TLA 2009 Conference Program Abstract: How a small academic library went from teaching a handful of instruction sessions each year to 200 sessions by integrating information literacy throughout the general education curriculum.
Belmont is a private university in Nashville, Tennessee that brings together liberal arts and professional programs in a Christian community of about 5,000 students. Over the past few years the university has grown rapidly and expanded its programs, which gave us a prime opportunity to introduce an information literacy program. In 2005-2006 we extended an offer of instruction to all First Year Seminar and First Year Writing classes. However with no formal plan in place some freshmen received no instruction at all and others saw librarians twice in the same week and complained of overlapping content in the two courses. In the spring of 2006 the library director, associate provost, and an English faculty member attended the Transformation of the College Library Workshop in Boston, which was sponsored by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Council on Library and Information Resources. The goal for team members attending the workshop was to leave with a well-informed agenda for advancing information literacy on their campuses. This was the start of Belmont’s formal information literacy plan, which was soon thereafter formally approved by the Provost Council. A campus information literacy team, made up of librarians, faculty leaders from general education, and other faculty from various disciplines was formed to advise the librarians on how best to implement the plan. This top-down support created buy-in across campus and lent legitimacy to the plan that has been crucial to its success.
The comprehensive plan had three goals: integrate information literacy into the curriculum, review library space, and review collection development and allocations in regards to the new information literacy initiative. The first priority and the most extensive part of the plan was the first goal, integrating information literacy into the general education curriculum and eventually into each discipline. Specific competencies, based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, were identified for the two freshman general education courses, First Year Seminar and First Year Writing. Two junior level general education courses, Third Year Writing and Junior Cornerstone, would reinforce these competencies and introduce some more advanced skills. And finally, each discipline would create their own information literacy plans, identifying courses in which to teach specific competencies.
The First Year Seminar focuses on epistemology and encourages students to consider how they know what they know. Professors from various departments teach this course and each selects a different sub-topic which may be related to his or her discipline, but should be approached interdisciplinarily. Given the emphasis on fostering critical thinking and intellectual inquiry, we decided to map this course to ACRL standards one, three and four:
I. The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
III. The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
IV. The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.
Accordingly, our instruction for students in First Year Seminar deals with the research process and the importance of evaluating sources. Students work in small groups to analyze potential sources for their argumentative paper and answer questions about their quality, appropriateness, and usefulness. First Year Writing is the introductory composition class and aims to help students develop reading and research skills. Our instruction for First Year Writing classes is very “hands-on” and focuses almost exclusively on ACRL standard two: “The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.” Students are introduced to the fundamentals of using the Bunch Library and general search strategies. They are then given an opportunity to search the online catalog and a general subscription database.
Standard five, “The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally,” is currently only covered as part of the Building Information Literacy Skills (BILS) Tutorials, which First Year Writing Students are expected to have completed before receiving this instruction.
While we do not currently offer instruction to as many sections of Third Year Writing and Junior Cornerstone as First Year Seminar and First Year Writing, we have established relationships with faculty coordinators for these courses and have worked with an increasing number of Junior Cornerstone and Third Year Writing sections over the past two years.
We always endeavor to tailor the instruction to the unique needs of the instructor and class, but in the cases of these General Education classes we are also very interested in standardizing what competencies are taught so that students will be exposed to the same content regardless of which librarian works with their section. In the case of Junior Cornerstone this becomes somewhat problematic.
Junior Cornerstone employs problem-based learning to enrich students’ research, writing and critical thinking skills. Students collaborate on a large scale project in teams of four or five for the duration of the semester. Instead of establishing a specific set of competencies to address in every section of Junior Cornerstone, we offer a menu of offerings from which the professors may choose. These offerings range from basic, for example evaluating web pages, to advanced, such as conducting a literature review. Standardization is not a serviceable option in these classes because the projects vary so radically that the information needs of one Junior Cornerstone section differ entirely from the next.
Third Year Writing uses thematically linked assignments to enhance the critical thinking, reading, writing and research abilities of juniors. The competencies for Third Year Writing are standardized and may be seen as an extension of the competencies built in First Year Writing. We discuss how to find the full text of sources identified in bibliographies, textbooks, online, and in other texts, which often demands a refresher on the components and style of citations. We also cover more advanced search strategies and focus on subject-specific sources and vocabulary.
The general education components of our information literacy (IL) program will continue to be refined and promoted, but the general education piece is on solid ground. The focus is now being placed on individual disciplines. Each department is being asked to create an information literacy plan, which will become a part of its annual plan. The university’s annual plan format requires that this information be included, and provides a template for reporting it. In most cases, departments are already addressing IL in their programs; they simply have not labeled it as such. To complete the IL portion of the annual report, the department will review its written learning objectives and identify those which address IL competencies. The next step will be to identify the courses in which those particular learning objectives are met. Finally, within each course, specific assignments that develop the IL competencies will be identified or created.
