preparing your case!

Development and software

  • How do you present your course: simple HTML web pages or presentation software like iSpring, Xerte or Articulate?
  • What about gamification: what type? tabletop or online? single user or groups?
  • Do you use plugins, Flash player, or Camtasia?: consider browser issues, VLE, and technical limitations
  • How interactive does the resource need to be: include quizzes or interactive games?
  • Mobile device compatibility is a must!: what looks good on PC, may not work at all on a smartphone

Hardware and delivery methods

  • Closed or open? How accessible do you want to be?: consider institutional VLE (LMS) like Moodle or Blackboard or an open web site
  • Do you REALLY need a login? Users are easily deterred!
  • Shared server?: not a good idea. Think of peaks in user demand

Testing and piloting

  • Decide what you are testing: usability or skills developed, or both!
  • Feedback: keep detailed notes
  • User testing in labs: select a range of differently abled users with various language skills, test on as many different devices as possible
  • Focus groups: good for qualitative feedback
  • Surveys: keep them short!, check institutional policy, consider paper surveys (retro can be good)!
  • Implement changes fast: or inform users why
  • Allow time in project plan for: pilot phase, inevitable delays, and revision


  • Wide uptake of any online resource follows adoption into institutional policy which forces formal timetabling. This is especially true for Information and Digital Literacy, but also other skills.
  • Module structure: long thin or short fat?
  • Course structure: online only, hybrid or face to face.
  • Assessment: consider quizzes, automatic grading?

Future proofing

No easy answers on this one, my psychic powers are not great! But consider:

  • Licensing issues
  • Copyright
  • Speed of developments
  • Presentation systems
  • How open is your OER really?!
  • What about changes in fashion, we are all fashion victims, whether we like it or not!

And finally …

So, all this makes me sound like an organised individual. Do I follow this plan? Did I hee, haw! That is how I discovered it. I am the queen of how not to do things! So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t follow planned steps. We are all different and as long as your resource ends up built and running, that’s the main thing!

Some handy texts (full literature review is in the book!)

  • Crawford, N. & Broertjes, A., (2010). Evaluation of a university online Information Literacy unit. Australian Library Journal 59(4), 187-196.
  • Stubbings, R. & Franklin, G., (2004). A critical analysis of the INFORMS project at Loughborough University. JeLit 1(1), 31-41.
  • Thomas, J. & Gosling, C., (2009). An evaluation of the use of “Guides at the side” Web-based Learning activities to equip students in health sciences and nursing with information literacy skills. New Review of Academic Librarianship 15(2), 173-186.
  • Yang, S., (2009). Information literacy online tutorials: an introduction to rational and technological tools in tutorial creation. The Electronic Library 27(4), 684-693.

Marion Kelt at OER2018Marion Kelt, Research and Open Access Librarian – Glasgow Caledonian University

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