Assessing library instruction assessment activities.

Author:Kapoun, Jim


Common questions that instruction librarians may ask before creating an assessment instrument for their classes are, "What are other libraries doing?" or "What should I ask and what question(s) will really assess outcomes?" As a continuing effort to examine our instructional assessment at Minnesota State University, Mankato, I decided to assess library instruction assessment tools/surveys. This research will examine and reflect on how academic libraries conduct or administer their instructional classroom assessment. We wanted to know what types of questions were asked and how they were delivered to the students. I identified 320 peer libraries from across the nation who have instruction programs and sent a letter inquiring about the assessment procedures used in their instruction program, and asking them to send a paper or e-mail copy of the assessment tool(s). After the information was collected, the documents were analyzed to look for common themes and ideas.

Assessment is not new to library instruction programs, but methods and theories change frequently. At the Minnesota State University, Mankato Library we needed to update our instructional survey but were not sure how to do it or what types of questions to ask. Our old survey assessed the librarians' style and teaching methods and we wanted to change that emphasis. Our campus, like others across the nation, is interested in gathering data that assess student outcomes rather than assessing the style of the instructor. We wondered how other peer libraries with instruction programs were conducting their assessment.

Our university set aside money for faculty members to conduct special research projects on professional research, teaching, or assessment. This program was valuable for evaluating library instruction assessment activities.

Goals and Objectives

Five goals for the project were outlined, with an objective for each goal.

Goal One: Explore how other peer institutions are using assessment tools in the classroom.

* Objective: Canvass peer institutions and request a copy (paper or electronic) of their assessment tool(s).

Goal Two: Examine documents and create ideas for assessing our instruction program.

* Objective: Review all submitted documents with instruction team and decide the best or most comprehensive tool or questions to use in our assessment.

Goal Three: Find common themes of assessment from peer institutions.

* Objective: Review the documents and tally results.

Goal Four: Prepare a new assessment survey using the findings from this research.

* Objective: Implement ideas culled from the responses and create a survey tool

Goal Five: Enhance the overall library assessment program at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

* Objective: Report on information to the Library faculty and respond to feedback.

Literature Review

The body of literature on instruction assessment is rather large. This review is limited to material from 2000 and later, and to articles that focus on student outcomes.

Dugan and Hernon (2002) state that universities and regional accrediting bodies focus on learning results and outcomes rather than whether the student was comfortable during the instruction session or could hear the instructor. There are problems with using outputs as a measure of accountability. The authors claim that outputs are intended to measure the application of inputs and do not measure a students' individual learning. Riddle and Hartman (2000) also claim that outputs do not measure changes in skills or attitudes of the individual. Traditionally, libraries were more concerned about the number of students who attended the class, how effective the librarian was as a teacher, what instructional technology was available, and the content of the instruction. These measures, while they may hold some personal or technical value, do not accurately measure student outcomes. The key for assessment is not descriptive inputs and outputs. Rather, it is answering the question, what did the students learn and how do I know they learned it?

As described by Maughan (2001), the question underlying assessment results is what an institution or program has learned about its student learning. The tradition "How am I doing?" might have value to a...

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