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Literature Review


Information Literacy and the 12-13 Gap: A Review of the Literature

 

Introduction

The Information Literacy Standards developed by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and published in Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action (AASL, 2009) provide the basis of a systematic plan for information literacy instruction for the K-12 school years. As a student transitions from high school to college, the attainment of vital information literacy knowledge and skills should allow the student to approach college-level research with an acceptable degree of competence, needing only that information literacy instruction that is specific to college-level resources. In reality, information literacy instruction in K-12 curricula seems to be an ideal that is seldom achieved. In fact, an increasing number of school districts are devaluing library programs to the extent that there are no longer certified Library Media or Information Specialists in their schools. The lack of collaboration between school librarians and educators has resulted in a lack of preparedness on the part of new college freshmen, who possess little of the knowledge and few of the skills required to define an information need, locate and access appropriate information, critically evaluate information, or use information ethically and responsibly. This deficit of knowledge and skills greatly hampers students’ abilities to perform effective research and consequently, to demonstrate acceptable scholarship.

 

The following review of literature will examine the actual information seeking behaviors of young people and the resulting difficulties in the transition to college-level research requirements; identify potential remedies to the knowledge and skill deficits of new college freshmen; and explore avenues for collaboration between high school and college instructors and librarians that may result in a more successful and less stressful high school-to-college transition.

 

The Problem: Information Behaviors of Young People

 

The Google Generation

A group of researchers (Rowlands et al. 2008) used a number of methods in order to approximate a longitudinal study of the information behaviors of young people born after 1993 – known variously by labels such as the Google Generation or Digital Natives. The British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), an organization that supports higher education by providing leadership in the use of information and communications technology, commissioned the study in order to identify how young people were likely to access and interact with digital information in the future. The findings of the study were intended to guide and inform libraries and other information services so that they might provide effective services to this generation as they matured. The group conducted literature reviews focusing on three separate themes: studies about information behavior from the past 30 years that might isolate significant differences from one generation to the next; information behaviors of academic researchers before, during and after the digital transition; and the ways in which new technologies such as Web 2.0 have been adapted by users. They also examined previous longitudinal studies to determine how older generations had adapted to changes in the information environment. Finally, they conducted a deep log analysis of two web-based learning resources to look for evidence that would identify differences in approaches and preferences in information seeking behavior between generations.

 

Findings of this study reflected common information behaviors of this generation, described their perceptions of and interactions with the information environment, and identified implications that should concern the library community. The emergence of digital information and its influence on information behaviors has resulted in an increased preference for electronic content. Search engines are normally the first resources used to begin an information search, the emphasis being placed on identification of answers rather than the quality of resources. Information-seeking behaviors in the digital environment are characterized by shallow examination of resources – skimming rather than reading content – and frequent bouncing from one resource to the next. Content deemed useful is downloaded and saved for future reference. It should be noted that these online behaviors are exhibited by all generations, though, and not just the Google Generation. Additionally, though they are technologically more competent than older generations, they are no more likely than their elders to become early adopters of new technologies. The greater digital literacies of this generation are not likewise reflected in greater information literacy skills. They are just as likely as others in earlier generations to encounter difficulties formulating queries; they have trouble evaluating the relevance, accuracy, and authority of information; and the ease of the cut-and-paste method of information storage has led to an increased danger of plagiarism.

 

The implications of these findings should concern those in the education world, and libraries in particular. The authors assert that young people’s inability to understand the complexities of information storage and retrieval leads them to fall back on the familiar search engine as a primary information source. Library content is harder to navigate, in many cases students are not even aware that much of it exists, and when barriers to access are too high, the interface will likely be ignored. The authors strongly suggest that libraries try harder to raise awareness of their services and make their interfaces easier to use. They suggest that information literacy skills should be developed during the early years, because intervention at the college age is much less effective.

 

The findings of this study and the above recommendations point to an action plan for educators and librarians who are committed to improving young people’s use of libraries and digital resources. Students can become more effective users of information if they learn how it is created, stored, and accessed. Education about these topics would be much more effective as part of a sequenced curriculum in which teachers would scaffold instruction throughout the K-12 years. There is no denying that library content is more challenging to navigate and also less accessible when it is hidden behind a library portal or other interface. Library discovery tools are a significant step toward approximating the relative ease of the single Google search box, but the more students understand about the nature of information through education, the more sense they will make out of the experience of finding and using information effectively.

