Wednesday, January 28, 2015

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series: Using Assessment to Build Outcome-Based Information Literacy Sessions

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series

Using Assessment to Build Outcome-Based Information Literacy Sessions

Greg Kocken, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, SAA RAO Communications Liaison

I still remember my first experience getting in front of a group of undergraduate students tasked with helping them develop archival information literacy skills.  In all honesty, I likely walked away from that session learning more than those students.  Delivering my first information literacy sessions, I relied heavily (admittedly, too heavily) on utilizing PowerPoint.  This is how I was taught to teach information literacy, but I soon realized that this approach was not effective at connecting with students.  My only evidence, however, was anecdotal.  It quickly became apparent that I needed a stronger assessment strategy. Nearly four years ago, I began utilizing modified versions of two surveys distributed through the Archival Metrics Project, the Teaching Support survey and Researcher Questionnaire.[1]  I developed one survey to distribute to the instructors I worked with and another for the students who attended instructional sessions I delivered. Although my responses from students were generally very positive, once I discontinued my use of PowerPoint, I observed a noticeable increase in the overall positive responses from students.

These surveys were simply a preliminary step towards developing outcome-based information literacy sessions.  An effective assessment strategy is constantly evolving.  In addition to these surveys, I now conduct post-session meetings with instructors, develop and review assignments designed to gauge comprehension of archival information literacy skills, and participate in a peer evaluation process.  This holistic approach to assessment allows me to constantly improve the information literacy sessions I deliver. 
This assessment strategy has greatly improved my performance as an instructor, and allows me to make stronger connections with students.  Over the years, like other archivists who deliver information literacy sessions, I learned several things through an evolving assessment strategy.  First, a one-size-fits-all strategy does not work in archives.  When your goal is connecting with students across various disciplines, you must treat every information literacy session differently; there is no script.  Second, active learning opportunities are popular and effective.  When students have an opportunity to explore, engage and discuss archival materials they are more likely to retain information.  Third, exploring resource discovery tools is a necessary evil.  Instructors have repeatedly told me they want more hands-on experiences and less time discussing the nature of a finding aid.  In comparison to reading a 19th century pioneer’s letter, who wants to talk about the finding aid?  If, however, the goal is to help students not only understand the content but also the context of archives, then discussions of resource discovery tools is necessary.  Finally, I learned that the foundation for outcome-based information literacy sessions is a strong assessment strategy.

[1] Learn more about the archival metrics project online at

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