This Week's Message
Research skills are important. How well are our students doing?
Liaison Librarian to Natural Sciences Division and Instruction Coordinator
In their lives after Augustana, we hope that students will be sophisticated thinkers, drawing on good information before they come to conclusions. For that reason teaching students how to find and assess information has been part of the Augustana College experience for many years.
Information literacy was identified by the General Education Working Group (GEWG) and subsequent General Education committees as an essential skill set to be incorporated into the First Year course sequences. It has been a part of AGES since 2004 and in an increasing number of upper level courses as well. As departments have developed Student Inquiry proposals, many have emphasized expertise in disciplinary literature research. As a result, collaborative librarian/faculty instruction sessions have jumped from 112 in 2003 to 253 in the 2007 academic year. Since this concerted effort to incorporate information literacy into the curriculum began, have students improved their researching skills?
During the summer of 2004, Michael Nolan, Carla Tracy, and I developed an information literacy test to measure the literature research skill level of the first year class. This test addressed the six skills librarians had identified, based on ACRL (Association of Colleges and Research Library) standards for information literacy, which would be taught in a sequential manner throughout the first year courses. The test was taken by 381 students in the fall of 2004 and 88 in the spring of 2005. The results gave us some idea of the impact of a year of Liberal Studies courses, a year in which collaborative librarian/faculty instruction occurred in 83 LS courses. Although the number of responses in the spring was lower than we had hoped, we saw improvements in all six component areas. The greatest improvements were in differentiating between popular and scholarly materials, and primary and secondary sources. The weakest skill, which also showed the least improvement, was developing a search strategy.
With a few modifications, the same test was given to the class of 2005 in the fall (573 responders) and spring (319 responders) of their first year. Results were similar. The significantly higher number of responders showed basically the same improvements, confirming our sense that the integrated, sequential instruction was making a difference in students' ability to develop a search strategy and to identify, locate, and evaluate resources for their papers.
Last spring the test was taken by 170 seniors, the 2004 cohort who had been the first group to go through the LS experience. These students showed improvement in five of the six skill areas compared to the spring of their first year. The weakest area continued to be developing a search strategy. Anecdotally, reference librarians agree that overall students seem to be more thoughtful about choosing materials and the questions being asked at the reference desk seem to be more in-depth and complex. Yet students' ability to choose divergent search terms to get the best and not just the first results continued to be a challenge.
Also of note were an increased number of students incorrectly identifying what needed to be cited in a research paper, erring on the side of citing anything close to the original document. This may be due to students taking heed of the increased emphasis on plagiarism by professors and the Honor Council. It would seem there is still significant confusion about what constitutes appropriate credit.
Although our home grown test has served us well for these first years of the AGES program, the librarians and the Assessment Review Committee see benefits in an assessment instrument that allows comparisons to similar institutions. As a NITLE participating institution we have access to an information literacy test created for the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) consortium that allows such comparisons. We intend to begin administering this test to first year students in the fall of 2009, including some additional questions from Augustana's information literacy test. A copy of the new information literacy instrument is available online.
Please let Carla Tracy or me know if you have questions or suggestions about how to teach our students the important skill of finding and assessing information.