 

Pew Research Report

A recent Pew Internet Research Project (Purcell et al. 2012) reports data from a series of focus groups consisting of middle and high school teachers and students, and the findings of an online survey of over 2000 middle and high school Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers. The goal of the focus group discussions was to discover the opinions of students and teachers about how digital technologies are shaping students’ research behaviors. Questions for the survey were developed based upon the responses of the focus groups. The sample population was diverse in terms of geographic location, subject matter, school size and community, but was by nature more educationally advanced and therefore perhaps not representative of the general population. However, the findings are significant in that they corroborate findings from other studies referenced in this review.

 

In general, teachers who responded to the survey believed that the digital environment has had a mostly positive impact on students’ research habits in terms of access to information and information formats, and in building the students’ self-reliance as researchers. Teachers believed that the majority of students’ ability to use appropriate search terms and queries and to understand how Internet search results are generated was either good, very good, or excellent. They were evenly divided in their opinions about students’ ability to use multiple sources to support an argument. However, the majority believed that the overwhelming amount of information on the Internet discouraged students from seeking out other sources. The group believed the majority of students did not fare well with assessing the quality and accuracy of online information, persisting when information was hard to find, or recognizing bias. In summary, the teachers believed that research has devolved from an intellectual process of discovery to a short-term search for just enough information to get the job done.

 

Of particular interest in these findings is the revelation that even advanced students who are able to locate information with relative ease still struggle with the process of assessing the information they find. This reinforces the notion that the ability to access information effectively is not in itself an indication that a student will perform equally well with all of the other competencies required for scholarly research. These competencies are not innate, and although intelligent and motivated students will no doubt strive to master the competencies in order to achieve academic success, they need to be guided and informed by teachers and librarians through systematic information literacy instruction that is integrated into the curriculum.

 

Rutgers Study

A study at Rutgers (Varlejs et al. 2013) attempted to isolate factors that led to students’ successful or unsuccessful transfer of information literacy skills from high school to college. Researchers identified students who did well or poorly on assignments in first-year course that required the use of information literacy skills. After the data were sorted researchers interviewed librarians at the high schools that had produced the highest and lowest scorers to learn about the librarians’ backgrounds, their interactions with teachers, their resources, and the information literacy levels of their students. Of chief interest was the level of collaboration, coordination, or cooperation between librarians and teachers at the high schools.

 

No obvious correlation could be made between the librarians’ educational qualifications, years of service, and librarian-to-student ratio. However, it was reported that students who had higher SAT scores and plans to attend a four-year college also had higher information literacy scores. Librarians felt that Advanced Placement (AP) students were able to find resources more easily, but no more able than their peers to synthesize and evaluate the information they found in those resources. The abilities of other students were difficult to categorize. Although the results of the study did not yield the clear results that had been hoped for, it was reasonable to conclude that either the students were not receiving adequate information literacy instruction in high school or that they were not processing and retaining the instruction that was provided. A number of factors were identified as barriers to achieving information literacy in high school, such as lack of student motivation, lack of information literacy instruction in teacher education, and school policies. Although blame for this failure cannot be solely assigned to the librarians, the students, or the teachers, it was clear that real collaboration between librarians and teachers was rare, and that librarians feel powerless to effect change on their own. Real improvement will be made only when a commitment to information literacy becomes a part of the overall education agenda.

 

Using the Data

The Rutgers researchers were unable to draw an obvious conclusion from the data they collected because there was no one simple answer to the dilemma faced by school librarians everywhere. They have a mandate to contribute to their students’ education by helping them become more capable and responsible users of information, but in many cases this mandate is not reflected in school curricula or supported by school administrations and faculty. One high school librarian (Allen 2007) realized that a coordinated and comprehensive effort would be required to design and implement the type of information literacy curriculum so necessary in today’s information landscape. She was awarded a sabbatical to study the problem, beginning with an assessment of existing practices in her district, followed by a comprehensive study of the current body of knowledge, a survey of other school librarians, and an assessment of the abilities of seniors at her high school to use technology and communications tools to solve realistic information problems.

 

She concluded that the current definition of information literacy in the United States is incomplete, and that the international community is more successful at curricular integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy standards. Students need to be able to apply technical skills in order to access information, they need to be able to synthesize and evaluate information and use it ethically, and they need to be able to do all of these things to produce a product or solve a problem. While the ability to use technology is important, it is just as important to know how to use information, and all of the related skills must be part of an overall curricular initiative instead of a technology or library initiative if students are to be successful.

