This weekend, Anna and I have been sitting at my kitchen table working on the data we’ve collected from schools about students’ information literacy skills.

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Lisa and Anna working hard (and drinking a LOT of tea)

These data come from the Information literacy rubric developed by one of our team, Angela Feekery, which allows us to explore senior secondary school students’ perceptions of their readiness for tertiary education. Here is a quick description of the purpose of the rubric:

The rubric is a form of self-reflection: students assess themselves on a four point scale (basic, emerging, proficient and advanced) on a series of items. As such, rather than being an objective measure of  students’ skills. aptitudes and behaviours, the rubric is a measure of student perceptions. It was designed as a tool which would enable students to assess their readiness for tertiary study, teachers to develop appropriate resources and curricula, and researchers to measure the success of teachers’ literacy strategies in terms of student preparedness for academic literacy. Its structure was designed to highlight key literacy competencies students entering higher education would be expected to develop through scaffolded instruction and independent learning experiences.

If you’re interested in seeing this rubric, or participating in this research, let us know.

Many interesting findings have emerged from this data (we had final year students in 7 high schools fill in the rubric: a total of 177 students) and we’ll be exploring different themes from the findings  on the blog from time to time. But today I thought I’d focus on just one item: asking for help.

Because students are expected to be independent learners by the time they reach university, knowing when and how to ask for help is important to students success. Included in the rubric was the question ‘If you do ask for help, who do you usually ask?’. Students were given six options: teacher, librarian, friend, parent, sibling and other. For each option they were asked to indicate if they never, sometimes, often or always used that source for help.

Good news: Students do ask for help

A remarkable 94% of students report that they often (58%) or sometimes (36%) ask for help when they can’t find the information they need. This is an encouraging finding – but who were they asking?

Bad news: They’re not asking a librarian!

We found that students tended to rely the most on their teachers and friends for help and to a lesser extent on their parents and siblings. BUT very few students sought out librarians. Whereas close to 80% of students indicated that they either often or always ask a teacher for help, only 9% of students reported seeking out a librarian for assistance, with a majority of students (62%) indicating that they never ask a librarian for help.

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Students also worked collaboratively and sought out each other for help. Three quarters of the students found it useful to discuss ideas with friends first, before turning to more independent work. Consistent with this, 66% of students indicated that they often or always ask a friend for help to find information.

How does asking for help relate to IL as measured by the Information Literacy Rubric?

We divided the students into two groups, low and high, according to their responses of how often they asked for help to find information they needed and how often they sought out each of the five sources of help. Scores in the basic and emerging levels were low and proficient and advanced scores were high. We compared the resulting groups on their total rubric scores.

Students high in asking for help had significantly higher total rubric scores than those who did not.

Students who often or always asked their teachers or parents for help scored higher in the rubric than students who never or sometimes asked their teachers or parents for help. In contrast, rubric scores did not differ between students who were either high or low in asking their friends for help.

Because so few students often or always asked a librarian for help (only 12 out of the whole sample) the responses to this question were divided between the Basic and Emerging levels; students in the basic level never approached a librarian for help, and students in the emerging, proficient or advanced group had done so on one or more occasions. Students who had asked a librarian for help scored significantly higher on the rubric (M: 4.5) than students who had not asked a librarian for help (M: 3.9).

Overall, the results of these findings point in the same direction: students who access help from teachers, librarians and parents show resulting gains in Information Literacy, and those in the most need of help in IL do not access the help available to them.

Recommendation? Encourage students to make better use of their librarian and the library resources.

Lisa Emerson and Anna Greenhow

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