Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Three Arenas of Information Literacy Assessment

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Three Arenas of Information Literacy Assessment

Article excerpt

The organizational and published resources devoted to the assessment of information literacy have been steadily increasing over the last decade. Three major contributors can be thanked for this increase: (1) higher education regional accrediting agencies, which have made student learning outcomes assessment much more important; (2) the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, which have been widely endorsed and applied and have spawned many initiatives and local collaborations; and (3) ALA divisions, such as ACRL and AASL, along with the Association for Research Libraries (ARL), which have made information literacy and assessment of outcomes a priority. (1) As a result, several ALA sections and committees have developed various information literacy projects, one of the best-known being the Immersion Program of ACRL's Institute for Information Literacy. (2)

With this increase in focus at the organizational level, some teaching librarians feel hesitant and even guilty about not devoting as much energy as needed to improving their assessment skills. While many are passionate and disciplined about improving teaching and instructional materials, assessing the outcomes often is relegated to second place. Even though it is generally agreed that teaching/learning and assessment are inextricably linked and that it is virtually impossible to improve teaching without understanding its impact, why does assessment often get put on the back burner? Perhaps part of the answer can be attributed to a fairly common perception that doing assessment requires a certain level of expertise in assessment methodologies and data analysis. Another part of the answer might relate to the complexity of the task: learning is complex and multidimensional and any serious attempt to assess learning must take a multi-methods approach. Certainly a big part of the answer is time: assessment can take a lot of time and often financial and human resources.

This column has two major goals: (1) to present a view of three arenas critical to information literacy learning and assessment, along with questions that might serve as a checklist to stimulate assessment planning and practice; and (2) to draw attention to the many organizations and resources dealing with information literacy assessment, so that one can tap into already existing examples of instruments, advice, and professional development opportunities. It is hoped a discussion of these goals will help librarians hesitant to undertake assessment projects have a place to begin.

The Three Arenas: Knowing Where to Begin

Traditional measures of information literacy assessment focus primarily on student learning outcomes, but student learning outcomes are not the only important arena of assessment. It is equally important to measure and document personal experiences that directly contribute to the development of information literate individuals, such as specific indicators that capture the quality of the learning environment and learner self-assessment of skills and instruction/learning satisfaction ratings. In "Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning," the American Association of Higher Education directs attention to the experiences that lead to learning: "Assessment requires attention to the outcomes but also to the experiences that lead to those outcomes." (3)

The importance of linkages between instructors and clear standards and instructional objectives also cannot be understated. The following statement from the "Best Practices for Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs" draws attention away from methods to the overarching importance of linkages:

   Methods change but standards of quality
   endure. The important issues are
   not technical, but curriculum-driven
   and pedagogical. Decisions about such
   matters are made by qualified professionals
   and focus on learning outcomes
   for an increasingly diverse student population. … 
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