ED 650: GotS, A New Alternative

Guide on the Side: A New Alternative for Interactive Tutorial Creation
ED 650 Current Issue Paper 5

While researching of interactivity of tutorials in fall 2014, I discovered an emerging technology in the form of a specific tool for tutorial creation that I found very exciting. Guide on the Side (GotS) is an open-source software program created by librarians at University of Arizona. Sult, Mery, Blakiston, and Kline (2013) describe GotS as a frame that overlays onto any website (such as a library database, the most common subject of such tutorials) so that the student sees step-by-step instructions and text-based conceptual instruction on the left side of the screen while interacting in real-time with the website on the right side (see Figure 1). Questions that provide instant feedback to the student can be embedded throughout, a quiz can be added at the end, and a certificate of completion can be printed or emailed out to the student, instructors, librarians, or others as appropriate. The tool was released as open-source software to the public in the middle of 2012 and is continuing to grow in popularity among libraries.

A screenshot of the Guide on the Side tool in action
Figure 1.
University of Arizona Libraries’ Guide on the Side for searching their catalog.

What makes GotS so exciting is its potential for delivering instruction that is effective and engaging in a format that can reach far more students than is possible with in-person instruction. It offers a level of interactivity that is nearly impossible to achieve with other common tutorial types as it has the student interact with the content authentically (in the actual database they will use, not in a simulation of it), hands-on (for active learning) and in real-time (“students can immediately apply the concepts they have learned” as opposed to the watch and re-create model of screencasts) (Sult, Mery, Blakiston, & Kline, 2013, p. 126). Sult et al. (2013) also argue that it mimics much of what librarians value in in-person one-shot instruction sessions: “procedural instruction, hands-on and authentic tasks, repeated practice, active participation, and immediate and individualized feedback” (p. 126).

This is a tall order for any online tutorial — but the potential benefits of GotS do not end there. The administrative interface allows librarians to quickly and easily create and edit guides without the assistance of programmers or technical staff (Sult et al., 2013). Even if other tools are otherwise sufficient for creating online tutorials, they each suffer from a combination of being difficult or time-consuming to edit, and requiring special knowledge or skills to edit. When a database changes its interface, a common occurrence, screencasts and screenshots in various tutorial types have to be re-created. When edits are possible, robust tools like Camtasia and Captivate require training or at least practice to use effectively. A bottleneck effect occurs as a limited number of people are able to make the needed changes, which can be time-intensive even for experienced users. GotS bypasses these issues by using a WYSIWYG editor. The University of Arizona Libraries (2015) web page for GotS creators boastfully asks and asserts, “Know how to use Word? You already know how to use Guide on the Side.” (para. 1).

Then there is the issue of cost of the various available tools compared to GotS, an open source software program. Any robust tool for creating and editing audio visual or interactive tutorials comes with a hefty price tag. It is easy to spend $1000-2000 or more for a single installation of software like Camtasia, Captivate, or Storyline. At my workplace, University of Alaska Anchorage, we are fortunate to have access to older versions of Camtasia and Captivate. Unfortunately they are quite old, as far as software goes, and they lack some of the most interactive elements available in newer versions. We limp along with them but would need to purchase our own license of the newest version to make full use. Free tools like Jing or Screencast-O-Matic for screencasts are fine for quick and simple tutorials but are not sufficient for the creation of polished tutorials. Certainly there are costs involved in the installation and maintenance of open-source software, though I am not knowledgeable in that area. Issues related to such software will be addressed in a future paper.

I am excited to further explore the Guide on the Side tool and plan to argue for its adoption in the final project of this course. It seems to be a unique and fantastic tool for meeting my library’s tutorial creation needs.


Sult, L., Mery, Y., Blakiston, R., and Kline, E. (2013). A new approach to online database instruction: Developing the guide on the side. Reference Services Review, 41(1), 125-133.

University of Arizona Libraries (n.d.). Searching the library catalog [screenshot]. Retrieved from http://www.library.arizona.edu/applications/quickHelp/tutorial/searching-the-ua-library-catalog

University of Arizona Libraries (2015). About Guide on the Side. Retrieved from http://code.library.arizona.edu/

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