 

Summary

The literature thus summarized leads to several well-supported conclusions regarding the overall preparedness of high school seniors to undertake college-level research. Although they are comfortable in the digital information environment, and in fact now seem to prefer it, their ability to access information is not matched by their ability to use it effectively. A great deal of scholarly research is made available to students by their school and academic libraries, but students lack the skills needed to navigate the interfaces of research tools, and in most cases tend to fall back on search engines, primarily Google, as their preferred information source. Once they have accessed information they have trouble evaluating it to determine whether it meets their information needs, and they are often unable to judge the quality, accuracy and authority of what they find. Efforts by K-12 librarians and educators to teach information literacy skills are inconsistent and often not supported by faculty and administrations.

 

The College Freshman Research Experience

 

Project Information Literacy

Alison Head (2014), Principal Research Scientist and Executive Director of Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington’s Information School, conducted an extensive study from November 8, 2012 to August 15, 2013. During this time she surveyed librarians at 30 U.S. high school libraries and 6 colleges and universities; conducted interviews with 35 first-term freshmen; and administered a voluntary online survey to 1941 high school and college students. The purpose of the study was to learn how college freshmen adapt to the differences between high school and college in terms of the number and nature of the information sources available to them in the college library and the research competencies expected of them by their professors.

 

The research points to a common experience among college freshmen, who find the greater array of information sources in the college library to be an exciting development, but who are overwhelmed by the prospect of navigating those resources to find the information they need. Specifically, many are unfamiliar with the formats of scholarly publications, unskilled at critical evaluation of sources, and do not understand how information is organized, either within the library itself or within the research databases offered by the library. Many are challenged by the complexities involved in designing and conducting online searches and sorting through the results for relevant material; comprehending and summarizing information from different formats; and formatting the information according to the requirements of the assignment. A common conviction that the college library is irrelevant, that all the information they need can be found online, and that they should not need to ask for help add to their struggles.

 

Head concluded that librarians and educators should make a coordinated effort to provide progressive and contextual information literacy instruction to college freshmen. To improve the process of learning about college-level research she recommended greater collaboration between high school and college libraries; embedding and integrating information literacy instruction into college courses; scaffolding and apprenticing the research process in courses beyond English Composition; and revising expectations of college freshmen’s research skills. “It is incorrect to assume,” she asserted, “that because most of today’s freshmen grew up with a thriving Internet at the fingertips, they are naturals at college-level research. The cognitive skills needed for scholarly inquiry are very different than finding ready-made answers using a Google search (Head 34).”

 

This study illustrates the consequences of the lack of library instruction provided in the K-12 educational environment. The information literacy knowledge and skills deficits that college freshmen bring with them to their colleges and universities become even more problematic as they are confronted with an information environment which they are unprepared to navigate. Certain aspects of the new information environment are specific to the college environment. For instance, it may be unreasonable to expect new college students to be familiar with the complexities of scholarly communication. Peer review is an important element of scholarly communication, and understanding it will increase a student’s ability to evaluate information. However, introducing this concept before a student is cognitively prepared to understand it may be an exercise in futility. Concepts such as these would be more effective if introduced at the point of need, which is unlikely to present itself before college.

 

The ERIAL Study

An ethnographic study of students’ research practices conducted at five Illinois academic libraries (Asher, Duke, and Green 2010) attempted to answer the questions of what students do when they receive an assignment that involves research, and what the expectations of students, faculty and librarians are regarding these assignments. The goal of this study was to inform the design of library services that would better meet students’ needs. Each institution that participated in the study had a research team consisting of a lead research librarian and between two and five other individuals (primarily librarians), augmented by two grant-funded anthropologists whose time was shared among the five institutions.

 

A total of seven research methodologies were applied to a greater or lesser extent at the participating institutions to generate written, spoken, and visual data. Ethnographic interviews were conducted with students, librarians and faculty to learn about students’ experiences while involved in research assignments and about how librarians and faculty interact with students during the research process. Photo journals created by students provided prompts for interviews about the processes and tools students used to complete research. Student mapping diaries yielded information about places students visited and their purposes for visiting those places. Focus groups participated in web design workshops aimed at soliciting information about preferred features on library websites, and a cognitive mapping activity asked students to conceptualize library spaces from memory. A research process interview and a retrospective research paper interview were conducted with participants from one library each to capture students’ reflections about research processes and approaches.

