Belmont University is one of only five institutions nationwide selected to participate in the RAILS (Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills) project during the 2010-11 academic year. RAILS is based at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies led by Assistant Professor Megan Oakleaf. The three-year project seeks to measure information literacy skills of college students and is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. RAILS is designed to help librarians and academic faculty develop and test rubrics that evaluate student learning and information literacy.
“Previously, librarians have been relying on tests to assess student work and skills and not looking at their research papers and projects,” Oakleaf said. “There are limitations on what you can test, and students aren’t always motivated to really work hard on a test that doesn’t impact their grade.”
Over the three-year grant period, Oakleaf will travel to 10 different universities to meet with 10 librarians or faculty members at each school. During the first year of the grant, Belmont University will be represented by Jenny Rushing, coordinator of reference services. Jenny was selected from librarians attending the ACRL Assessment Immersion Program, an intensive professional development experience focused on building librarian capacity to assess student learning. Jenny will participate in extensive rubric training and then organize librarians and academic faculty on their campus to assess student work samples.
“We also need to identify the characteristics that will make librarians and faculty members good evaluators of student work so that we can develop training for them,” Oakleaf said.
More than 100 samples of student work will be evaluated at each institution to not only evaluate the students themselves, but also how well librarians and faculty members assess student work. Part of the study’s overall goal is to normalize evaluation of student information literacy and establish rubrics to measure teaching effectiveness in libraries. RAILS will employ an interactive website (www.railsontrack.info) and Waypoint Outcomes, a provider of Web-based academic assessment tools, to process the anonymized assessment data.
The issue of library effectiveness is important, according to Oakleaf, because libraries need to be able to demonstrate evidence that their programs and resources are contributing to the teaching and learning missions of their overarching institutions.
“It’s a big issue with academic libraries to show that they are really contributing to the overall mission of the university,” Oakleaf said. “Libraries receive substantial financial resources from their institutions, so they have to prove their value within the university. This is a way to give actual evidence of the importance of academic libraries.”