Riding the RAILS Project at Cook Library
During spring break week, while most of the Towson University campus was at
rest, a few Research and Instruction Librarians and faculty members were hard
at work as participants of the RAILS project. RAILS (Rubric Assessment of
Information Literacy Skills) is a national study funded by the Institute of
Museum and Library Services. The three-year project, which seeks to measure
college students' ability to locate, evaluate, and use information sources is
based at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies and led by
Assistant Professor Megan Oakleaf. Towson University was in the second RAILS
cohort, one of five institutions nationwide selected to participate in the
RAILS project in 2011-2012.
Cook Library Research and Instruction Librarians were enthusiastic RAILS
participants, since the team is always looking for more efficient and
accurate ways to capture evidence of students' information literacy skills.
The library faculty who participated included Sara Arnold-Garza, Residency
Librarian; Sarah Crest, Liaison Librarian to the College of Health
Professions (CHP), Shana Gass, Liaison to the College of Business and
Economics (CBE); Sara Nixon and Lisa Sweeney, Liaisons to the College of
Liberal Arts and Carissa Tomlinson, First Year Experience Librarian and
Liaison to Nursing and Women's Studies. Claire Holmes, Liaison to the College
of Education (CoE), headed the group. In preparation for leading this
project, Claire participated in the Assessment Immersion Program, an
intensive professional development experience offered by the Association of
College and Research Libraries in November 2011, which also included training
in the design and use of rubrics.
These librarians were joined by several faculty members with whom they
regularly collaborate in the instruction of information literacy skills:
Tamara Burton (CHP), Linda Macaulay (CoE), Suzanne Obenshain (CoE) and Toby
Porterfield (CBE). The group targeted nine sections of the new Towson Seminar
course (TSEM 102) to assess the information literacy skills in these courses
that are aligned with two of the six
Towson University Core Curriculum Towson Seminar learning outcomes
and with the Association of College and Research Libraries'
Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,
to which instruction librarians adhere.
To accommodate the parameters of RAILS, a common student assignment and an
assessment rubric to rate the assignment were devised. The rubric targeted
information literacy skills such as: defining a research topic, determining
key concepts, using appropriate keywords and related terms, identifying
relevant sources, using database search features and applying evaluative
criteria such as currency, expertise of author, credibility and purpose.
More than 100 student work samples were evaluated not only to assess the
students' work, but also to examine how librarians and faculty members assess
student work. Participants agreed that the RAILS project was a great
opportunity to focus on using a rubric as an assessment tool, but it was
difficult. The group had varying amounts of experience using rubrics, and
before they could begin rating the student assignments, the group spent a
whole day norming the rubric, which included nine criteria and four
performance levels. While the rubric used for RAILS might need to be pared
down, it is clear that this could be a viable assessment model for future use
Part of the RAILS study's overall goal is to normalize evaluation of student
information literacy and establish rubrics to measure teaching effectiveness
across libraries and universities. The RAILS project includes an interactive
which offers links to publications, training materials and a growing
repository of rubrics.
Written by Claire Holmes