 

Significant findings of the study yielded the following shortcomings in students’ understanding of the research process: reading and writing citations; information organization systems; locating and evaluating resources; and search strategies, including a lack of understanding of search logic, narrowing and expanding results, using subject headings, and understanding how search engines organize and display results. The authors concluded that, while more intuitive research tools might help by taking the focus off mechanical issues and placing it more on conceptual issues, educational and curricular solutions would more effectively address students’ shortcomings. They stressed the importance of faculty in fostering relationships between students and the librarians who can provide assistance with research, especially during a students’ first year, but who continue to remain a largely invisible and underutilized resource without such introductions.

 

The methodologies employed in this study yielded a rich and unique range of qualitative data. While other studies have focused on the student and his or her interaction with information, here the perspectives of the three interest groups (faculty, librarians, and students) were considered together, and the observations of the anthropologists in authentic information-seeking scenarios provided unique insights. The conclusions reached by the researchers did not focus on students’ preferences for search engines as a first choice for finding information. Instead they were focused on specific knowledge and skills deficits that can be addressed at the college level, and they stressed the importance of positive relationships between students and librarians as a means to address the deficits.

 

Attaining Information Literacy

In a phenomenographic study of college freshmen whose information literacy skill has been identified as either proficient or below proficient (Gross and Latham 2011), transcripts from 77 interviews were analyzed in an effort to understand how college freshmen experience information in two contexts: those in which the information need is imposed, such as in a course-related research assignment, and those in which the information need is self-generated or personal. The definition and standards of information literacy adopted for this study are those put forth by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL 2009). Study participants included twenty first-year university students and 57 first-year community college students. Students completed a standardized test to determine their information literacy levels and participated in one-hour semi-structured interviews aimed at eliciting their experiences with seeking information.  As researchers analyzed the data they identified patterns of experience, including in their analysis the participants’ information literacy skill level  (Proficient or Below Proficient) and the context of the information need (academic or personal), which resulted in four main categories and two related categories of description.

 

In the Finding Information Conception information seeking was focused on product rather than process, and skills associated with evaluating and using information were perceived by participants as being self-acquired rather than the result of formal education. Proficient students were more likely to remember K-12 library skills learning. They were also more likely to rate their abilities as average, whereas below proficient students rated their abilities above average. These finding are consistent regardless of the information-seeking context. In the Information Technology Conception the Internet was seen as a primary information source for both types of students, although this experience varied depending on the information-seeking context. For an academic assignment students were more likely to use academic resources as required by the instructor, whereas a search engine was the common starting place for a personally motivated information need. In the Information People Conception the primary source of information was people. This was true in both information-seeking contexts; however, proficient students were more likely to use people (including librarians) as information sources and also to see themselves as potential sources for others. Finally, in the Information Quality Conception students acknowledged the need to evaluate information quality, but the importance of this need depended on the importance of the information they were seeking. Higher priority was placed on quality when the information need was academic in nature, and students were more likely to take information at face value when the information need was personal.

 

Summary

In summary, participants do not perceive information literacy as a discrete skills set, instead perceiving that they are self-learned. They are more likely to use the Internet and other people as preferred information sources, but will consider academic resources for academic research. Below proficient students are more likely to believe, erroneously, that they possess higher than average abilities. And in general students are not greatly concerned with the quality of information they find unless they perceive it as being tied to a better grade. It would not be constructive to blame students for their misperceptions, as they were formed prior to their arrival on the college campus. The challenge faced by academic librarians and faculty who advocate for information literacy lies in transforming students’ faulty perceptions in a constructive way, without damaging their self-esteem. If students were to begin at an early age to construct an accurate information literacy framework, such remediation would not be necessary. However, it is not constructive to seek to place blame for students’ shortcomings on the shoulders of any group, be it teachers, librarians, or students themselves. Our time and energies should instead be directed at identifying ways to address these shortcomings, either at an earlier point in their academic careers, or when they begin college and are perhaps more prepared for the cognitive demands of scholarly research.

