Assessing information literacy

Some thoughts on the opportunities and challenges when assessing students' IL skills...

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Katharine Reedy
12 March 2010

When deciding how best to assess information literacy skills, start with award and module learning outcomes.  Subject  benchmark statements can offer some ideas of both outcomes and how to assess them.

Teaching and learning activities should help students to develop their skills to the required level.  The OU Library has developed an Information Literacy Levels Framework for the undergraduate curriculum which suggests what students should be able to do by the end of each level.  It is designed to expand on the broad level indicators for information literacy set out in the OU's Undergraduate Levels Framework.  There will need to be a decision on whether to assess the product (for example, essay) or the process (how information was found, evaluated and used) or both.

Building IL skills is an iterative process which takes place gradually over the duration of a course or programme of study.  It should be made clear to students what they will be expected to know and do by the end of their module / degree programme and how they will learn it.  This information also helps teachers.  Short chunks of learning can work well, with plenty of formative assessment to build confidence, provide feedback and suggest how students can develop their skills further.  This does not all have to come from the tutor - e-assessment (for example, icMAs) is increasingly being used to help students with self-assessment of their skills. 

Self-reflection is important in the development of IL skills, and could be built in using tools such as e-portfolios or blogs. Peer-assessment could be carried out via forums or wikis.

Elluminate could be used by tutors to support students and carry out formative assessment.  Library staff are already using Elluminate to deliver training to students and are also investigating how it could be used interactively to support skills development.

Diagnostic assessment at the beginning of the course enables students to assess their current skills level and directs them to activities which will further build skills.  Info-Rate is the OU Library's diagnostic questionnaire: http://www.open.ac.uk/info-rate and directs students to Safari: http://www.open.ac.uk/safari  The OU Library is also developing a bank of generic information literacy activities which course teams can use to develop IL skills within the curriculum.

When addressing summative assessment of IL skills, one way could be to get students to put together a TMA in several stages.  For example, draft the plan and get formative feedback, gather information and produce and annotated bibliography (formative feedback, perhaps involving peer assessment, but no grades), and finally, write the essay (summative assessment, graded). Marks can be awarded for how information was found. There is some evidence that getting students to document this process can help prevent plagiarism.

Some challenges:

  • assessment of IL skills needs to cover divergent (open-ended) thinking, as well as convergent (objective, right-or-wrong answers). It’s relatively easy to come up with activities that do the latter but the former takes more doing.  For example, how do we assess critical evaluation skills?
  • how should the process of finding, evaluating and using information be assessed?

The OU Library is currently gathering examples of how IL is assessed in OU courses -  watch this space.

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Katharine Reedy
2:15pm 12 March 2010


Do you have any views on assessment of IL skills? Please add them here to get the conversation going.

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