Information Literacy Competency Assessment – Stage One – Paul Bedard
Winter 2021 MTH 114-01, 120-60, 104-66, 210-01
The Plan: Require all my students to compose a brief essay on a mathematician from outside American/western European culture, and find two reliable sources. The students were also required to state WHY they found these sources reliable. As a resource, I used a beautiful guide and checklist provided by Jane Lewandoski. Students had to appropriately cite their sources and use internal citations on information within the paragraph. The essays were worth 25 points or 2.5% of the final course grade.
Implementation: I assigned the paragraph mid-semester and the students had two weeks to complete the assignment.
The Results: Most students found two sources and reported why they found them reliable. Those who did not had their essays returned, and/or lost points.
Most students, disappointingly, did not appropriately use the checklist or refer to statements from the checklist to justify the reliability of their sources. I found statements like:
“These sources are reliable because many people use them.”
“These sources are reliable because they are from a website that is not dot com.”
“These sources are probably reliable because they are themselves based on reliable sources.”
All students showed some awareness that unreliable sources exist and that some critical thinking is required to find reliable sources. However, they currently lack what I would consider minimal competency in the area of Information Literacy.
The Follow-Up: My plan is to add an additional assignment, in which the students will have to actually check off the checklist Jane provided for their sources and use “fuzzy set theory” to assign a number between 0 and 1, where 0 is a completely unreliable source and 1 is a perfectly reliable source, based on how their sources satisfy the checklist. I also intend to discuss the results with Jane and compare my students to the population she sees in Library sessions.
Going Forward: I will share my assessment within my discipline and division, and look for more ideas from my colleagues.
I know many of us struggle with the information literacy competency. In research an assignment for one of my courses I came across the Learning for Justice website: https://www.learningforjustice.org/podcasts/the-mind-online
Students can listen to a podcast or read the transcript there is a series of questions to answer where they can "receive a certificate" for each episode. There are 12 episodes, on various topics that can be linked to a variety of different courses.
Searching for information about the author or organization responsible for the website, article, or book is an excellent way of evaluating sources. This method is called lateral reading.
The video "Lateral Reading" created by Robert Detmering, Amber Willenborg, and Terri Holtze from the University of Louisville Libraries presents useful ideas. The video is about four minutes long. The UL website also has a nifty handout you may want to download.
"Information literacy supports pedagogy focused on the development of effective research, critical thinking, and writing or other communication skills. Most faculty can identify these key characteristics in courses they currently are teaching. Instead of creating new courses based on an entirely new concept, the current classes faculty teach can become starting points for creating a more structured information literacy initiative, one in which information literacy strategies are incorporated within courses in the major fields of study."
Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Developing Research & Communication Skills: Guidelines for Information in the Curriculum. 2003.
Below is a list of resources to help you avoid plagiarism and cite your sources correctly.
Here are the scenarios I ended up with in my introductory 1-credit course. Each is based on the module it corresponds to, gradually getting more in-depth. I will share other sources and responses afterward.
Module 1: Introduction to Online Information
Your boss has asked you to perform a market report on the beverage industry for a client meeting. You have tried finding relevant information through search engines, but you cannot find good quality information that is free to use. Most of the information out there is more about products and marketing, not how the industry is performing overall. What do you do?
You have determined that you are not able to access the information you need in a freely available format. This means you will need to turn to subscription sources. Thankfully your public library has a subscription to business information, including industry analyses, so you are able to get this information and compile the report your boss needs by the deadline.
Module 2: Search Strategies
You are a teacher and have seen a rise in the use of fidget spinners by students in your class. You have heard that the use of these fidget spinners may help lower the rate of students acting out, but you are worried they may be distracting. However, when you try to learn more, you are stymied by no results, or very few that are relevant. What is your next step?
You decide to reflect carefully on your search terms. 'Acting out' is a very informal term, and may be limiting your results too much. Brainstorming other ways to say this, you find that 'disruptive behavior' encompasses what you are looking for. You also identify that 'distraction' is an area to learn more about. You end up with two different search statements: fidget spinners AND disruptive behavior and fidget spinners AND distraction. You are pleased to find a wealth of information to investigate.