 

Solution: Remediation

 

Attaining Information Literacy

In a follow-on to their phenomenographic study of college freshman and their interactions with information (Gross and Latham 2011), Don Latham and Melissa Gross (2013) conducted focus groups with students whose information literacy skills had been identified as below-proficient to determine their instructional preferences and design a curricular intervention to remediate their skills deficits. For this study first-year students from two community colleges were selected by means of classroom solicitations to take a test to determine their information literacy skills levels. Those whose skills were below proficient were recruited for sessions lasting approximately 90 minutes to help researchers understand their experiences, perceptions, and preferences related to instruction. Researchers sought to learn the students’ conceptions for self-generated or personal information seeking; imposed or course-related information seeking; variance in their perceptions of the skills needed for both types of information seeking; instructional preferences; possible motivations for attending instructional sessions; and ways libraries might advertise the availability of such instructional sessions.

 

In terms of resources students might choose for information seeking, the two most prevalent for both personal and academic reasons were the Internet and people. For personal information seeking they indicated they would choose people with whom they felt a high degree of personal comfort, whereas for academic information seeking they would consult with those they perceived as being authorities or experts. For course related information seeking students were more likely to mention academic resources such as reference sources, style guides, periodicals and databases. The skills sets they identified as most important were similar, and could be categorized as cognitive skills, information literacy skills, social skills, and life management skills. Specific skills within each of these categories differed slightly depending on the information-seeking context. Differences were largely tied to the affective domain in that personal information seeking was seen to be a more pleasurable activity, whereas course related information seeking was perceived as boring and more serious.

 

Instructional preferences were tied to a significant extent to the teacher’s attitude and personality, and whether they perceived that teachers respected and cared about them. They preferred demonstrations, the use of relevant examples, the use of supplemental materials, and activities such as hands-on practice related to the content. Interaction was also important, and included personal attention and feedback from the teacher and opportunities to collaborate with other students. One surprising finding was students’ preference for face-to-face instruction as opposed to online instruction or tutorials. They preferred small group instruction and opportunities to participate in discussions. When asked about what might motivate them to attend instructional sessions students responded variously that mandatory attendance, course credit or extra credit, or the opportunity to improve their grade were likely incentives. They indicated that announcements made in class would be the most effective means of communicating information about instructional sessions, but that innovative advertising and publicized incentives such as money or food might also be effective.

 

Researchers used the focus group results to design and develop an educational intervention aimed at improving information literacy skills of college freshmen (Gross et al. 2012). Goals for instruction were threefold; to change students’ conception of information literacy skills, that is, to lead them to understand that information literacy skills are not innate, but are instead a discrete set of skills that can be learned; to change their inflated conception of their information literacy skills by introducing them to at least one skill they lack; and to teach a minimum of one skill students could use immediately to improve their information seeking. Instructional strategies were based upon identified student preference including the following: allowing students to identify information seeking tasks that had personal relevance; working in pairs or groups of three to increase confidence; using examples in instruction, addressing students’ questions, and providing assistance during hands-on activities; and assessment using responses during class and practice exercises. Learning outcomes included being able to list the steps of the information skills process (where ASE stands for Analyze, Search, Evaluate), using keywords effectively to search for information, and evaluating search results.

 

Sessions were designed to be presented by a librarian or classroom teacher, to last no more than one hour, and to be applied within a variety of curricular contexts. The initial workshop limited the use of resources to a search engine, specifically Google, because it aligned with students’ stated information seeking preferences, and it was thought that the successful strategies students developed using Google could later be applied in different settings using different information sources. Repeated exposure to this instruction model within different curricular contexts would provide continuity and reinforce the process model by means of a familiar and useful strategy. At the time of this article’s publication the workshop was undergoing a summative evaluation.

 

A great deal of information and advice has been published to help librarians design effective information literacy instruction, all based upon sound principle and employing recognized best practices. No single plan or program is guaranteed to produce successful results with every student or at every institution. The degree to which faculty support and collaboration is provided is immensely important to the success of any information literacy instruction program. In the end it is up to each librarian to identify the strengths and weaknesses of his or her own student population, the degree to which intervention might be possible or even encouraged, and to design a plan that is most likely to succeed at his or her institution. The study and the educational intervention referenced above were very well managed and planned, and they were also funded by a three-year grant. If one were inclined to design similar research on a smaller scale, this project would provide an excellent set of guidelines to follow, as well as a wealth of comparative data on which to base an instructional program.

