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Assessing Information Literacy: Corban University’s Approach

by Garrett Trott, Reference/Instruction Librarian, Corban University

Brief Overview:

Students always need more information. More and more careers and professions depend not only on accessing information, but also on an employee’s ability to weed through the massive information overload of the 21st century (Head). Therefore, higher education is in the midst of transitioning to teaching not only disciplinary content, but also disciplinary method: how information is found, utilized, and cited in 21st century research (Badke). Because of this, information literacy is becoming a critical element in today’s collegiate education.

The Problem: Measuring Students’ Ability to Find and Utilize Information Accross Disciplines 

Another focal point in higher education is assessment. Assessment strives to measure the value of higher education. With the ongoing need for information in education, how can one assess whether or not students are learning how to do research, how to synthesize data, or how to convey what their research discovered? How can a university assess information literacy?

Corban University, a small private liberal arts university located in Salem, Oregon, has prioritized information literacy as a university-level objective. The warrant behind the prioritization is three-fold. First, information literacy is applicable across the disciplines. Second, assessment tools for information literacy were in place at Corban prior to the transition of assessment becoming a focal point for the university. Third, with information becoming more and more abundant, the need to critically assess and utilize information is playing a larger and larger role in the professional arena (Head and Eisenberg).

Finding a Solution: Step 1 – Participating in Project Information Literacy (PIL)

Information literacy assessment began with Corban University’s participation in Project Information Literacy (PIL). PIL is a large-scale, national study about early adults and their research habits. In the spring of 2010, Corban University participated in PIL’s study entitled, “Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age” (Head and Eisenberg). Corban’s participation involved sending a link to a survey via email to sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Part of Corban’s agreement with PIL was that Corban would receive the raw data from their students. After looking through the survey and the data it produced, the administration desired to pursue using the PIL survey as a means of university wide assessment. Allison Head, the director and principal investigator of PIL, gave Corban University permission to reuse this survey for assessment.

Corban University first gave this survey the following spring (2011) and offers it on a bi-annual basis thereafter. This survey provides a big picture of where Corban University students are at in relation to information literacy. After observing the data, Corban University desired to see students improve in information literacy.

Finding a Solution: Step 2 – Creating an Online Module

To make this improvement possible, more instruction was necessary. However, like many institutions, the need was present, but the funding to invest in more faculty teaching hours was not. The University of Arizona faced a similar incident. They had an increased need, but a lack of funding made that increased need difficult to meet. Thus, they created an online module to meet their need. Through various assessment tools, the University of Arizona surprisingly discovered that students were learning and retaining more content when the content was offered via an online module than when a librarian or faculty member traditionally taught a session related to information literacy (Mery, Newby, and Peng).

Corban University decided to follow suit with the University of Arizona’s model and created an online module to teach information literacy. The module was ready by the spring semester of 2013. Two pilot course were established. Using a modification of the PIL survey, Corban University did a pre- and post-module assessment. The assessment displayed significant progress among the students who participated. Since Corban University planned to offer the PIL survey university-wide that spring, the assessment team was also able to compare the significant progress made by students who enrolled in classes that took the information literacy module and students who did not. The data showed that students who participated in the modules did remarkably better with information literacy than those instructed in a traditional classroom setting, confirming the research done at the University of Arizona.

Finding a Solution: Step 3 – Tracking Progression with AACU IL Rubric

The PIL survey serves as a remarkable means of assessment and it has given Corban University the ability to measure progress with information literacy. However, assessment has a need for verification through another means. Because of this, Corban University began looking at ways to assess information literacy at the freshmen and junior levels. Ideally, this would enable us to track progression from one year to the next and see if students are becoming information literate.

As noted above, Corban University has a required freshman English composition course. One of the objectives of this course is for students to learn how to write a research paper. This includes everything from gathering resources to developing an argument to style to proper citation. This was an ideal work to use for gathering data on where students are with information literacy at the end of their first year.

As a means of assessment, Corban University looked at the information literacy rubric created by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU). A team of faculty used this assessment rubric to assess approximately 100 freshman English composition papers. From this assessment, this team produced a data set showing where the standard freshman was when it came to information literacy competencies.

Any university should expect progress. There are plans in place to assess information literacy in junior level course at Corban University. This upcoming academic year will be Corban University’s trial run in adding information literacy components to two junior level courses, one in music, and the other in religious studies. An assessment team will assess the projects from these classes (in this case both projects are research papers) using the AACU information literacy rubric. They will be comparing these scores with the assessment ranking of the freshmen English composition papers. The assessment team is hoping to see progress.

Results and Next Steps

There are many more changes coming up at Corban University. Corban University just did a university-wide review of its general education curriculum. In so doing, freshman English composition transitioned from a two-credit class to a three-credit class. With the third credit added to freshman English composition, instructors will add an information literacy component to their class. Faculty will decide how to do this, but with the online module that followed the University of Arizona’s model available, and with its displayed effectiveness, faculty will likely use that as the third credit of freshman English composition. Corban University will continue assessment of freshman English composition papers.

As Corban University does all of this assessment, one should remember that Corban University is also assessing information literacy with a university-wide survey on a bi-annual basis. With the various means of assessment in place, Corban University hopes to show that students are learning how to become information literate. If Corban University is not seeing progress, the data that these assessment tools are producing will enable us to see where information literacy is not progressing and address it appropriately.

Corban University desires it students to graduate with an ability to locate and use information in the 21st century. The various assessment means used enable us to see the progress, address any issues that might be impeding development, and assure us that students leave Corban University information literate.