Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

First Year Course Programmatic Assessment: Final Essay Information Literacy Analysis

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

First Year Course Programmatic Assessment: Final Essay Information Literacy Analysis

Article excerpt

Washington State University recently launched a new general education system with a foundational first year course called Roots of Contemporary Issues. Roots features a set of library research assignments and a culminating final essay, jointly developed and maintained by Roots instructors and librarians. A group of Roots instructors and a WSU librarian conducted a study to assess the achievement of the information literacy, and critical and creative thinking student learning outcomes associated with the research project. The group found that students were proficient at the first year level in terms of utilizing scholarly materials and source attribution. The students were less successful concerning argument building and source analysis; they struggled most with thesis development. Adjustments to the assignments were made in light of these results and the findings contributed to the larger university-wide assessment program.

In 2009, Washington State University (WSU) began planning for a complete overhaul of its general education system. One central component of the project was deciding what to do with World Civilizations, a two course series, required for all undergraduates. After years of development, the new UCORE (University Common Requirements) system was launched (fall 2012), with Roots of Contemporary Issues (History 105 or "Roots") having replaced World Civilizations as the foundational, required undergraduate course. All UCORE courses focus on at least one of seven overarching learning goals and outcomes. (1) History 105 addresses five of these goals: diversity, critical and creative thinking (CCT), information literacy (IL), communication, and depth, breadth, and integration of learning.

Roots is taught by history department faculty and its basic framework includes five themes: Humans and the Environment; Our Shrinking World; Inequality; Diverse Ways of Thinking; and The Roots of Contemporary Conflicts. Each term, one of many possible issues is selected for each theme. The curriculum for a theme typically consists of all, if not nearly, all of the following components: a short background lecture about the issue, a series of short readings, in class and online student discussion about the issue/readings, a short quiz about the facts surrounding the issue, and a short written response essay (see online appendix A for the Roots Master Syllabus).

In addition to the theme-specific parts of the course, there is a term-length research project, which constitutes 20 percent of the course grade for students in most sections. The project is broken into four Library Research Assignments (LRAs) and culminates in a final written paper/essay. Across the four LRAs, students are asked to go through a progression from general topic idea to research questions to thesis statement, find sources of particular formats (e.g., books, newspaper articles), write about how those sources help answer the students' research questions and/or inform the students' theses, and cite all materials in Chicago Style. More specifically, students must find a contemporary newspaper article and encyclopedia entry on their topic (LRA I), two books addressing the historical roots of their topic (LRA II and IV), an article from a scholarly history journal, and a documentary (e.g., historical newspaper article) or non-documentary (e.g., speech, letter, diary, interview) primary source (LRA III). LRA IV also requires students to submit an outline of their essay, a bibliography of their collected sources, and demonstrate they know how to use footnotes in Chicago citation style. The final essay is five to seven pages in length and must include a minimum of six sources (see online appendix B for the Final Essay Instructions).

The creation and delivery of the LRAs/final essay is a joint venture of the Roots Program and Library Instruction team. During fall term 2011, a Roots instructor and an instruction librarian wrote the rough drafts of the LRAs and final essay guidelines. …

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