 

Online Library Skills Workbook

A university librarian at the University of Buffalo presented a case study (Walsh 2011) describing the development of an online tutorial and assessment, the Library Skills Workbook, which was designed to build research and information competency skills in undergraduates. The Workbook evolved decades ago out of a need to provide students enrolled in English composition or English as a second language courses with an introduction to library collections and services, and eventually was moved online and became a non-credit-bearing graduation requirement for all undergraduates. The author described the Workbook’s transformation into the current configuration on the Blackboard course management system. Twenty-five multiple-choice questions address five specific competencies found in the university’s stated general education competencies. Each question links to various sources aimed at helping the student learn more about library resources to answer the question correctly. At the end of the Workbook students are invited to provide input about its difficulty and efficacy.

 

Response from students and faculty has been largely positive, and although no method is perfect, the online model has resulted in more effective use of librarian’s limited time and resources. For students, advantages of locating the Workbook in Blackboard include the ability to save their work, to receive immediate feedback, and the opportunity to retake sections with which they may have been unsuccessful. Advantages to librarians include the ability to create a pool of questions, to discourage academic dishonesty, to adapt the Workbook for specific fields of study or even specific research assignments, and the greater ease of grading.

  

Adapting Research 101

Another answer to the limitations of the in-person delivery of information literacy instruction (Kelley 2012) was developed at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. In an effort to identify a solution to the problem of delivering information literacy instruction to distance students, a number of possible solutions were explored. When the college adopted information literacy as a general education outcome, an existing online tutorial was transformed into a series of six modules based upon the University of Washington’s Research 101 tutorial and uploaded into Blackboard. Additional supplementary materials were created in response to instructors’ requests for a more robust learning experience. Each module contains a student feedback element that is used to improve the content, organization and delivery. Feedback from instructors and students has been largely positive, and any critical comments have resulted in actual or planned improvements to the modules. Student responses indicated that a large percentage of them had been moderately familiar to unfamiliar with concepts presented in the modules, thus validating the need for their existence.

 

Each of the solutions described above, whether a program developed in-house or one adapted from an existing example, could provide an answer to an organization that lacks a formal and comprehensive information literacy instruction plan, whether for students in need of remediation or for the student population in general. Smaller institutions in particular may have a greater need for online modules that can be adapted for general, discipline-specific, or assignment-specific instruction and guidance. Ideally an online instruction program would be augmented by in-person sessions conducted by librarians who can provide insights and specific guidance that may not be contained in an online module. However, the existence of the online module ensures the availability of instruction and guidance for students who would otherwise receive none at all.

 

Solution: Collaboration

 

Dual-Credit Outreach

Colorado State University-Pueblo (CSU-Pueblo) leveraged their dual-credit program “Senior-to-Sophomore” (STS) to introduce an existing course-integrated library instruction program in dual-credit high school English Composition classes throughout the state (Bruch and Frank 2011). This initiative was prompted by reports that transfer students and students who had completed their English Composition requirements in high school through dual-credit programs were not displaying the same level of understanding as students who had completed the courses at CSU-Pueblo. The program allowed advanced high school juniors and seniors to obtain college credit, and also allowed for the development of a standardized information literacy instruction program that bridged the gap between high school and college.

 

The grant-funded program relied on the participation and cooperation of a number of stakeholders, including the Instruction Program Coordinator at the CSU-Pueblo University Library, the Director of Writing, STS Program instructors, and high school library media specialists. Pursuant to the program’s success a graduate-level course was developed that offered continuing education credits to high school educators; collaboration between high school teachers and library media specialists was improved; and STS students were granted access to the University’s research databases. The author identified potential stumbling blocks and emphasized the importance of sustainability in a program of this kind.

 

If one were to consider implementing an outreach program to high school teachers and library media specialists, it would be sensible to begin with a dual-credit program such the one described by Bruch and Frank, because the college or university already has an established relationship with the teacher. In theory, the learning experience should be the same for all students enrolled in a particular college course, such as Composition, regardless of where the content was taught. It is likely that this is not always the case, but a collaboration between librarians and Composition instructors would perhaps provide a better than average opportunity for successful integration of information literacy instruction across the 12-13 gap.

 

Syllabus Study

Megan Oakleaf and Patricia L. Owen described a syllabus study (2010) that identified courses in which college freshmen were enrolled that required 21st century research skills. They analyzed the syllabi and assignment sheets they received from instructors and found that all of the students selected for the study were required to complete an assignment that required critical thinking to interact with at least one information source. Information sources were identified as websites, articles, books, reference books, and data and statistics. They found that a majority of students in the study interacted with more than one information sources, and in fact 26% of the students interacted with all of them. Skills required for successful interaction with information sources to complete an academic assignment included (among others) choosing the most effective source, constructing an effective search, evaluating the source and the information, incorporating the information into their own knowledge bases, creating new knowledge, and using sources ethically. If students are not learning these skills in high school, the authors argued, they will be ill prepared for the demands of college research.

