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During the Summer, Cook Library Continues to Work for You

Introducing Education Librarian Sarah Gilchrist and Library Associate for E-Resources Shannon Blackburn

Riding the RAILS Project at Cook Library

Cook Library by the Numbers


Riding the RAILS Project at Cook Library

subpagepic 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 at Towson.

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 website which offers links to publications, training materials and a growing repository of rubrics.

Written by Claire Holmes


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