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Interview with Carrie Donovan on the NSSE Information Literacy Module

Carrie Donovan is Head of Teaching and Learning at the Indiana University Libraries. She is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Threshold Achievement Test for Information Literacy. Carrie recently presented a poster session at ALA Annual in San Francisco entitled College Student Engagement in Information Literacy Activities Across the Disciplines. Her co-presenter was Dr. Kevin Fosnacht, who is a researcher at the Center for Postsecondary Research at IU. Together they examined national data from the Experiences with Information Literacy module of the well-known National Survey of Student Engagement. They discovered that students in “non-STEM majors had the highest levels of engagement with information sources.” I had an opportunity to talk with Carrie about the study:

Question: How did you get involved with this research project?

Carrie: In 2011 my boss, Diane Dallis, who is the Associate Dean of Academic Services at the IU Libraries, suggested that we meet with the NSSE researchers to discuss the possibilities for gathering data at the campus level regarding students’ use of information sources for enhanced learning. Building on the work of Bonnie Gratch-Lindauer, Amy Mark, and Polly Boruff-Jones, we were hoping to convince these colleagues that the permanent integration of library-related questions into the general NSSE survey would be a good approach. Because they were in the process of developing topic-specific modules that institutions could append to the general survey based on local context and interest, it was suggested that an information literacy module would make the most sense. So I began collaborating with Kevin on that project and we have been working together ever since.

Question: How was the module developed?

Carrie: Starting in 2011, we engaged a group of volunteer librarians from across the U.S. to collaborate in the development of the questions for this topical module. The working group drafted questions, tested them, and informed the development of the first pilot of the information literacy module of the NSSE in 2013, after getting feedback widely from librarians via a presentation at ALA in 2012. At ACRL 2013 we presented a poster communicating the results from the pilot of the NSSE information literacy module. The module went through slight revisions before it was officially launched in winter 2014, when it was administered across 84 institutions in the U.S. and Canada with responses from approximately 53,000 students. Select results from these data were analyzed for the purposes of our ALA 2015 poster presentation.

Question: What would you like for librarians to take away from your presentation?

Carrie: I was intrigued by what the data revealed about the influence that faculty have, in the way they design assignments, over students’ use and evaluation of information sources. Because of our depth of understanding of how students engage in the research process, I think that we, as librarians, can make major contributions toward the effective design of assignments that incorporate the use of sources. Capitalizing on that role could have a big impact on students’ learning experiences, so I hope that was one of the major takeaways from the poster presentation. It also seemed to me that the STEM disciplines would be good avenues for extending information literacy efforts on our campuses, as students in those disciplines reported fewer course requirements related to the identification, use, and evaluation of sources.

Question: The poster sessions are usually chaotic and you spend a lot of time explaining your research. I'm curious -- did you learn anything from anyone you talked with during the session?

Carrie: Visitors to our poster seemed the most surprised by the data showing that students at 4-year (e.g. Liberal Arts) institutions reported more use of information sources than their counterparts at research universities. We all chatted about what could be the possible factors contributing to those results, which made for some interesting poster banter. Several librarians asked me what *I* was planning to do with these data and that surprised me. So, I explained that the poster was meant to be a call-to-action for ALL of us so that we could learn more about the national landscape of student engagement and use the ideas as talking points when working with faculty on our own campuses. I hope that overarching theme of evidence-based practice, which I noticed in several of the other posters, made a lasting impression.

Thank you, Carrie, for your time and for your work on this important research!