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Assessment of the Essential Studies Information Literacy Goal


Kristen Borysewicz (Library), Sarah Cavanah (Communication), Christopher Gable (Music), Debra Hanson (Occupational Therapy), Anne Kelsch (History), Amy Kielmeyer (English), Anna Kinney (University Writing Program), Alena Kubatova (Chemistry), Fred Remer (Atmospheric Sciences), Rebecca Simmons (Biology) and Ryan Zerr (Mathematics)

University of North Dakota


Borysewicz, K., Cavanah, S., Gable, C., Hanson, D., Kelsch, A., Kielmeyer, A., Kinney, A., Kubatova, A., Remer, F., Simmons, R., & Zerr, R. (2018). Assessment of the Essential Studies information literacy goal. University of North Dakota.

Background and context

A team of UND faculty developed tasks to assess undergraduate students’ proficiency in our general education program (“Essential Studies” or ES).  Owing to our previous experience with the Collegiate Learning Assessment Performance Task Academy, we refer to our signature tasks as ES Performance Tasks.  This task is for the assessment of Information Literacy (which the DQP refers to as Use of Information Resources).

The DQP describes Use of Information Resources generally as recognizing the critical importance of “how to find, organize and evaluate information in order to work with it and perhaps contribute to it.” This aligns well with the intent of our ES information literacy outcome, which requires students to be “able to find necessary information, understanding where that information comes from, evaluating and using the information appropriately.”

Our ES information literacy rubric includes within “Evaluate Information and its Sources Critically” that the student “chooses a variety of information sources appropriate to the scope and discipline of the research question. Selects sources after considering the importance (to the researched topic) of the multiple criteria used (such as relevance to the research question, currency, authority, audience, and bias or point of view).” This parallels the DQP outcome describing the ability to “locate, evaluate, incorporate and properly cite multiple information resources.”

Given the context described above, we see the information literacy performance task and rubric developed at the University of North Dakota as well aligned with the DQP.

This performance task is completed by students enrolled in our ES capstone courses, which are limited to seniors or second-semester juniors. ES capstones must be completed by all students prior to graduation. The capstones are typically (although not always) taught within individual majors, but the performance task is intended to be cross disciplinary. The task was developed with the aim of recruiting students to complete it out of class. (Students are allowed up to 90 minutes to complete the task, and few capstone classes have that length of class period). The information literacy performance task was created for assessment of general education learning outcomes rather than for a grade in a course.

Students from all majors complete the assignment. Although it is done out of class, it needs to result in students’ best work in order to provide meaningful assessment data. Therefore, it was a priority to ensure that the task would be intrinsically engaging and relevant to our graduating seniors across the university. Our aim was to provide an assessment task that would not favor students from any particular major or perspective and would allow us to collect meaningful information about student learning as students near completion of their bachelor’s level degrees. We know that students found the task generally engaging, simply because the vast majority of them (who knew only that they would be volunteering 90 minutes of their time to participate in an assessment of our general education program) chose to complete the task, once they arrived at the testing site and learned what they would be expected to do. In addition, students produced written analyses that scorers generally agreed represented credible and serious work. The assessments themselves are completed during a designated Assessment Week occurring in late February, and faculty scoring sessions occur after the end of the semester.

Although our task was designed to be particularly engaging to our own students (i.e., using data and information specifically relevant to college students), this concept seems highly transferrable to other institutions where there is a need for meaningful outcomes-level assessment of general education goals. Since virtually all colleges and universities today face this same assessment challenge, this assignment has broad applicability.

 Alignment and scaffolding

This assignment is given to students toward the end of their undergraduate studies. It requires students to evaluate a variety of data types in order to make a recommendation regarding foreign travel by a student group. Although IL is one of the ES Program’s designated learning goals, there is no explicit requirement that ensures students who take this assignment have completed (or are enrolled in) a course designated as meeting the IL goal. In addition, the scope and context of ES Information Literacy courses can vary tremendously. Therefore, this assignment not only provides a useful assessment tool, but also gives information about whether the ES Program’s structure (perhaps via requirements) could be better matched to the learning goals it emphasizes. As an additional benefit, the assignment forces participants to think seriously about various factors that must be considered when deciding where to travel.


Our first experience with using performance tasks during a designated Assessment week occurred in February 2014 and we have administered the performance tasks every year since. This current task was implemented in February of 2018.  There is a high degree of enthusiasm for this process on our campus. Those who worked on writing the performance tasks believed they were effective for our general education outcomes assessment purposes, students appeared to take them seriously (proctors were impressed by the seriousness of purpose observed), and scorers agree that this approach is highly useful and effective.

The structure of the task allows students evaluate and use a provided “document library” of information sources. This is the second time an ES Information Literacy task has been constructed in this manner, and free software (Nimbus Screenshot) was used to provide a “clickable link” to saved hosted captures of websites rather than distributing printouts. This method provided verisimilitude of the online environment, yet ensured that the requisite information would always be available and versioned the same way the designers meant. Task creators have determined that asking the students to perform actual searches to find resources would take up too much time, so the goal of assessing how well students access information cannot be addressed with this task.

It is difficult to construct a task “purely” on Information Literacy because the scenario’s purpose will naturally require critical thinking and quantitative reasoning. We ask the students to address a variety of aspects involved in travel, but many times students’ answers would overly emphasize cost or neglect social justice issues (or misinterpret that aspect as socializing/”social scene”). Task designers thought that having the fictional initial correspondence and the required reply take the form of email versus formal written academic communication would help distill students’ thinking about the sources. Indeed the task allowed students to demonstrate aspects of information selection, identification and evaluation. Yet, the informality of the written products meant that aspects of information use such as attribution or making a thorough and well-argued recommendation did not always shine. Nonetheless, by presenting an appealing and “real life” scenario, this task offers a good tool to assess many aspects of Information Literacy as a life-long rather than academic skill.

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