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Library Instruction Assessment Toolkit: Competency-based Course-level Assessment

Course-level assessment toolkit

Course-level competency-based assessment can (and should) be achieved by using a variety of formative and summative assessment activities. These activities may be divided into the following categories:

Prior knowledge activities attempt to determine what the student already knows on a given topic. They also attempt to determine what misconceptions or preconceptions the students have. 

Affective domain activities assess students’ perceptions, feelings, attitudes or opinions on a given learning topic.

Cognitive domain activities assess what students know. This might include what students can recall, analyze or synthesize.

Behavioral domain activities assess how students apply what they have learned and what students can do with what they have learned.

Learning reflection activities are a way of allowing learners to step back from their learning experience, helping them to develop critical thinking skills and, improve on future performance by analysing what they have learned and how far they have come.

The tabs above provide links to examples of each of these activity types that may be employed during library instruction. To help determine what type of activity would be best for a particular instruction session, the Classroom Assessment Planning Worksheet (file below) is a valuable tool.

Prior knowledge and misconception/preconception assessment activities

Open-ended question survey - prepare a survey in Moodle, Qualtrics or LibWizard asking students to respond in 2-3 sentences to 2-3 of the following questions as appropriate for the lesson topic. The survey can be administered before the class meeting or in the first 5 minutes of class, depending on how the information will be used. Most often, administering the survey before class allows you to gather information about the students' research topics, current knowledge level and helps you gauge the level of instruction. Therefore, prior administration is often the most valuable method:

  • What is your research topic?
  • What is your research question?
  • What are the key concepts of your research question?
  • How can you tell if your research topic/question is narrow/focused enough?
    • What tools did/would you use to find background information on your research topic?
  • What types of sources will you need for your research? (ex. Scholarly articles, primary sources, datasets)
  • Where will/did you find preliminary sources for your research? (ex. Google, Google Scholar, at library database like JSTOR)
  • Where do you find books/articles on the library website?
  • Develop a list of keywords and synonyms that could be used to locate information on your research question. List them below.
  • How do you narrow your search results to make them more relevant. 
  • What worries you most about finding sources for this research project?
  • What is a peer-reviewed/scholarly source?
  • Please find (share) one source you think will be helpful to your research. 
  • Find a peer-reviewed journal article and explain how it is relevant to your research topic.
  • What are at least 3 important criteria for evaluating your sources?
  • How will you know that you have found enough sources? / How will you know that the arguments on your research paper are well supported by evidence/sources?
  • What is the difference between quotes, summaries and paraphrasing?
  • When should you use quotes?
  • Describe your strategy for keeping track of and organizing the sources you find as you research.
  • What tool do you use to help you with your citations?

Snow Ball Fight - Students write the answer to a poignant content-related question on a piece of paper.  Students then crumple their paper into a “snowball”  and throw their “snowballs” across the room to another student. Each student should end up with a "snowball" that is not their own. Students then open the “snowball” and respond in some way to the content of the “snowball."

Pass the brainstorm - Have students brainstorm alone or in small groups and record their ideas on paper, which can then be passed round to other groups to discuss. The chain can continue as long as new ideas are being generated.

Gallery Walk - place images, graphs, or excerpts from course content on poster paper leaving room for students to write around the images. Hang the posters around the room. Create groups of 2-4 students and assign one group to each poster. Give the students the first 5 minutes of class to write what they know about the material or what they are wondering about the material.

One sentence summary - prepare a survey to administer before class or spend the first 2-5 minutes of class asking students to summarize what they already know about the topic you will teach or some aspect of the topic you will teach.

Focused listing - prepare a survey to administer before class or spend the first 2-5 minutes of class to share the instruction topic with the students and ask them to list the 3-5 most important things a researcher should know about this topic.Answers could be shared in discussion, via Padlet, via a word cloud etc.

Concept inventory - students prepare a concept map, individually or in groups, on the class topic during the first 2-5 minutes of class or prior to class. This is particularly good at revealing misconceptions/preconceptions.

KWL Chart - Before class or during the first 2-5 minutes, have the students fill out a KWL chart. The KWL chart has three columns where the students answer the questions: What do your already know about this topic? What do you want to know about this topic? And, to answer at the end of class: What did you learn today about this topic?

Affective domain assessment tools

These tools are best applied in library instruction to measure if misconceptions or preconceptions have been altered through class activities. Create a survey in Moodle, Qualtrics or Libwizard with one or more of the following questions, as appropriate for the class topic. Alternatively, give these questions to the students at the end of the class as a One Minute Paper or Exit Ticket. Many of these questions can double as Reflection Questions.