 

The authors suggested that a study such as this one could be tailored for a collaborative effort between a college librarian and high school teacher-librarian. In fact it may prove more useful to do so at this level because many of the skills identified as necessary for college freshmen may be the same as those needed by high school seniors. In such a study the college librarian would collect the syllabi, and then both librarians would analyze the syllabi according to predetermined criteria, such as K-12, college, or other information literacy standards. Information gathered from the syllabus study may provide the evidence necessary to argue the need for information literacy instruction in high school if none is presently being offered. And any resulting instructional improvements to the high school curriculum would help to bridge the 12-13 information gap for college-bound high school seniors.

 

The article stressed the importance and the benefits of partnerships between college librarians and teacher-librarians. Both find themselves in the position at times of defending their places in the educational system, and identification of positive, measurable results of information literacy instruction can benefit them all. In the K-12 environment it may help teacher-librarians to show increased student achievement, and in the college environment it may be used to argue for the library’s impact on student learning and retention. A community college librarian may find a project of this nature to be more easily accomplished than it would be at the university level. The high schools with whom collaboration may be possible are already identified as those within the community college district, and the future students are more of a known quantity. The college librarian may even have a cordial working relationship with at least one teacher-librarian, and that librarian’s high school may provide a starting point for a district-wide collaborative effort.

 

Collaborations for Success

Librarians at Kent State University (KSU) undertook a three year collaboration with high school library media specialists, educators and students that resulted in three separate initiatives (Burhanna and Jensen 2006). Informed Transitions is an outreach program aimed at easing high school students’ transitions to college. Specifically it aims to reinforce and introduce information literacy skills; reduce library-related anxiety, help students succeed on assignments, create a collaborative framework, and promote higher education in general. KSU librarians work with high schools to plan visits to their library, during which time students are introduced to aspects of academic libraries and given the opportunity to use the library to achieve planned instructional objectives. Transitioning to College is an option for those high schools whose locations or budgetary limitations preclude the opportunity to take a field trip to an academic library. Librarians created a set of instructional videos and other web-based tools designed to help both high school seniors and college freshmen understand the unique features of academic libraries and lower the anxiety levels common to new students. The videos cover five topics: Welcome to Academic Libraries, Talking to Databases, Tips for Research Success, Getting Help When You Need It, and College: What to Expect. They range in length from three to five minutes and are presented from a student perspective. TRAILS is an online assessment tool to measure information literacy competencies. It is standards-based, free to use, easy to administer, ensures privacy, and generates outcomes reports.

 

The authors offered useful practical advice for other college librarians wishing to plan outreach efforts, such as identifying feeder schools and reaching out to library media specialists at those schools; becoming familiar with state educational standards and the role information plays in them; developing a handout that outlines expectations of new students; identifying campus programs that provide opportunities to connect; offering to speak at K-12 professional development sessions; and developing a regular program for high school visits to the library. The Informed Transitions initiative may be possible to carry out by a library with limited staff. The chief requirements for successful implementation of a similar program would be a significant investment in outreach and sustained collaboration between the college library and the visiting school. The creation of instructional videos requires a great deal of time for planning, along with specific tools and expertise. A library with a small staff may find it more sensible to investigate the availability of videos that are not specific to their college but which may provide guidance in a more general sense for using academic library resources. TRAILS is a very useful tool for librarians or educators who would like to determine the information literacy competencies of their students. Although developed for high school students, it could be administered to college freshmen to determine the level of information literacy knowledge and skill they bring to their academic institutions.

 

Summary

A number of activities have been suggested for fostering collaboration that would ease the transition from high school to college. Collaborative efforts should developed in response to needs identified by means of a comprehensive assessment or study. No matter what form the collaborations might take, they should be well planned and focused on clear outcomes. A great deal of time and energy would be required of those involved, both in the development of interventions or responses to the needs identified, and also in keeping the collaborative spirit alive and functioning well after the initial activities have been carried out. The initiatives undertaken in support of collaboration should take into account the capabilities of those involved and the resources they can contribute to successful outcomes.

 

 

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