Teaching and Assessing Information Literacy

Preparing students for next-generation demands by improving their research skills
By: | Issue: October, 2014
January 14, 2015

Numerous studies have shown that today’s students are struggling to make sense of the overwhelming amount of data now available. Recent developments in K12 curriculum and assessmentÑsuch as the adoption of Common Core and similar state standards, and changes to the SATÑreflect an increased focus on developing critical-thinking skills and underline the importance of helping students find, evaluate and use information more effectively. This web seminar, originally broadcast on August 20, 2014, featured a district media specialist and information literacy expert who discussed the growing importance of information literacy for all students, whether they’re planning to attend college or to start a career.

Adam Blackwell
Product Manager Lead

While at The University of Utah, I taught a basic intro to scholarly research course for freshmen. I found that my students tended to all have the same problems when it came to doing any kind of scholarly research. One big problem was that they struggled to distinguish between credible and not credible sources. The concept of “scholarly” was very fuzzy to them. They thought it was synonymous with “serious,” and so they’d reason, “The New York Times, that’s a serious newspaperÑso it must be a scholarly source.” Here’s another way of looking at why students struggle with doing scholarly research. Suppose I was new in town and I asked students at your campus, “Can you help me find a good Mexican restaurant?” They’d have no trouble finding that information. And suppose I said, “I want to get my son a basketball game for the XboxÑwhat would you recommend?” Again, they would be very good at finding appropriate sources to answer that question with reliable information.

The issue arises when they take these strategies, which work very well for what we might call “consumer research,” and apply them when researching a question which is scholarly in nature. Suppose I ask, “Would an increase in the consumption of genetically modified food pose a public health risk?” Many struggle because they apply consumer-research strategies when they’re doing scholarly research. Frustration about the different approach to scholarly research will likely increase, because of the growing emphasis on understanding and implementing the core information literacy principles of finding, evaluating and using information. That’s true when we’re talking about assessment as well. The recent changes in the SAT put a much greater emphasis than ever before on understanding how information can be used as evidence.

Holly Ruffner
District Media Specialist
Palm Beach County Schools (Fla.)

I am the specialist in charge of acquisitions and professional development for library media services for the school district of Palm Beach County, Florida. We have 185 schools, with about 178,000 students and 23 high schools. We are launching an implementation of the Research Companion product in our high schools in hopes of addressing the problems that Adam outlined. Our vision for an information literacy product and the implementation of ProQuest Research Companion this fall is two-fold: to enhance the information literacy and critical thinking skills of our students, and to foster greater collaboration between library media specialists and content-area teachers.

Librarians believe that information literacy skills are best taught at the point of needÑi.e., embedded in an assignmentÑand that they’re best taught in collaboration with a content-area teacher, rather than as a standalone lesson about how to cite or validate sources. Students learn and use these skills more effectively when they’re part of a real task or assignment that is important to them. Another goal of our school libraries is to provide virtual support for as many students as possible 24/7. So our databases, our library catalogue and this tool are available from home and school. For students who may not have internet access at home, our school district partners with the public libraries to try to help fill in those gaps. An information literacy tool such as Research Companion can also facilitate educator professional development. Florida Standards now direct content-area teachers to assign more research projects to their students. Some teachers are not formally trained in validating sources, in citing materials, in creating works-cited lists, and so forth. So they’ll be looking to their library media specialist to support the students in that work.

Blackwell: One of the key aspects of ProQuest Research Companion is a series of learning modules that are short instructional videos. There are about 100 videos, most about a minute and a half long. These videos cover the entire research process, everything from how to choose a topic to how to find information, evaluate sources, write a thesis statement, organize an argument, avoid plagiarism and make revisions. Each of these videos was designed to resolve a specific research problem. For example, one video discusses using different search strategies depending on the search tool. If you are searching in your library catalogue versus searching the whole open web versus searching a subscription database, there are different search strategies that will be appropriate. To better assess learning and outcomes, each video also includes pre- and post-assessment questions. The assessment questions allow students to test their knowledge of key subjects, such as how to recognize primary sources and how to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

The five different types of pre- and post-assessment questions allow educators to identify gaps in their students’ understanding and to measure the effectiveness of the video training. Within the Administrative function, librarians and administrators can view data for your school, your institution or your district. Reports include an overall breakdown of the number of users who have registered, how they’ve done on the self-check (“pre”) questions and how they’ve done on the review (“post”) questions. There’s also a report analysis by module. The second component of Research Companion is a series of tools designed to help students effectively complete basic research tasks. One tool is the Source Evaluation Aid. Using a simple, Google-like interface, the tool provides information that allows a user to determine whether a source is appropriate for scholarly research in general and their research project in particular. For example, they can enter the title of a periodical or the URL of an article and find out whether the publication is scholarly, or if it has in fact been identified as a hate site by a watchdog organization, for example.

All of this becomes a critical-thinking lesson about the importance of being skeptical about how sites describe themselves. ProQuest Research Companion combines short instructional videos with easy-to-use interactive tools to create a foundation for lifelong learning. It helps students find, evaluate and use information more effectively. At the same time, it empowers them to think critically about all aspects of their researchÑwhatever that research is and wherever it leads them.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to http://www.districtadministration.com/ws082014

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