Assessing Information Literacy Skills in First Year Students

A new open access journal, Communications in Information Literacy, recently published an article about assessing library instruction for first year students.  The paper caught my eye because I’m working on some similar things here at Geneseo.
ResearchBlogging.org
The study sought to determine if students’ information literacy skills and confidence with research improved more with a greater number of librarian-led information literacy sessions.  The author used a pre-test and a post-test to examine students’ attitudes and stated behaviors.  She used likert-style questions to assess students’ previous use of information sources and their confidence with various information related tasks.  One group of students received the typical one-shot information literacy session in a first year writing and critical thinking class.  Another group received two or three information literacy sessions over the course of the semester.

The author is very clear about outlining the challenges we all face in trying to assess information literacy instruction.  Most notably, it is almost impossible to control for the wide variety of variables that have an impact on student information literacy skills:

  • Prior information literacy instruction in high school or other venues
  • Prior practice doing scholarly research
  • Student intelligence and creativity
  • Opportunity to practice skills learned in an information literacy session (and differences in the assignment requirements)
  • Differences in scholarship between various disciplines

Some information related to the factors listed above is relatively easy to obtain (although perhaps not so easy to quantify).  Course faculty can be a source of information about assignment requirements, and will set the standards for more or less practice information literacy and research skills.

On the other hand, getting information about prior instruction and practice normally relies on students’ self reporting, which is not always accurate.

In addition to the likert-style attitudinal questions, the author analyzed student bibliographies.  She looked at the different types of sources used, and whether they were available through the library or through other sources.

The latter question is challenging.  Typically, a student doesn’t need to use a library database to access the full text of articles if they are on the campus network.  As a result, they could easily have used one of many search engines and not even realized they were using library resources.  On the other hand, use of library databases that resulted in articles requested through Interlibrary Loan would not count as library sources.  We emphasize ILL at my institution, however, so perhaps it isn’t used as much at other institutions.

All of this begs the question – are the information literacy sessions we teach an effective way of teaching students research skills?

The author of this paper concludes that there is some positive benefit to the increased number of information literacy sessions, although the data seem a bit more mixed to me.

I wish that the author had actually tested students research skills.  While it may be much more difficult to evaluate, student confidence does not necessarily correlate with student skills.

Julie K. Gilbert (2009). Using Assessment Data to Investigate Library Instruction for First Year Students Communications in Information Literacy, 3 (2), 181-192

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