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Producing digital tutorials on a shoestring budget

October 16, 2019

By Daniel Fitzroy, Urzula Ula Lechtenberg

Screenshoit of the Tutorials page of the Sacred Heart University Library  website

The tutorials were created to meet the needs of key users - distance and self-directed learners, faculty, and library staff

At Sacred Heart University (SHU) we have a small library staff serving a rapidly growing institution with a growing number of online programs, so we needed to move beyond face-to-face interactions as our only form of instruction. We decided to focus on creating digital learning objects (DLOs), particularly videos and tutorials, to meet the needs of our key users, including distance and self-directed learners, faculty, and library staff. In May 2017 we initiated a project to create and deliver nearly 40 DLOs.

Creating DLOs

In order to complete such a large project, the library staff needed to collaborate. This ultimately strengthened our project, because we incorporated multiple viewpoints and harnessed the various strengths of team members.

Together, we brainstormed and selected ideas for videos and tutorials, and each team member wrote at least one script. Using Google Drive at first and then Office365 to facilitate content sharing, everyone on the team helped edit the drafts of the scripts. After volunteers provided their voice talent to the videos, two team members were responsible for “screencasting” (recording the action taking place on a computer screen) and editing the videos. Team members then reviewed the videos and put them online.

Having a limited budget forced us to be creative and carefully consider the tools we used, including technology that was already available to us. The SHU library subscribes to Springshare’s LibApps suite of products, including the LibGuides content management system (CMS) and LibWizard, a tool for creating surveys, forms, quizzes, and stand-alone and embedded tutorials. We did not create video content for database instruction, since that is often available from database vendors. Instead, we used LibWizard to create stand-alone tutorials, which seemed to be the perfect medium for database-specific instruction.

To develop the videos, we had to find free or low-cost editing software that allowed us to edit and export videos to the necessary platforms. The library decided on Active Presenter(opens in new tab/window), which is a free tool with a paid upgrade option.

With multimedia content, accessibility should be considered from the start. When designing video content, our best practices for accessibility include:

  • Create short videos. Videos for students should be one to two minutes. Videos for faculty can be slightly longer.

  • All videos use screencasting with high-quality voiceover. We used a recording studio on campus, but soundproofing a small area and using a pop filter would also work well.

  • Include subtitles on all videos. Active Presenter creates a separate file for subtitles that can be uploaded to YouTube, so you don’t need to rely on YouTube’s captioning.

  • Transcripts with screenshots are immediately available to those who need and/or prefer them. Transcripts are included in an HTML “accordion” link below the video or with a link to a PDF file.

By the end of summer 2017, we had a sizable collection of DLOs. However, because the tutorials were available in different formats and across a variety of platforms, librarians could not point students and faculty to one place to find all of them.

Creating a tutorials portal

We quickly realized that we had a discoverability and access problem, so we decided that we needed to bring all the DLOs into one browsable location—a tutorial portal built with our users in mind.

Building off our recent experience of designing the DLOs, we developed a process that loosely resembled a user-centered design model. Before we built our tutorial portal, we spent a considerable amount of time analyzing the needs of our users. We focused on three questions:

  • Who are the potential users?

  • What are the potential use cases?

  • Are there ways that the design can facilitate use?

By allowing the answers to these questions to guide the design of our tutorial portal, we decided on a few key design elements:

  • The portal should be built to allow for different learning preferences. We wanted to make sure we used a mix of textual and visual elements.

  • The portal should be browsable. Our tutorials covered many learning needs, so we wanted to quickly lead users to the information they needed.

  • The design and look of the portal should be simple, clean and easy to use.

  • Each tutorial needed its own page.

Throughout the design process, we constantly thought of our users. If we identified a problem, we immediately began redesigning the element to improve the user experience.

Before we wrapped up the design process, we began to consider what technology we would use to build the portal. While keeping the users in mind, we evaluated tools in three areas: availability and cost, added value, and customization.

While Springshare’s LibGuides CMS was the immediate favorite, we fully evaluated the product to ensure it was the right choice. This allowed us to discover aspects of the technology that helped finalize the design. For instance, the LibGuides CMS has an API that can embed LibGuide pages directly into learning management system (LMS) course shells, which provided more evidence for the need to house each tutorial on its own page.

Screenshot of the How to Find Databases video

Screenshot of the How to Find Databases video tutorial.

After we had identified the key design elements and selected the technology, it was time to build the portal. We were successful in this complicated project because we followed three strategies: leverage the capabilities of existing technologies; learn and use simple CSS tricks; and be flexible enough to incorporate ongoing learning into the design.

To help manage this large project, we also used a few free online tools, including Slack for team communication and a shared Google Sheets checklist as a project status dashboard.

Tutorial Project Checklist

By the end of 2018 we had a live portal showcasing the DLOs we had created for our patrons. Our Sacred Heart University Library Tutorials portal(opens in new tab/window) provides enhanced access to our DLOs with a few special design features:

  • Browsable landing page that allows patrons to quickly navigate to the tutorial that they need out of the nearly 40 options

  • Easy-to-follow instructions on single-tutorial pages that we can direct patrons to or push into their LMS course shells

  • Transcripts provided in an HTML “accordion” (when users click the button, the transcript is shown, but otherwise the transcript does not clutter the page)

As we continue to market this new service, we are seeing modest increases in usage. We learned a lot as we built the tutorials and created the portal, and we are happy to see that work paying off. In the future, we plan to enhance our content and the portal by carefully selecting the content we create, continuing to improve search engine optimization, and performing usability testing.



Daniel Fitzroy

Discovery and Metadata Services Librarian Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT, United States


Urzula Ula Lechtenberg

Instructional Design Librarian Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT, United States