Student Assessment

The following are examples of Library and Information Literacy Instruction student assessment activities.


Communication “A” Requirement Effectiveness Assessment

An Assessment Study of the Effectiveness of the General Education Communication “A” Requirement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is an analysis of the self-reported learning of students who had completed the “Comm-A” requirement in comparison with those who, for whatever reason, had not. The students were asked to rate their writing, communication, and information literacy skills in a variety of ways. The results show that students who had taken the Comm-A requirement ranked their information literacy skills dramatically higher than those who had not, in such areas as locating research materials, properly citing the work of others, and understanding the issue of plagiarism. This was true across all five courses that fulfill the Comm-A requirement.

The NSSE Study Report

The NSSE Study Report: An Overview of the National Survey of Student Engagement 2008 Results for UW-Madison is a close-up view of freshman and senior undergraduate students at the UW who were surveyed as part of the National Survey of Student Engagement. The NSSE is used to “assess student involvement in practices associated with high levels of learning” at over 750 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. The survey included questions about students’ ability to make judgments about the value of information, to synthesize and organize ideas and theories, to apply theories or concepts to practical problems or new situations, and to use the Internet to complete assignments. In each of these areas, UW seniors consistently ranked their abilities in these areas higher than their first-year counterparts. For example, when students were asked questions about their ability to make judgments about the value of information, senior students responded with answers of “Quite a bit” or “Very much” at a rate near 70 percent, whereas first-year students responded with the same answer at 60 percent. Both first-year and senior students ranked their skills highly in these areas, but it is clear that their information literacy skills were impacted in their time at UW-Madison.

ECAR Study

The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology is an investigation of undergraduate students at several schools, including UW-Madison, and their use of IT tools in their personal lives and in their educational careers. The purpose of this study is for college-level educators to get a better “feel” for how IT affects students’ daily lives and how students’ skills and knowledge in these areas can be best used for educational purposes. The students were asked to rate their skill levels in the following three areas: “using the Internet to effectively and efficiently search for information;” “evaluating the reliability and credibility of online sources of information,” and “understanding the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of digital information.” In all of these areas, students ranked themselves very highly, with almost 80 percent of the students rating themselves at near-“Expert” levels (“Expert” was the highest rating in the scale provided) in their Internet research abilities. In the other two areas, the students’ self-ratings were lower, but still relatively high.

Project SAILS Results

The Project SAILS Test (Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills) was administered to a small group of incoming freshman in 2006 and 2007. The test was used to find out more about the kinds of information literacy skills students have upon arriving on campus, before taking the Communication “A” and “B” courses. Although the sample size was ultimately considered to be too small to reach meaningful conclusions about UW freshman information literacy skills, it was found that there was no significant difference in information literacy skills between UW students and the national benchmark for students at similar institutions, and that UW students tested higher than average than their freshman counterparts in searching and retrieving resources. Librarians used the information collected through SAILS to inform their judgments about areas of information literacy could receive greater emphasis in the library module of the Communication “A” courses.

Communication and Writing Intensive Courses in General Education

This article is an account of the development and implementation of required communication courses for undergraduates at the UW. The Communication “A” and “B” courses, which were created in reaction to concerns over the verbal and writing abilities of incoming UW student, was a university-wide effort that resulted in a decentralized model for teaching proper academic communication skills necessary to succeed in every discipline. These necessary skills include information literacy, and it is noted here as a result that “librarians have been treated as information professionals and brought more clearly into the teaching mission of the university.” The authors of the article call for a full-scale assessment of the Communication courses in order to determine the effectiveness of the courses as well as best practices for teaching these skills in the future. Citation: Westphal-Johnson, N. and Fitzpatrick, M. (2002). The role of communication and writing intensive courses in general education: a five-year case study of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Journal of General Education 51 (2), 73-102.

Pre/Post Testing

  • Life Sciences Communication 100 students take a pre/post survey regarding their information needs and the effectiveness of a library session in meeting those needs for their persuasive-paper assignments. (Each semester)
  • Engineering Professional Development 151, Mechanical Engineering 900, Chemical & Biological Engineering, and Interdisciplinary Engineering 413 students take a pre/post survey regarding their information fluency during a library session. (Each semester).
  • Communication-A instructors were surveyed about the effectiveness of library instruction sessions in improving their students’ skills as demonstrated in coursework. Changes were made to the library module’s curriculum (CLUE tutorial and library instruction session), based on instructor feedback regarding their students’ weaknesses and strengths. (Fall 2007)


  • Biocore 304 instructors receive results of a student survey on the library session. Results are examined by the instruction team to inform revisions to the curriculum. (Yearly)
  • Biology 151 students are required to complete a tutorial on evaluating Web sites. A Web-based survey is embedded in the tutorial, to enable students to immediately send feedback, questions, etc. Mass emails to students are generated to address comments and needs. (Each semester)

Student Projects/Assignments

  • To fulfill accreditation requirements, second-year medical students are required to submit records of search queries completed in PubMed to instruction librarians. Students have the option of learning skills online, in person, or independently. Librarians analyze the results to assess the effectiveness of each mode of instruction in improving student performance. (Yearly)
  • Spanish 266 instructors were surveyed to determine if a library session or a library course page was most effective for students’ assignments. The instructors determined that a hybrid of both approaches was most effective and that good assignment design was integral to student success. (Spring 2008 & Fall 2008)
  • Biology 152 instruction coordinators and librarians meet to determine if Chapter 2 Using the Library for Scientific Research (co-written by the librarians and course instructors) needs revisions before being printed in the Biology 152 Lab Manual. (Annually)

Embedded Testing

Specific Tools

  • CP 125: A Wisconsin Experience is a first-year seminar course. Librarians developed a detailed rubric to evaluate ability to craft a research question and evaluate results. (Spring 2012)
  • Communication-A Information Literacy Learning Outcomes were updated. To assess students’ attainment of these learning outcomes and the effectiveness of our instructional strategies, library staff worked with the University Assessment Council to hold a series of focus groups with Communication A course instructors. Analysis of focus group transcripts showed that students are generally able to access information but struggle to evaluate potential sources’ relevance, bias, and appropriateness for the assignment. (Spring 2012)
  • Communication-A students completed an online worksheet during the library session. Instruction librarians evaluated responses in each skill area, using a rubric. Results shaped changes in the curriculum (e.g., results showed that we needed to emphasize keyword over natural-language searching, as well as the differences between popular and scholarly sources). (Fall 2007)
  • Communication-A students complete an in-class evaluation form at the end of the library session. Instruction librarians review the responses after each class and discuss student comments in planning meetings. The comments and responses after each class have led to changes in instructional strategies, such as providing more hands-on activities and fewer demonstrations. (Each semester)