Is It Just Me, or Is That Molehill Getting Bigger? Using Collaboration & Automation to Manage Growth

By Alli Sullivan, Teaching & Learning Librarian

When a student takes one of our three online library tutorials, we at the library will save their mark in their library record. That way, if the students is assigned the same tutorial in a subsequent term, we can simply forward their mark to the next instructor.

Simple, right? Not always.

Behind the scenes, the process of forwarding marks often included incomplete online forms, endless back and forth email exchanges, hours of staff time, and the expectation that instructors would manage individual emails for every mark they received.

While the process was effective if cumbersome for many years, we are all feeling the weight of a growing student population and the growing popularity of the Online Library Tutorials. This spring, there was a formal request from staff that we do something to alleviate some of pressure on our staff by making our marks request form more robust and having elements be required.

In addition to that, I also decided that we should probably overhaul the whole process!

Julie Cole, the library’s Systems Administrator, joined us September 2017 and has quickly become our go-to person for help with technological solutions and automation. Since I starting thinking about solutions to some of these problems, she has been a great sounding board and partner in this project, forever patient and accommodating of my blue-sky plans.

In the end, I feel like the team has come up with a plan in which we stop worrying and learn to love automation.

The New Process

If a student has already taken a library tutorial, their mark will be stored in our database. My first question: Is it possible to query the database with a list of student numbers? Julie’s answer: yes.

Our next set of questions had to do with privacy and permission. Technically speaking, we are taking a piece of confidential information (a student’s mark) and sharing it with a third party (the instructor). Consultation with Joanne Rajotte, Langara’s Privacy Officer, revealed that our best option would be to get permission to forward the mark every time it needed to be sent.

To that end, I decided to pursue options in Brightspace that would allow us to both collect permission and produce a list of student numbers of people who had given that permission. The best possible option? A quiz!

Now, when a student wants their mark sent to an instructor, they must log into Brightspace, go to the class they’d like the mark sent to, and fill in our “Mark Forwarding Permission” quiz. This allows us to capture all information we need in one place – student name, number, the course information, and the permission statement.

This also allows us to solve the problem of asking instructors to manage dozens of loose emails with random marks. Now, we can pull the list off of Brightspace, run it though our automated look up, and merge reports. Instructors can receive one spreadsheet with student marks broken into categories – students who took the tutorial this term, students who took the tutorial in a previous semester, and even students who said they’ve taken it but haven’t.

The process does depend more on students to keep track of whether or not they have completed the tutorial, so they may still have to visit or contact the library if they don’t remember what their previous mark was. We hope, however, that the workload associated with these requests will not match the time spent in the previous process.

The Summer Pilot

The Summer Term often serves as our useful testing grounds for new library instruction products and procedures as the number of students and requests are cut drastically back. This Summer, we will be testing this new procedure, ironing out wrinkles, and doubtless finding new challenges along the way.

If you have questions about the library tutorials, have feedback about the new procedure, or want to ask about the library instruction program, feel free to email us at

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