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Information Literacy Toolkit

Lesson plans and conversation prompts for learning about the ARCL Framework

Quick Assessment

Why assess?

For students, assessment frames the lesson. As in, it shows what will be or what has been taught. Assessment also helps us understand if they've understood the lesson. Could they apply what they've been taught to future research?

For instructors, assessment helps us understand our students better and become better teachers. What level of knowledge do students bring to the class? What level do they leave with? How could the lesson be improved? 

Librarians often have limited classroom time, so these assessment ideas are all quick ways to obtain immediate feedback - the kind most relevant to instructors themselves. 

Some basic concepts of assessment from Northwestern Libraries:

  • Assessment practices should ultimately make your job easier, and make your instruction more rewarding for everyone
  • Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good
  • Monitor changes in student behavior
  • Look for ways that you can improve your session to better meet the needs of the students and faculty
  • It may seem counter-intuitive, but it really is fun to assess your success!

Finish the Class: Pen and Paper Assessment

Asking students to write a sentence or two at the end of class uses a minimal amount of that precious in-class time. Here are two quick written assessment exercises:

Muddiest point: Hand students a small piece of paper. On one side, have them write one takeaway that they learned or found useful about the lesson. On the other side, have them write one point that they still aren't clear about, that they didn't understand. You could vary this by having students use separate post-its.

Minute writing: Give students no more than a minute or two to answer a single question related to the lesson. This will help you understand their comprehension and level of learning. Use a timer to limit long answers. When asking for a written response like this, remember that restating facts, summarizing information, and applying learned information to new circumstances all require different levels of understanding and skill. 

Example questions: 

  • What does "peer-review" mean?
  • What is authority? Who has it and how do they get it?

Start the Class with a Quick Poll

Starting the class with a poll can help determine what knowledge and opinions students students bring to the classroom. It also promotes active learning through engagement (you need my opinion?). 

Example questions:

  • Have you ever visited the library?
  • Have you heard of "peer-reviewed journals"? 
  • Would you consider someone with a PhD to be an expert?
  • Do you use Google when conducting research?

After asking the question, follow up. Use the results to inform your teaching. As you have also just set the stage for learning about a new topic, you might choose to follow with:

  • an explanation (the Ryerson library is located next to the SLC, and today I'll cover what resources...)
  • follow up questions (who can explain peer-review?)
  • or a discussion (what makes someone an expert?)

Polling students by asking them to physically raise their hands is as classic and easy as can be. 

You can also poll students online using any of these classroom response (discussion) tools, which allow you to capture a range of options instead of just yes or no answers. These tools also allow you to retain response data, which is useful if starting a discussion (eg. "it looks like about half of the class agreed with the statement that you should always cite when paraphrasing ideas. Why is that?"). These statistics can also be useful when teaching multiple sections or related courses. Polling students after class also becomes possible with electronic tools, and you can always ask faculty to send out a short survey after class. 

Bookend the Class: Pretest and Posttest

Having a pretest and a posttest frames your instruction session i.e. it makes it clear to students that this is what is being taught. A pretest allows you to establish what knowledge students already have on a topic. A posttest allows you to determine what they've learnt from the lesson. 

books on shelf

Imagine testing students on this question: "What is authority?" The pretest will get students thinking about this complex topic, and allow you to understand their initial thoughts. A posttest of the same question should show proof of learning based on the instruction with a much clearer and focused idea of what authority is. For example results of such pretests and posttests, see this article: "If We Frame It, They Will Respond: Undergraduate Student Responses to the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education" (2017). The author Rachel Scott uses her assessment results to argue that students are able to tackle the complex topics, like authority, that are a part of the ACRL Framework. 

Bonus: Use that Data

This page has covered quick assessment tools that look at one instruction session and are meant to help out one instructor, you. However, there's no reason that you can't take assessment further if you feel inspired. For example:

  • Take the same poll for all of your classes and record the data. At the end of the semester, you might be able to demonstrate a trend and make your case: "Most students haven't been to the library before they came for my class. Bringing me into your class for library instruction is really helpful for promoting what we do."
  • As long as you don't share sensitive information, there's no reason not to share positive feedback with faculty or other librarians. For instance, if you found that most students reported in the muddiest point exercise that they now understand how to separate scholarly from popular materials, share that. And, let your colleagues know about your lesson plan.
  • On that note, post-its are highly instagrammable (again, never post anything sensitive or without permission). 
  • A pretest and posttest clearly demonstrate learning that occurs within class time. Specifically, these tests can show how (well) students react to difficult concepts, like the ACRL Framework. 
  • Finding ways to make your data comparable to other collected data, or thinking about long term data collection and preservation, are also excellent enhancements to what you're already doing.

Finally, here's a little reminder on why it all matters. This literature review by Mezick (2014) shows the value of library instruction and major assessment studies of this: 

"Library use, particularly in the early weeks of a student's first semester, has been shown to be associated with retention (Haddow & Joseph, 2010). First-time, first-year undergraduate students who use the library were found to have a higher Grade Point Average (GPA) for their first semester and higher retention from fall to spring than non-library users (Soria, Fransen, & Nackerud, 2013).....Provision of library instruction or information literacy programs has been identified as an important contributor to student academic engagement (Breivik, 1977; Mark & Boruff-Jones, 2003). The extent of library training was discovered to be an excellent early indicator of first-time full-time student engagement and retention, with training in how to use library resources having particularly useful academic consequences as a predictor of GPA in the first and second semesters (Gammell, Allen, & Banach, 2012)."

"Relationship of Library Assessment to Student Retention"