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We’re Failing Our Students But We Can Change It: Raising the Profile of Information Literacy

The EvoLLLution | We’re Failing Our Students But We Can Change It: Raising the Profile of Information Literacy
Administrators and faculty are often on the same page in terms of wanting to best prepare students for the labor market, but it’s critical to make key changes in how students are learning to accomplish this goal.

Offering both two- and four-year degrees, and one of the first campuses to pilot the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualification Profile project, the University of Hawaii, Maui College (UHMC) has been deeply dedicated to assessing student learning outcomes at multiple levels.

At UHMC we engage in a form of “authentic assessment.” Student coursework is reviewed by a diverse group of teaching faculty, assessment and skills specialists, and the employer community. Our recent, campus-wide assessment of information literacy revealed what many other college campuses are experiencing but not publicizing—we are graduating students unprepared for the workforce.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) reported that nearly all employers surveyed (93 percent) say “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.” A separate AAC&U survey reported that only 29 percent of employers said students were well prepared to locate, organize and evaluate information. Considering these reports, and the notion that information technology will continue its steadfast expansion in the workplace, the gap between the information literacy skills of graduates and employer expectations is slated to expand.

Information literacy librarians and faculty leaders in competency-based education practices have been minding this gap for years. But, according to a Gallup/Lumina Foundation Poll summary, almost all chief academic officers surveyed (96 percent) “say they are extremely or somewhat confident in their institution’s ability to prepare students for success in the workforce.” By comparison, the poll found “just 11 percent of business leaders strongly agree today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies that their business needs.” When it comes to information literacy skills and competencies, multiple gaps as well as institutional silos prevail. If we want to graduate career-ready students and demonstrate to accreditors that we provide meaningful and rigorous college degrees, we must recognize information literacy as a campus-wide responsibility.

During our campus’ recent assessment of information literacy, numerous educational gaps were revealed and specific recommendations for how these gaps can be addressed were highlighted. It was exciting and rewarding to see our assessment committee’s work result in opportunities and suggestions for “best practices,” but we now face formidable challenges in implementing improvements, especially when they require changes to deep-set patterns in the academic culture.

The same year we assessed the campus-wide student learning outcome of information literacy, the portion of our library’s budget that funds the initiative was cut 38 percent. When the budget wasn’t reinstated after the dismal assessment results, it became apparent that an institutional change needed to take place at UHMC, and the one to lead it would be the vice chancellor of academic affairs.

Armed with assessment data that indicated 49 percent of our students were not achieving a level of information literacy skill deemed appropriate for their degree, I campaigned our vice chancellor to identify and secure funds to support information literacy-related products and travel outside of the library’s budget. The information literacy assessment committee then teamed up with the vice chancellor to increase his involvement with the student learning outcome assessment process and to motivate effective behavior that supports meaningful responses to assessment findings.

As a first step to recognizing that information literacy is a campus-wide effort, our vice chancellor committed to fund the library’s annual subscription to Learning Solutions from Credo (a company that partners with schools and libraries to provide customized information literacy courseware and online reference content). Our library’s assessment-driven approach to partnering with academic leaders also led to the formation of an administrator’s Quality of Learning group and the UHMC Assessment Handbook published by the vice chancellor.

Our biggest lesson learned thus far has been the realization that you need cross-functional teams, time, patience and trustworthy partners to execute a successful information literacy program. It definitely takes a village to ensure that students are on a pathway that leads to career-readiness upon graduation. Not only are information literacy skills key for student success, they are imperative for institutional and economic growth in today’s knowledge economy.

If you’re thinking about how to create or strengthen information literacy on your campus, here are some essentials to keep in mind:

  1. Recognize that information literacy is a campus-wide responsibility;
  2. Budget for and encourage information literacy professional development for faculty and library staff;
  3. Communicate clear expectations and actionable steps for all parties involved;
  4. Pay greater attention to workforce readiness and employer expectations. Make it a priority to network and collaborate with local employers;
  5. Consider looking to trustworthy external partners for information literacy courseware and support.

If you need assistance identifying funding for IL services and endeavors, here are some suggestions:

  1. Practice tying budget items to the institution’s strategic plan. Focus on deriving strong justification from student learning outcomes data, whenever possible.
  2. Seek co-funding through library and general education curriculum. In the same way that librarians work with gen-ed faculty to help students develop core IL competencies, departmental budgets can combine to support IL projects and products.
  3. Tie funding requests to QEP or accreditation committee to be funded by the administration.
  4. Seek funding from technology departments. At UH Maui College, funds to pay for our subscription to – an originality checking and plagiarism preventing service – have come from our IT department and a student tech fee fund.

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