Friday, November 05, 2010

Article Note: On Questions to Help You Choose the Best Assessment for Information Literacy

Citation for the article:

Oakleaf, Megan and Neal Kaske, "Guiding Questions for Assessing Information Literacy in Higher Education." portal: Libraries and the Academy 9.2 (2009): 273-286.

Read via Project Muse. 

The article is exactly what the title suggests: a set of basic questions for and about the assessment of information literacy in higher education. In other words, these are questions to consider as you embark on an assessment program and to help you decide on one program over another. There are no actual references to specific information literacy assessment programs and tools; you will need to read someplace else for that.

The article opens by giving readers a reminder of the three main reasons to do assessment: to increase student learning, to provide what the accrediting agencies want, and to improve our library instructional services. Tempted as I may be, I am not commenting on one or the other. My question at this point was more basic: is there still an institution out there not doing an assessment of some kind for their instructional program? Given the fairly consistent presence of some mention of information literacy in accreditor requirements, can any place afford not to assessment? You may have to change the way of doing the assessment or look for ways to improve it, but actually not doing it? Not that I expect anyone out there to suddenly comment and fess up to not doing it, but that was my curious question anyways for what little it may be worth.

The authors then suggest that if librarians and stakeholders respond to the guiding questions, then they can make the assessment process selection easier. The basic questions are:

  1. Are we ready to conduct an assessment of information literacy? 
  2. Why are we conducting this assessment? 
  3. What are the needs of assessment stakeholders? 
  4. Will the assessment tell us what we want to know? 
  5. What are the costs of the assessment? 
  6. What are the institutional implications of the assessment? 
The authors do add additional questions to some of the main questions above, which readers can see in the article. The above list includes the basics. The rest of the article is devoted then to discussing the questions, what they mean, and their significance in some detail.

Some notes:

  • "As Donald Barclay states, 'Unless evaluation will somehow improve the thing being evaluated, it is not worth doing'" (qtd. in 276). I just thought it was a good line. 
  • I found that there was a bit of contrast in attitude in terms of assessment as to improve student learning versus assessment for accountability. I saw this when the authors cited Popham on page and Pausch and Popp on the next page who favor each view respectively. I guess I wonder what is the reality in the field. Are we really doing assessments for the more altruistic reason of improving student learning, which as far as I am concerned is why we should be doing it, or are we doing it because we need to cover our collective rear ends when the accreditation agency comes along? I am trying not get cynical about it. 
  • Another reason assessment is useful: "Assessment can also support requests to continue or increase funding. This purpose is important for information literacy instruction programs, especially those that must justify their existence or risk losing financial support" (278). 
  • The old rule of you must adapt to your audience when making a presentation, in this case presenting the results of your assessment: "To ensure that audiences understand assessment results, librarians should consider who will see the final results and use their knowledge of stakeholders to determine how precise or detailed the results need to be and how quickly the results must be communicated" (278). 
  • Kind of a statement of the obvious: "Because assessment requires considerable effort to plan, collect, analyze, and report, librarians should avoid methods that will not result in new understanding of student learning or instructional programs" (279). 

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