Survey says. The Status of Information Competency

Member of the Educational Policies Committee 2008-2009
Member of the Educational Policies Committee 2008-2009

So, imagine that you are the senate president at your college, and a member of the accrediting team during your site visit turns to you and asks "What is your current information competency policy, and how does it meet the accreditation standards?" What would your response be? If your immediate response is to look blankly at the team member and stutter, you would not be alone, based on the results of a recent survey conducted by the Academic Senate Educational Policies Committee.

At the Spring 2008 plenary session, a resolution was passed calling for the Academic Senate to "update the position paper `Information Competency in the California Community Colleges' to reflect the current status of information competency education statewide" (Resolution 9.04, Spring 2008). The 2008-09 Educational Policies Committee was tasked with updating this information, and responded by sending out a survey in early 2009 requesting information from local senates about their current information competency policies. The survey had five questions regarding the state of information competency at the respondent's college:

  1. Does your college currently have a stated graduation requirement regarding Information Competency?
  2. How is achievement of the Information Competency requirement demonstrated?
  3. Is the topic of a stated graduation requirement under discussion at your college?
  4. How does your college meet the Accreditation Standard IIC, 1b, which states, "The institution provides ongoing instruction for users of library and other learning support services so that students are able to develop skills in information competency"?
  5. Would your college like any advice/help from the Academic Senate to implement Information Competency?

The number of respondents to the questions ranged from 11 to 51, depending on the question. When asked about the stated graduation requirement, 27.5% of respondents (N =14) responded that their colleges did have a requirement, and 72.5% (N =37) that they did not. Faculty respondents were then asked to name the ways by which a student could demonstrate the achievement of the information competency requirement. Eleven colleges responded, with the following means of achieving the requirement:

  1. A dedicated course or choice of courses, including:
    • Information Competency and Bibliography (1 unit)
    • Library 10, Basic Information Competency (1 unit)
    • Library Science, Steps to Successful Research
    • Internet for Research Computer Applications and Technology
    • Introduction to Information Literacy
    • Introduction to Information Literacy for Research Projects
    • Introduction to Internet
  2. Information Competency infused into the following courses:
    • Freshman Composition
    • Academic Writing and Reading
    • ESL College Reading and Composition
    • College Composition or Business Communications
  3. Other options:
    • Students can test out of the requirement
    • Reference librarian provides in-class sessions
    • Nursing and Physical Therapy programs have Information Competency modules embedded in their courses
    • SLOs (Student Learning Outcomes) include as an outcome achievement of Information Competency

The topic of a stated graduation requirement was under discussion at 24.1 % colleges (N = 36), with the other 75.9% stating that the topic of a graduation requirement in information competency was not currently under discussion.

Faculty were then asked how their colleges met the Accreditation Standard II C, 1b ("The institution provides ongoing instruction for users of library and other learning support services so that students are able to develop skills in information competency.") There were 27 responses to this question. The response options were as follows:

  1. The skills are infused into a required general education course or general education courses (33.3%);
  2. There are other mechanism(s) by which information competency is ensured (59.3%);
  3. Unsure (11.1%);
  4. We are in the process of developing our strategy (33.3%).

No colleges indicated that the accreditation standard is not being addressed at this time. The options to meet the accreditation standard as specified by the respondents included:

Training and other resources for faculty or students:

  • Faculty can sign up their classes for 60-90 minute research sessions.
  • The librarians conduct workshops for individual classes upon request.
  • The college publishes guides, handouts, and manuals, in both print and electronic formats, for student use.
  • The college provides online orientations, informative slide shows, mini-tutorials, audio instruction, and other means of providing students with specific help as they need it.
  • The chief librarian works with several faculty members in developing class assignments that require use of the library.
  • The college offers classes in library use that allow students to develop skills in information competency, but currently these classes are not required.
  • The library offers Information Competency Workshops on six topics throughout the year. Instructors encourage students to take the workshops for extra credit or as a course requirement.

Course-specific or infused into courses and/or programs:

  • Freshman Composition (graduation requirement) has an information competency requirement.
  • The college has a course that allows students to meet the standard but it is not obligatory.
  • The district offers a stand-alone, transferable one-unit Information Competency course, though it is not currently a graduation requirement.
  • First Year Experience Program to possibly insert information competency into required freshmen course(s).
  • There are individual course requirements whereby students must be able to access and evaluate information, and through access to technology mall computers with assistance and tutorials.

Mapping of GE courses, the use of SLOs, and Institutional Goals

  • The district is in the process of mapping the general education courses to our institutional SLOs, which does include "Information Skills" both in the form of computer literacy and the ability to locate, evaluate, and use information.
  • One of our institutional SLOs is about information competency; therefore, students are supposed to have the skills before graduating.
  • We have a Computer Literacy Information Competency (CLIC) Committee and its task is to develop CLIC assessment for student placement into existing courses based on assessment results Broadening IC offerings is also part of the current plan as well as developing college wide CLIC SLOs.
  • Research across the curriculum strategies to promote information competency standards, outcomes, and strategies and inform faculty across the campus through staff development events (e.g. faculty colloquium, brown-bag lunch meetings, workshops, guest speakers).

Some colleges use multiple ways to satisfy the information competency requirement, including all of the above. One college reported that "Information competency is taught as a component of many academic courses, in self-paced learning center and library courses, and in custom-tailored library instructional sessions designed in consultation with (various discipline) faculty. Students receive instruction on topics such as finding information using the catalog and databases, gauging the credibility of websites, avoiding plagiarism, and citing sources correctly. These sessions, focused on the specific learning outcomes identified by librarians and discipline instructors, assist students in finding, evaluating, and using information." Another college reported that over 5000 students attended library workshops during the 2007-2008 academic year. The workshops addressed different information competency learning outcomes, including citing sources, evaluation of web resources, searching online catalogs, and the like.

It is difficult to make generalizations about the level of implementation of information competency requirements as a whole, but there are several considerations to keep in mind. First, the colleges that did have a dedicated graduation requirement included courses in English and library departments, but no other departments (based on the responses). Second, respondents may not know how their colleges meet the accreditation standard, based on the number of respondents who skipped that question. Third, demonstrating information competency by a means other than a graduation requirement may best be achieved by having a specific student learning outcome or other mechanism to measure the level of information competency that the student has achieved.

The Academic Senate has an array of articles, resolutions and papers on this topic. We recommend you refer to those resources for more information by going to