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CSU Dominguez Hills and the WASC Senior College and University Commission

Carolyn Caffrey Gardner
Carolyn Caffrey Gardner, Information Literacy Coordinator at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson, California, USA

It can be a challenge to navigate accrediting bodies and their expectations for information literacy instruction and assessment. This is a snapshot of how folks at one campus tackled the self-study for WSCUC accreditation, including some takeaways that may help you on your own accreditation journey.

I joined California State University Dominguez Hills in May of 2016, in the midst of an accreditation preparation frenzy. As the new information literacy coordinator, I jumped right into the ongoing process of preparing for reaccreditation, which had started years in advance. In Fall 2015, as we geared up for our 2018 site visit, our campus created Core Task Forces. Each core task force was charged with analyzing a WSCUC core competency on our campus. These competencies are expected of every graduating student and include Information Literacy (IL). Led by Library Dean Stephanie Brasley, the IL Task Force began with extensive discussions about how information literacy is defined and where we can identify these skills being taught on our campus. The committee was made up of a diverse cross-section of faculty and administrators, each with different understandings of what information literacy is and how we can measure competency. While I wasn’t yet on campus for these discussions, the committee minutes and other documentation describe the task force’s adoption of the ACRL Framework definition of information literacy and the recommendation that we distribute that definition widely. The IL Task Force then began identifying where IL competencies were taught on our campus. Ultimately, the task force felt that retroactive assessment of assignments not intended to teach or measure information literacy outcomes wouldn’t provide an authentic understanding of our students’ learning. For those reasons, they opted not to conduct a one-time assessment project, such as applying an existing rubric (e.g., AAC&U) to collect student work, and instead opted to find existing evidence. The committee recruited students to participate in IL testing using Project SAILS, used existing NSSE data (from the general questions and not the information literacy module add-on), and explored program-level student learning outcomes assessment data.

It was at this point that I joined the team and assisted in making sense of all of our data. Our campus had recently started using an online assessment management system, CampusLabs, which allowed me to run a report on all programs that had tagged their assessment as linked with our institutional learning outcome on IL. Easy peasy! But then I encountered the same challenges as the task force had around the issues of shared language and understanding….

How we defined information literacy varied widely from department to department.  Program outcomes often used technological skills—such as proficiency in PowerPoint—and information literacy skills interchangeably. This is largely the result of campus history and the perception that information literacy is linked with technological literacy. However, as the campus’s and the profession’s understanding of information literacy continues to evolve, this definition no longer resonates with the WSCUC core competency.

Working with our associate dean, Christy Stevens, we read each program’s assessment report disregarding whether they linked to the institutional IL outcome. Using those reports, I created a master spreadsheet to help determine where information literacy was already assessed on our campus. The table included: each department’s program learning outcome, how we determined the link to IL, a summary of the assessment results, and when the outcome was last assessed.

Master Spreadsheet Example

Whether or not you are going through the accreditation process I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this was for the library’s information literacy program’s own knowledge base. As a new coordinator, I now had a map of where on campus we could build on existing information literacy work and this was something I could share with the other liaison librarians. I also had a better understanding of which components of information literacy are most important to each department and the language they use to describe these skills, practices, and dispositions.

Next, the task force submitted an extensive report to our campus report writing team. The information we provided was distilled and included in the final self-study. Curious readers who want to nerd out on assessment reports and what made the cut can find most of the IL information beginning on page 33 (PDF).

Much like the process of accreditation and continuous improvement itself, the focused reflection on and exploration of what we do and how we do it was the most valuable part of this process.

So what are the takeaways (especially if you’re not a WSCUC campus)?

  • Don’t silo information literacy and its assessment in the library. While your library’s IL program is likely a rich source of assessment data you will also likely be pleasantly surprised by how much is happening on your campus even if it’s never called or understood as “information literacy.” Does your campus have an assessment committee you can join? Is the program level data somewhere you can access? Find a way to get involved with information literacy assessment outside of your library’s walls.
  • Have conversations with faculty and other campus stakeholders about IL definitions and shared language early and often.
  • Librarians can build faculty partnerships based on an assessment of IL (not just teaching). Can you be the expert on defining “research skills” or “evaluating information” for your campus? What would a partnership look like where librarians collaborate on an assessment project for IL that isn’t centered on one-shot library instruction?
  • Develop an IL assessment strategy that includes baseline or diagnostic data. One of more of the Threshold Achievement Test for Information Literacy (TATIL) modules or the NSSE Information Literacy module could fit this bill.
  • And finally, you will find plenty of room for improvement. Don’t forget to celebrate and recognize the great work that is happening!

Our site visit is over but this chapter isn’t closed. (We’ll hear back in June with our status and recommendations!) If anything, the self-study process has re-invigorated interest in these core competencies and I’m looking forward to continuing those conversations on our campus.

If you’re looking for more information and further WSCUC self-study inspiration, check out these resources: