What Five Minutes in the Classroom Can Do to Uncover the Basic Information Literacy Skills of Your College Students: A Multiyear Assessment Study

Ma Lei Hsieh, Patricia H. Dawson, Michael T. Carlin


Objective – Librarians at Rider University attempted to discern the basic information literacy (IL) skills of students over a two year period (2009-2011). This study aims to explore the impact of one-session information literacy instruction on student acquisition of the information literacy skills of identifying information and accessing information using a pretest/posttest design at a single institution. The research questions include: Do different student populations (in different class years, Honors students, etc.) possess different levels of IL? Does the frequency of prior IL Instruction (ILI) make a difference? Do students improve their IL skills after the ILI?

Methods – The librarians at Rider University developed the test instruments over two years and administered them to students attending the ILI sessions each semester. The test was given to students as they entered the classroom before the official start-time of the class, and the test was stopped five minutes into the class. A pretest with five questions was developed from the 1st ACRL IL Standards. A few demographic questions were added. This pretest was used in fall 2009. In spring 2010, a second pretest was developed with five questions on the 2nd ACRL IL Standards. Students of all class years who attended ILI sessions took the pretests. In 2010-2011, the pretest combining the 10 questions used in the previous year was administered to classes taking the required CMP-125 Research Writing and the BHP-150 Honors Seminar courses. An identical posttest was given to those classes that returned for a follow-up session. Only the scores from students taking both pretests and posttests were used to compare learning outcomes.

Results – Participants’ basic levels of IL skills were relatively low. Their skills in identifying needed resources (ACRL IL Standards 1) were higher than those related to information access (ACRL IL Standards 2). Freshmen in the Honors Seminar outperformed all other Rider students. No differences were found in different class years or with varying frequencies of prior IL training. In 2010-2011, students improved significantly in a few IL concepts after the ILI, but overall gains were limited.

Limitations – Many limitations are present in this study, including the challenge of developing ideal test questions and that the pretest was administered to a wide variety of classes. Also not all the IL concepts in the test were adequately addressed in these sessions. These factors would have affected the results.

Conclusions – The results defy a common assumption that students’ levels of IL proficiency correlate with their class years and the frequency of prior ILI in college. These findings fill a gap in the literature by supporting the anecdote that students do not retain or transfer their IL skills in the long term. The results raise an important question as to what can be done to help students more effectively learn and retain IL in college. The authors offer strategies to improve instruction and assessment, including experimenting with different pedagogies and creating different posttests for spring 2012.


information literacy; library instruction; assessment; pretests; posttests; academic libraries; statistics

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18438/B8DW4Z

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