Self Evaluation of Information Literacy Assignment Benjamin D. Brewer (Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology) 1.8.2007 The following is a summary evaluation of the effectiveness of the changes made to an assignment from Sociology 384 during (and after) the workshop on information literacy I attended in the summer of 2006. In conjunction with social science reference librarian Candace Miller, I used the workshop to revise a key homework assignment in this research methods course – that assignment being the “search” and “review” of the scholarly literature(s) most germane to the student’s research project. There were two main changes made to the assignment. First, I specified in much greater detail the kinds of sources I expected students to cite, as well as (and most importantly) the specific search databases I wanted them to use. Secondly, I asked that students keep detailed notes for themselves that would allow them to write a brief “story” of their search upon its successful completion. Details for both of these changes can be found in the attached copy of the assignment. While neither of these changes seemed particularly radical, the revised assignment yielded extremely positive results this past semester (fall of 2006). This was most directly reflected in the quality of the citations identified by students; the articles cited were more directly “on target” and, therefore, much more useful to the students as they began to link conceptual arguments to empirical measures. Specifying the search databases to be used made a huge difference, particularly steering students away from using JSTOR as a search engine (rather than simply a repository for pdf copies of articles identified elsewhere). It should be noted that this assignment is distributed following a class session in which I demonstrate with some sample search terms how one accesses these databases, how search parameters are set, and what one does with the results of a search (using Linkfinder, for example), so the success of the assignment probably derives in part from this hands-on demonstration. That having been said, clearer instructions in the assignment definitely improved students’ results. The second change made to the assignment – the “search story” component – was also quite successful. Importantly, it offered greater insight into the logic guiding student searches, which is quite useful in figuring out what went wrong with less successful searches. Having a list of terms that a student used in the search process allows me to offer more productive suggestions for how things could be improved. The search story also helped students work their way out of impasses during the search process itself, pushing them to think more explicitly about the logic guiding the process. Narrative is itself a form of logic, of course, but one that is more familiar to most students. Thus, the search story demanded that students be able to explain in plain English what they did and why they did it, and this helped them articulate the steps that, prior to the revisions to this assignment, generally remained out of view. Overall, then, the information literacy changes made to this assignment greatly improved the quality of student submissions as well as my satisfaction with the utility of the assignment.
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