To date, we have collaborated with a few departments on campus to work through the departmental IL plan process. The Psychology Department was the pilot program for this work. Dr. Lonnie Yandell, professor of psychology, is also the co-director of the Junior Cornerstone program, and was very familiar with our IL goals. He worked closely with us to map out the learning objectives, courses, and specific assignments within the psychology curriculum that address information literacy. Two specific courses were identified: an introductory level class and an upper-level research methods course. Both of these classes include lab components, during which we work with students on developing research skills specific to psychology research. Several of the health sciences departments have begun writing information literacy plans by identifying learning objectives and specific courses. Still another department, Communication Studies, has asked for assistance in creating a research guide for the Fundamentals of Speech Communication course. The avenues to library/department cooperation are numerous and varied. We will continue to work with faculty to help them use library services and resources to their best advantage. To inform and assist them, we have created a wiki, “Information Literacy Across the Curriculum.” The wiki defines information literacy, explains its importance, and links to the ACRL competency standards. It lists the members of the campus IL team, provides a three-year action plan, and details the current status of information literacy integrated into the General Education curriculum and specific disciplines. Templates and sample information literacy plans are included.
Assessment thus far has focused on the freshman courses, and on the faculty’s perception of the value of the IL program. We created a test based on IL competencies presented in First Year Seminar, First Year Writing, and the BILS tutorial. This multiple-choice test is now included in the battery of computer proficiency tests that all freshmen must pass. We wrote the test questions, then piloted a paper and pencil version of the test with several of the freshman general education classes, and with our student employees. In addition to answering the test questions, the students were asked to comment on them, and on the test overall, as to its clarity or ambiguity, its inclusion of unfamiliar terms or concepts, and whether the answer choices seemed logical. This student feedback was used to refine the test questions before working with the computer proficiency administrator to migrate the paper version into an electronic format. The test includes a brief survey portion regarding the ways in which students use Bunch Library’s services and resources, and whether they have had class instruction from a librarian prior to taking the test. At the end of each semester, test results are provided by the computer proficiency administrator, and are used to identify weaknesses in student knowledge, and necessary adjustments to the IL curriculum or to the test itself.
Also at the end of each semester, the First Year Seminar and First Year Writing faculty who have participated in our instruction program are surveyed. By means of an electronic form, they are asked to comment on the quality and usefulness of the instruction their students received, and on the impact that instruction had on the students’ work, particularly with research assignments. Most of the feedback has been very positive, and has served both to reinforce the IL program and to promote it to faculty who have not yet been involved with it.
The original comprehensive plan had as one of its goals the rethinking of the library space, its configuration and current use. In order to move the IL program forward, a dedicated instruction space was desirable, and the reference area of the library was ready for a facelift. The former reference area provided only eight computers, on which students could access the internet, the library’s online catalog, and e-mail. Other computing needs required them to use a lab on the opposite side of the floor. The reference area was crowded with index tables and study carrels that were rarely used, and with many outdated print index sets. A sizeable weeding project was undertaken, along with the removal of extraneous furniture. The area was reconfigured to make more efficient use of space for housing print and microform resources, and to create an open area for study and research. Upgraded library kiosks, arranged in pods of three or five, now hold twenty-eight computers offering access to the internet, online library resources, and desktop publishing applications. Study tables provide opportunity for quiet group collaboration or space for individuals to spread out their work. Several pockets of upholstered chairs with worktops create comfortable nooks for reading and laptop use. This open-space computer lab, located in close proximity to reference materials and the reference desk, affords students one location in which to complete various study tasks.
The former computer lab was repurposed for use as an information literacy classroom. It provides 30 workstations in a self-contained space, along with a data projector, Smartboard, and instructor’s podium. Instruction and hands-on practice can be offered simultaneously, with students using their own research topics, and librarians available to assist and advise. The classroom is reserved through the reference desk; information literacy instruction takes first priority. When no classes are scheduled, other faculty may reserve the room for activities for which each student needs a computer, and during extremely busy times, the room provides extra computer availability to students.
The comprehensive plan’s third goal was to review the library’s collection development and budget allocation processes. Each of Bunch Library’s seven librarians was assigned as a liaison to several academic departments. The liaison role is still being fleshed out; among the responsibilities are communication with departments, facilitating acquisition of library materials to support department curricula, and working with departmental order coordinators to review budget expenditures and identify possible savings. Another responsibility, and a somewhat unique one, is to identify the level of research required in each course offered by the department. Working with department heads, liaisons will review course syllabi and rate each course according to a scale developed by the university’s Faculty Senate Library Committee. The course ratings will then be factored into the library’s budget allocation formula. This process will improve the equity of budget allocations across departments, and provide information which can contribute to the development of departmental information literacy plans, as mentioned above.
How’s it working so far? We count as successes the positive response from General Education faculty and the increase in the number of requests for instruction sessions. Information literacy is named as one of the university’s learning goals, and the recognition of its importance is evidenced by its inclusion in the mandatory freshman competency testing. The self-contained classroom makes it possible to provide more comprehensive and consistent instruction within the General Education courses. The proximity of the research and study area to the reference desk has made it easier and more comfortable for students to ask for help.
What’s next? Plans are to expand the IL program throughout the university curricula. Proactive marketing is one strategy. Faculty who are already on board provide support, testify to the benefits of the program to their students, and give credibility to it. By enlisting IL team members from departments where the library does not yet have a presence, we hope to advance knowledge and understanding of the importance of producing information literate students and citizens.
Association of College and Research Libraries Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency.cfm
Bunch Library Information Literacy Across the Curriculum Wiki. http://bunchlibrary.pbworks.com/Information+Literacy+Across+the+Curriculum
Information Literacy Action Plan 2006-09
Information Literacy General Education Competencies Checklist
Junior Cornerstone Instruction Menu