  • Describe at least two reasons why narrowing your topic improves your research experience.
  • Describe how exploratory research is important as you narrow your topic.
  • How has your opinion of the value of library databases (the use of primary sources, the use of full books, the use of datasets etc) changed as a result of today's class?
  • How will the way you evaluate your sources change as a result of today's class?
  • What is the most important aspect of the PROVEN/CRAAP evaluation tool in your opinion and why?
  • How has your understanding of the use of supporting evidence changed as a result of today's class?
  • Which citation tool that we saw today is the most valuable in your opinion and why?
  • Which citation manager (ex. Zotero, Mendeley) is the most valuable in your opinion and why?
  • How has your understanding of the research process changed as a result of today's lesson? How will you approach this research project differently from ones you've done in the past as a result of today's lesson?
Cognitive domain assessment tools

Recall tools - can be used at the end of an activity to emphasize the important points and make sure students remember them.

Focused listing: have students list the important aspects of a topic. For example:

  • After teaching about keywords: List and/or explain at least 2 important features of a good keyword search.
  • After teaching how to search databases: List and describe 3 ways you can limit your search. List the databases we've discussed today and what they are best used for.
  • After teaching the PROVEN/CRAAP evaluation: List and describe at least 4 ways you should evaluate a source.
  • After teaching incorporation of evidence: List the three ways to incorporate evidence and describe when to use each.

Defining Features Matrix or Pro-Con Grid: requires students to distinguish between related or seemingly similar items or concepts. For example:

  • After teaching about narrowing a search: Give the students examples of a too broad, too narrow and just right topic/research question and them explain in a grid/matrix the defining characteristics that make the topic/question, broad, narrow or just right.
  • After teaching about Google Scholar and library databases: Have the students fill out a strengths/weaknesses matrix for each.
  • After teaching incorporation of evidence: Give the students a matrix with examples of each way to incorporate evidence and have them describe the strengths/defining characteristics of each.

One sentence summary - After describing a concept, have the students write a 1-2 sentence summary of it in their own words. Consider telling to structure their answer using this format: “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” Consider using Padlet or another tool to display their answers so you can quickly check their understanding and correct misunderstandings before moving on in the lesson. (This is a valuable replacement to the statement, "Any questions before we move on?" because you get more than the automatic shaking head). Sample questions include:

  • How do scholarly journals get published? 
  • Why do different groups value different types of authority?
  • What is the purpose of these two types of information format (ex. popular, scholarly, primary, secondary)?
  • What is the research process like if it's not linear?
  • How do good scholars engage in scholarly conversations when they are investigating a research question?
  • What are the differences between keyword and subject searching?

Muddiest point card - at the end of a lesson, have the students write one question they still have on index cards, or better still, in an electronic survey, and turn it in as they leave. Answer the questions and find a way to distribute the questions/answers to the class via Moodle or the professor.

Analysis tools - can be used after a concept/skill has been introduced to check for understanding beyond simple recall of facts. 

What's the principle? - This exercise associates problems with the principle of practice that will solve them. For example:

  • Give the students examples of poorly written/supported arguments (one paragraph) and have them identify whether a quote, paraphrase or summary would improve the argument.
  • Give the students examples of types of plagiarism and have them identify the type of plagiarism and how to correct it.

Concept maps - can be used while or after teaching a concept to encourage the students identify all the aspects of the concept and how they relate to one another. For example, have the students create a concept map to illustrate:

  • the aspects of a good research question
  • the aspects of a good search
  • the aspects of evaluating a web resource
  • the parts of a scholarly article
  • the aspects of a well supported argument
  • the parts of a citation

Think/pair/share - can be used with reflection, recall or analysis questions either before or after a concept is presented to encourage student/content and student/student engagement.

Content, Form, and Function Outline/Matrix  In an outline or matrix form, students analyze the “what” (content), “how” (form), and “why” (function) of a particular concept. For example, the content, form and function of database limiters, the PROVEN/CRAAP acronyms, the parts of a scholarly article, the parts of a citation.

Synthesis tools - can be used to present a complex concept or after presenting one, especially when you have 30+ minutes of class time.

Jigsaw - divide the students into groups. Each group works with one part of a larger concept. Afterwards, each group presents to the other groups what they have learned, so the everyone has all the "pieces of the puzzle." For example:

  • When teaching multiple aspects of a single database - assign each group one aspect of the database and give each group 'exploration' steps to learn about that aspect and a matrix of important points they will need to report on. When the groups are finished exploring, have them report/demonstrate what they have learned. By the end of the class, everyone will have a complete matrix for the database.
  • When teaching the use of multiple databases - assign each group a database and give each group similar 'exploration' steps to learn about that database and a matrix of important aspects of it they will need to report on. When the groups are finished exploring, have them report/demonstrate what they have learned. By the end of the class, everyone will have a complete matrix for all the databases.
  • When teaching how to read a scholarly article - Provide an article and analysis questions. Assign each group a part of the article and a set of analysis questions. Once the groups have worked through their section together, give everyone a matrix to fill out and have each group report back what they have learned. By the end of the class, everyone will have a complete matrix describing the aspects of a scholarly article.