Module 3: The Library Catalog
Your cousin has just been diagnosed with autism. You would like to research autism to learn more about it, but Google searches are a little crazy... (who knew there were so many conspiracy theories out there!). You would like a nice overview of the condition that is in-depth enough for you to know what to expect. Where do you go?
Some topics can be hard to research using Google, especially those that are or have become controversial. Unfortunately, autism is one of those topics. You instead decide to look for a book that will introduce you to the condition and give you a good overview. Using the library catalog, you locate a book published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and written by two doctors, so you feel confident the information is from a trustworthy source.
Module 4: Academic Search Complete
You work in an HR department for a business. Recently there has been discussion on the implications of a new overtime law. Your boss is not sure exactly what the law entails and what has been discussed so far. He has asked you to explore this and bring it back to him. Where do you go?
This is a topic that is very recent and timely and still developing. It also encompasses a few different areas, including business and law. For that reason, you decide to check a multidisciplinary database that has a good collection of newspapers, magazines, and trade publications. You are able to find some recent discussions of the law in newspapers and in trade publications for the HR industry. When the issue becomes more concrete, you may need to do further research and consult specialized sources, but for now your boss is happy with this information.
Module 5: JSTOR and Non-Periodical Databases
It's your first week interning at the campus art gallery and an important exhibit from an early 20th century painter is being curated and prepared for display. Your boss tasks you with designing an program to accompany the exhibit. She specifically tells you to include high-quality images of select art from the exhibit along with key quotes from contemporary and historic critics on the artist. Where do you start?
While you have a list of the highlighted artwork and its details from your coworkers, you need to track down criticism and images of the artwork. Thankfully, two databases will help you in your goals. JSTOR's collection of journals from the 1800s to present helps you locate articles and editorials written in art history and other relevant journals. For high-quality images, you turn to Artstor and are able to find several of the highlighted paintings, download the images, and add them to your draft design. Now, if only there were more hours in the day...
Module 6: Subject-Specific Databases
You work in psychiatrist's office. A new procedure has just been created, where all patients will receive a suicide screener as a way to quickly connect patients to mental health resources to prevent later crises. You have been asked to research information on studies on suicide screeners, including the trends, the variables used, and the specific screener being used. How do you begin?
The task at hand seems pretty daunting at first—you realize that your search could probably start anywhere. To help make the task more approachable, you decide to start with a subject-specific database search. Since psychiatry is a field in medicine, you determine that a medical database could be a good direction. Using the Health & Medicine database subject category, you find PubMed, a medical database overseen by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. To begin your search, you use the search statement suicide AND (screener OR screening) and sort by Best Match. You are pleased to see that many results regarding the use of suicide screeners in various medical centers are available.
Sources I was pointed to:
Fall semester of 18 I had a class of freshman. I showed them how to find the sample ballot (from Milwaukee) that asked if Milwaukee should legalize marijuana. We had a discussion about identifying reputable web information and then I tasked them with doing a web search to find information about recreational marijuana (so they could know more about the topic). I had them share their results, and we discussed how it was relevant and the process to id it as reputable info.
I asked freshmen to do a search for a political/social topic they thought was important. After sharing those, I asked them to brainstorm what they thought would be the toughest objection to their stance on the issue. They then had to do a search to find 1-3 sources of reputable information that they could use to write an editorial or letter to a politician to persuade them to take action.
I have also done a brainstorming activity with business students in which I ask them to imagine that they have been newly hired in HR and tasked with improving employee morale. I asked them to create a list of questions they would have.
I have also asked business students who were presenting completed research projects what advice they would give to themselves at the beginning of their project. (I sometimes ask medical students this too.)
I asked nursing students to imagine that they are working in pediatrics with parents who are concerned about having their child vaccinated. I asked them what they would say and what (if any) information they would offer to the parents and why?
This might be a bit different from what you need, but I’ve also asked literature students to describe the attributes of good and bad sources to use for a paper, find examples of each, show how they found them, and explain why they picked them (show and tell).