Harper’s Library Staff is Here to Help Improve Students’ Information Literacy SkillsSubmitted by Jennifer Lau-Bond, Library Services

Every year, Harper assesses one of the General Education Learning Outcomes, and this year that means assessing information literacy. Since information literacy is one of the Library’s primary goals, we would like to share some ideas about what it means and how you might be able to better incorporate these skills into your courses.

Harper’s Information Literacy General Education Outcome states students should be able to “Apply a variety of credible sources to support a given topic.” This outcome sounds straightforward, but it may be helpful to examine it further to get a better sense for the complex set of skills involved when we talk about information literacy.

“Variety of Credible Sources”

Many people equate this phrase with information literacy, and certainly it is a foundational part of the conversation. Information literate students should be able to identify “good” sources, right? Unpacking that further, however, reveals an extraordinarily complex task. To complete even a minor research exercise, students need to be able to understand:

  • When sources are necessary (and when they are not) and how much information is required for their purpose
  • What types of sources are available to them (by format, by subject matter, by audience, etc.)
  • How to search for and access those sources (including identifying tools, their restrictions, and processes involved to use them)
  • How to evaluate information in the context of their need, and why evaluation even matters in the first place
  • Which of the available sources best meet their current need

Moreover, students need to be able to make these assessments every time they have an information need, and the answers to the questions will vary by developmental level and purpose. The answers also change over time as the world changes.

“Apply”

Information literacy doesn’t stop with the finding of information, though. Students need to be able to use the information they gather in appropriate, meaningful, and ethical ways. This means information literacy is inextricably tied to other key skills like reading, writing, critical thinking, and academic integrity. While this year’s assessment is using papers to assess information literacy skills, that isn’t the only way to demonstrate such skills. Students can “apply” information they gather in all kinds of ways, such as:

  • Annotated bibliographies
  • Videos
  • Speeches
  • Artwork
  • Discussions on Blackboard

Even more importantly, students need to be able to apply these skills to real world situations after school.

“Support a Given Topic”

During school, this one is obvious: students need to do research for given assignments. It’s important to remember that the goal is not simply to teach students how to do research in school, however. Information literacy means being better prepared to interpret a regulation at their job, research companies they want to work for, make health care decisions for their family, or choose who to vote for in an election. The information landscape is constantly changing, and students may have needs none of us can even anticipate, but the goal is for them to learn foundational skills that can transcend technology and purpose.

Information Literacy Across the Curriculum

Like most skills one learns in school, what at first sounds simple turns out to be more complicated. The good news is, however, these skills are being taught across all disciplines at Harper all the time. Those of you teaching courses that map to the Information Literacy General Education Outcome are most obviously involved in teaching these skills, and it’s why assessing this year’s Outcome is so important.

It can be argued, though, that every class in every discipline at Harper involves at least some level of information literacy skills. For instance, even requiring a textbook contains underlying information literacy lessons. If you spend a few minutes sharing with students why you chose this exact textbook and why it’s authoritative, you’ve taught them something about evaluating information in your discipline. These micro lessons happen every day, and we encourage all faculty to consider how they can look for new ways to make those lessons even more explicit.

At the Harper College Library

Of course, at the Library we spend a great deal of our time either directly teaching students information literacy skills or finding ways to better support faculty teaching those skills in classrooms. Here are just a few of the services we offer:

  • Instruction: Normally we offer instruction both in person and virtually, although currently we are entirely virtual. Our Online Librarian program can pair your course with a librarian available in your Blackboard site to share information or answer questions from students. Email us at lrcrefdk@harpercollege.edu if you are interested in hearing more.
  • Online learning materials: The Library offers materials for faculty who may not need direct instruction but still want to incorporate information literacy into a course. You can find tutorials and short directions on our guide for Remote Library Services and on the Tutorials page on our website, and we’d be happy to help you identify additional materials. We also have a new database called InfoLit Core, which is a full-fledged information literacy learning and assessment tool. Look for more about this exciting resource in the coming months.
  • Research appointments: We offer 15-minute individual appointments with students (currently only offered online), which we consider personalized instruction sessions. We encourage you to direct your students to this service early and often! Many faculty members even offer credit or extra credit for students who meet with us.

Questions or want more information? Contact librarian Jennifer Lau-Bond at jlaubond@harpercollege.edu.