March 10th, 2011
The long line outside of a restaurant hints that the food is delicious. A thumbs up from Roger Ebert carries the promise of a good movie. A string of impressive touchdown passes signifies a great quarterback.
Identifying quality research sources online, though, is more difficult.
“It’s not hard to find information; it’s hard to find good information. You have to know the difference and then how to use the good information ethically,” said Megan Oakleaf, an assistant professor at Syracuse University School of Information Studies.
Oakleaf was on campus recently to lead a training session in establishing information literacy assessment tools. Information literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, and effectively use information. The visit was part of Oakleaf’s Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (RAILS) project, http://railsontrack.info/
Funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, RAILS is a three-year project that seeks to measure information literacy skills of college students. It is designed to help librarians and academic faculty develop and test rubrics that evaluate student learning and information literacy.
The WVU Libraries are among five academic libraries from across the nation selected to participate in the initiative. The results will contribute to research in this field.
“The Association of American Colleges and Universities is really excited,” Oakleaf said. “They’re eager to use what we learn.”
Last fall, Carroll Wilkinson, the Libraries’ Director of Instruction and Information Literacy attended an intense introductory training session for RAILS while participating in the Association of College and Research Libraries Assessment Immersion program.
“Though frontiers are never easy, it is exciting to be the first site in this research project. Substituting tests with a values rubric for assessment of information literacy learning is rich with possibilities for us here at WVU,” Wilkinson said.
One of the dilemmas facing academia today is the vast sea of information available. Students think they are at an advantage because the Internet makes so much accessible, but they’re actually at a disadvantage if they’re ill-equipped to navigate through it all.
“Students, generally speaking, don’t see the differences between good, bad, and mediocre information,” Oakleaf said. “That’s the most dangerous problem to have.”
Librarians teach about aspects of the research process to equip students with the skills necessary to find the best information. At WVU, the Libraries currently offer courses in basic library research, Film and Media Literacy, and Gender and the Research Process. Plans call for a course in information use and student success in the future.
During her visit to campus, Oakleaf spent a day working with nine librarians (Susan Arnold, Virginia Bender, Linda Blake, Kevin Fredette, Grace Gmeindl, Noel Kopriva, Barbara LaGodna, Beth Royall, and Jessica Tapia) and Dr. Bernadette Jungblut, Director of Assessment and Retention at WVU. The group examined rubrics to measure what students are learning when librarians teach.
Oakleaf explained that while tests work with facts, they are not a good fit for information literacy because everything is about context.
“With a paper, there are certain skills you can easily measure or judge,” Oakleaf said.
For example, an instructor can see how well a student used information in the paper and how well he used it to build an argument.
Other things to consider are if quotes and summarization were used appropriately and credit was given to the proper sources in the correct way. Instructors also evaluate whether the student found and used good sources.
“Rubrics articulate what you expect students to know. They also say, ‘this is what excellence looks like’,” Oakleaf said.
After a paper is returned, the student can see where she falls on the rubric. The rubrics show if the paper meets the standards or if improvements are necessary.
“When you can articulate the skills you’re seeking to teach to students, you can measure it in their work, and then you can better help your students to improve their research skills,” Oakleaf said. “Possessing good research skills enhances a student’s academic experience.”