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Information Literacy at ACRL

Jan O. Rice
Bryan College of Health Sciences
Lincoln, Nebraska

ACRL 2013 Logo

I was privileged to receive an NN/LM MCR Professional Development Award to travel to Indianapolis in April to attend ACRL. I’d never been to an ACRL meeting and it was great to be surrounded by other academic librarians who share my interests and professional challenges. Since instruction/information literacy is a main focus of my job at the Bryan College of Health Sciences (Lincoln, Nebraska), instruction was also the focus of most of the meetings I attended.

Assessment of information literacy is most definitely a hot topic in the academic librarian world at the moment! To be practiced well, assessment should be integrally tied to learning outcomes and be part of the life cycle of instruction:  content delivery / assessment / revision / content delivery. ACRL sessions highlighted both theoretical and practical aspects of assessment of information literacy in higher education.

Farkas, Hinchliffe & Houk presented “Creating a culture of assessment: Determinants of success.” In an institution in which there is a “culture of assessment” assessment is a regular part of practice; is done for improvement, not accountability; is user-focused; and decision-making is based on assessment results. Librarians can use assessment data to advocate for their library, demonstrate the value of the library to the larger institution and to hold themselves to  the same standards as other academic departments. They stressed that librarians must be trained and have time to do assessment; we should know that assessment results will not be used against us; and we should use assessment results to influence teaching, practice and services. Regional accreditation is often the driving force behind an institutional culture of assessment; librarians should be fully involved in the assessment process of their institutions.

Several libraries have been involved in large-scale information literacy assessment projects. Holliday, Lundstrom, Martin, Fagerheim & Davis presented a poster session, “An information literacy snapshot: Results of a large-scale rubric-based assessment project,” based on work done at Utah State University. They examined four courses across the curriculum for information literacy skills. Their assessment results determined the students’ strengths and weaknesses. Some of the lessons the librarians learned from their assessment include:

  • build reading and thinking time into classroom instruction;
  • flip the classroom so that classroom time can be used more effectively;
  • and teach research skills earlier in the curriculum.

Based on assessment and evaluation, one of their more important conclusions was that “effective information literacy instruction is not just about what we do in the library classroom, but how it is sequenced across the curriculum.”

Cirtten and Seeber presented “Building an instruction arsenal: Using standardized elements to streamline class planning and ease student learning assessment across the curriculum” which described approaches they have adopted at the University of West Georgia and Colorado State University, Pueblo. They posed two pervasive questions, “How can we deliver unique classes when we don’t have time to plan?” and “If classes are unique, how can we assess an entire program?” Their approach was to have a three-step planning process:

  1. define student learning outcomes (SLOs) which become the common denominator across all library instruction;
  2. create active learning exercises aligned with specific SLOs, relevant to the students’ coursework; and
  3. tailor assessments around each SLO in order to measure the effectiveness of the instruction and reevaluate the appropriateness of the exercises.

Each institution has developed multiple shared presentations supporting their defined SLOs, they have available an arsenal of online activities and an assortment of assessment questions and rubrics. Librarians “mix and match” activities and assessment questions based on the SLOs for their unique classes. By following this process they are able to “build unique sessions out of lots of small pieces … maximize librarian time [and] scaffold learning outcomes.”

Oakleaf, Belanger and Graham presented research on “Choosing and using assessment management systems: What librarians need to know.” They have evaluated sophisticated campus-wide assessment management systems (AMS) that libraries can use for assessment. Using campus-wide systems helps libraries determine if their instruction is meeting outcomes, and defines needed program-level improvements. Such systems include reporting functions, allow information literacy programs to document progress and programmatic changes and feed into institutional accreditation reports. Key questions include determining if your institution has an AMS, if the library can access the system, how other units on campus are using the system and how the library can connect outcomes, assessments and strategic plans to those of the institution?

Attending ACRL allowed me to see ways in which academic librarians are becoming fully integrated into the curricula of their institutions. I came away with my own arsenal of ideas for outreach, outcomes and assessment to apply within my own institution.

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