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SAILS Conference

SAILS Working Group
Kent State University
April 12 - 13, 2002
Kent, Ohio

Participation by Carol Hansen

SAILS Working Group Website

While doing research for my sabbatical project I came across an excellent summary article on information literacy competency assessment by Lisa  O'Conner and  Julie Gedeon  from Kent State University. They had presented at the last ACRL conference. Assessment guru Debra Gilchrist had also mentioned that I should contact them. I was pleased to discover they were conducting a working group in April for their SAILS project and I emailed to ask if I could attend.  They were happy to include me and to have a broader geographic representation in the participant group. There were 20 participants at the SAILS Working Group meeting,  from 7 states and 13 institutions, including a LibQUAL+  program specialist from ARL. 

The most recent activities of the SAILs project are focused on developing a standardized, nationally normed multiple choice exam to assess levels of information literacy competency. Their primary need is to demonstrate that information literacy learning occurs throughout the college years. They hope to measure student learning to help with financial and administrative support for information literacy instruction particularly on their campus. Their goal is to test incoming freshman, then in 4 years test them as seniors to measure growth. The exam may also be used to assess General/Liberal Education, graduating seniors and for other purposes. They believe the quality of the test will come from testing many people, over a long period of time. It is not intended to be used to meet a requirement as they do not have an information literacy requirement at their institution and they do not feel they will be able to get one.

On Friday we were introduced to the SAILS project, given an overview of what had been done to date, and a lecture on item response theory and computerized adaptive testing by Julie Gedeon. Julie is just finishing up her PHD. in testing. In classic test theory the student is graded on the number of correct responses. In item response theory we assume the response is determined by ability. The SAILS  exam will be automated like the SAT so once a student answers a question of a certain difficulty, the exam will immediately ask questions at the next difficulty level. Lisa and Julie shared their sample 25 question multiple choice exam. This exam has been given to hundreds of students and is being beta tested in Oregon. One of their next goals it to build the exam question database and to purchase expensive testing software. They will be seeking additional grant funding for this.

On Friday afternoon the initial idea was for the group to determine which of the ACRL performance indicators and outcomes were the most difficult for students to gain competency in. I suggested the better question was which outcomes were the most important to assess. The group agreed and that afternoon we broke into small groups to discuss which outcomes we felt were the most important. There was an amazing consensus when we came together in the larger group.

On Saturday we began by discussing the various frameworks for information seeking behaviors and conceptions including the ACRL standards, Information power from the school library and media specialists, Carole Kulthau's model and Christine Bruce's "Seven Faces of Information Literacy Competency."  I also recommended that the group take a look at the new Australian standards. We discussed the merits and problems with each framework as they pertained to competency testing. Some participants feel a multiple choice question can be developed to test every standard, outcome or competency. I'm still not sure its the best method of testing competencies, but I do think it can provide some very useful shared data. 

Overall it was a very successful meeting and everyone that attended learned something new. Stewart Library's Information Literacy Competency Exam is a better instrument due to this experience. 

Updated October 6, 2004 . Please send comments to Carol Hansen
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