Invented dialogues -By inventing dialogues, students synthesize their understanding of a concept into a structured and illustrative conversation. The key to setting up the assignment is to select a difficult concept or theory and invent an imaginary dialogue partner for students. For example:

  • Imagine you have to teach a group of new university students the difference between popular and scholarly articles. How would you explain this concept to them? What information would they need to know to locate scholarly sources through the university library? Include both sides of the dialogue, with questions the new university students would ask.
  • Imagine that you have to speak to a group of students majoring in your field about who has authority within your area of study and the origins of that authority. What questions would they ask you? How would you explain the type of expertise that is valued in your discipline?
  • Imagine that you have to defend a source that you chose for your research paper to a librarian. How will you articulate why the source is appropriate, relevant, and useful? What questions will the librarian ask you?


Behavioral domain assessment tools

Given the nature of library instruction, most class sessions require students to apply a skill the librarian has taught and demonstrate what they can do (find, evaluate, incorporate, cite etc) as a result of instruction. Therefore, this tab contains some 'quick' behavioral assessment tools. The next tab contains sample activity handouts for the application of common research skills.

"Quick" behavioral assessment tools 

Prove me wrong - Make a statement, based on either course content or student personal interest, like, "X is the best." Then give students 5 minutes to search for evidence to prove you wrong (or right). If you chose a claim that is general accepted but refutable, this activity encourages students to challenge their assumptions and look for varied perspectives/opposing viewpoints.

Application cards - students are asked to give a practical, real-world example of how a concept or theory could potentially be applied. This is to be written on a note-card, and collected by the instructor.

Process analysis - for classes in which the librarian is embedded, or while doing one-shot searches, have students keep track of their research processes in a blog or journal including what steps they took, how much time each step took and to describe their process in a narrative.

Behavioral Domain Assessment Activity Worksheets

The exercises below are designed to help scaffold the research process. They can be used in class or assigned as homework. They are in Word format so instructors who wish to use them can easily edit or adapt them to specific lesson parameters. When appropriate, they contain an answer key, so instructors should look at the full handout and remove the answer key before sharing with students.

Formulate a research topic
Find information
Evaluate information
Incorporate information - avoid plagiarism by properly using quotes, paraphrases and summaries
Incorporate information - learning how and why to use sources
Cite information

Create a list of sources with improper citations. Have the students attempt to locate the sources.  This should demonstrate to students how citations are used to track down sources and how frustrating it can be for their teachers and fellow researchers when they don’t provide adequate citations. Examples to use here could include books with multiple editions or books with very generic titles.

Breaking citations down: Develop a list of citations. Break these citations down (components: author, date, publisher, title, etc). Type or write them down on larger pieces of construction paper, cardboard, etc. You can utilize a variety of colors, shapes, sizes. Have students work as groups to assemble the parts (you can use pin boards, a wall and tape, magnetic boards, etc). This can easily be turned into a competitive game.

Learning Reflection Questions

The following question categories and sample reflection questions are adapted to library instruction from "The 40 Reflection Questions" on Edutopia. Use Moodle, Qualtrics or LibWizard to share any of the following questions:

Backward looking reflection

  • How much did you know about this topic before this class session?
  • Have you done a similar exercise/use a similar database or tool in a previous class?
  • In what ways have you improved in this part of the research process? In what ways do you still need to improve?
  • What problems did you encounter during today's activity?
  • What problems did you encounter while searching? Which search terms worked best? In which database?
  • What resources were especially helpful in today's activity? Which will you use again?

Inward looking reflection

  • How do you feel about this activity? What did you like? Dislike? Why?
  • What was especially satisfying about this activity?
  • What frustrated you about this activity?
  • What were your standards for the final results of today's activity? What did you hope to accomplish and what would success look like? Did you meet your standards/succeed?
  • Have you changed any ideas you used to have on this topic? How?
  • How has your research question/topic changed after the session?
  • What related ideas helped you refine or focus your original research topic?
  • What related ideas helped you refine or focus your original research topic?
  • If you compared the results of today's activity to results you obtained from previous, similar activities, what changes would you see?
  • What does the final outcome of today's activity say about you as a learner?

Outward looking reflection

  • How did your approach to this activity differ from your partner's approach? How were your approaches similar?
  • What is the one thing you would want people to notice about your results? 
  • Did your work today meet the standards set for this activity? How or how not?
  • If someone else looked at your results, what would they know about your goals for the activity or your research project?

Forward looking reflection

  • One thing I'd like to improve on is...
  • What one aspect of your process/results would you change if you did this activity over again?
  • What will you change in the next revision of this project?
  • What one aspect of your partner's process would you like to try?
  • What one part of the activity should the instructor do differently the next time they teach this lesson? How could it be improved?
  • What do you want more help with?