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Thomas P. Mackey and Trudi Jacobson - Integrating Information Literacy in Lower- and Upper-Level Courses: Developing Scalable Models for Higher Education - The Journal of General Education 53:3-4 The Journal of General Education 53.3-4 (2004) 201-224

Integrating Information Literacy In Lower- And Upper-Level Courses:

Developing Scalable Models For Higher Education


Information literacy (IL) is an essential skills set that prepares students for critical thinking in college, the workplace, and everyday life. Students who are information literate are better equipped for today's multifaceted information environment than those students who are not. While some campuses place a greater focus on information literacy instruction than others, most are struggling to find ways to include IL programs at the undergraduate level. The impetus for such initiatives may depend on some combination of accreditation standards, internal review and assessment, instructor response to rapidly changing information sources and technologies, or the degree to which librarians and faculty collaborate on campus.

The purpose of this article is to introduce three scalable models for teaching IL that work in general education as well as upper level courses: The Art of Annotation, Research and Composition, and Writing for the Web. These models may be utilized to inform separate assignments in distinct courses or several different courses throughout the curriculum. The authors argue for IL instruction that starts in a comprehensive way in lower-level courses, and then continues in discipline-specific courses at the upper undergraduate level, as well as graduate school. This multi-tiered approach suggests that new models must be designed to reflect an expanded and integrated role for IL education. This will lead to practical and innovative assignment options to enable instructors to effectively incorporate IL in a multiplicity of credit bearing courses.

IL programs vary by institution and may or may not require students to receive IL graduation credit. In most cases, institutions [End Page 201] are seeking ways to include IL in the curriculum without adding to departmental or graduation requirements. If we understand IL as "a process of lifelong learning" (American Library Association, 1989), in which students actively engage with and produce information in a variety of settings, the commitment to IL education must start in general education and extend to upper-level courses. In order for students to develop and hone a complex set of information skills, we need to envision and implement IL instruction beyond the scope of one entry-level college experience. The models presented in this article focus on the development of student skills in three key areas: research methods, writing, and Web (Internet) production.

IL prepares students for college research but also introduces a way of thinking about information that is device-independent. That is, IL focuses on the analytical evaluation and production of information in a variety of forms regardless of changing technology. Information literate students pursue knowledge and understanding through research, writing, and communication while advancing these activities through ongoing practice.

This integrated approach to IL informs three proposed teaching models:

  1. The Art of Annotation: Teaching students to conduct research in the library and online to synthesize and document information for the development of an annotated bibliography;
  2. Research and Composition: Teaching students to incorporate discipline-specific resources (i.e., scholarly journal articles and professional Web sites) in properly documented research essays;
  3. Writing for the Web: Teaching students to develop content for the Internet with a specific focus on primary and secondary research methods.

Each model will be illustrated with case studies from the authors' experience. We will present assignments that worked in a lower-level general education course, two upper-level discipline-specific courses, and a graduate course. We will also discuss the scalability of each model to reinforce vital concepts in the curriculum without repeating the same course materials and assignments. While most of [End Page 202] these models are easily transferable from one context to another, some approaches work best at defined levels of instruction.

Information Literacy in General Education

The American Library Association's (ALA) 1989 Presidential Report on Information Literacy called for substantive changes in higher education to address the challenges of "the information age." According to this report an "information literate" individual knows "how to find, evaluate, and use information effectively to solve a particular problem or make a decision—whether the information they select comes from a computer, a book, a government agency, a film, or any number of other possible resources" (American Library Association, 1989). This report outlined a working definition of IL that is both conceptual and pragmatic. It broadly defines the goals of "lifelong learning" while making specific reference to essential information skills such as knowing, identifying, finding, organizing, and using information. Since the ALA first published this report, the amount of information and information sources has grown considerably, further supporting the need for comprehensive IL skills.

According to Breivik (1998), "the best place to start information literacy planning is with general education or core curriculum, where concerns for competencies that all students should acquire provide a natural home for the discussion of information literacy abilities" (p. 44). Breivik challenges the lecture format so often used in large, entry-level courses (p. 23). She argues for "resource-based learning" in which students "access, evaluate, organize, and present information from all the real-world sources existing in today's information society" (p. 25). This approach places students in the role of information producer and includes activities that extend beyond the traditional classroom, involving students in community service, television production, Web development, collaboration, and publication (p. 25).

Sellen (2002) also argues for an active-learning approach to IL in general education. She states that "information literacy brings to general education the acquisition of new learning skills that take advantage of technological advancements of the 21st century" [End Page 203] (p. 116). Teaching with multimedia, for example, has the potential to enhance active learning for a generation that has grown up with computers (p. 118). The implementation of IL within general education also challenges students to gain "an awareness of the role and importance of information in our society" (p. 116). In this context, students gain a "foundational ability in accessing and using information that can be applied to more advanced academic courses" (p. 122).

It is this "foundational ability" that defines a central role for general education in the development of information literacy programs (Sellen, 2002, p. 122). Rockman (2002) suggests that IL is a "foundation skill for academic success and a key component of independent, lifelong learning" (p. 185). She argues that changes in general education have "provided academic libraries with opportunities and possibilities to weave information into both lower-and upper-division courses" (p. 195). According to Rockman, IL must be available to "first year, lower-division, transfer, upper-division, senior, and graduate students" (p. 196). These efforts, however, must also be linked to an ongoing assessment process, which will provide meaningful feedback to instructors and the institution about the quality of these initiatives and the impact this work has on student learning (p. 195).

Webber and Johnston (2000) identify problems with an IL methodology that relies too heavily on library instruction. For example, the authors argue that "since the majority of information literacy initiatives are being led by librarians, the learning may not be integrated into credit-bearing classes" (p. 384). The potential influence of librarians on IL program development is actually diminished if not utilized as part of a larger institutional curriculum (p. 384). Library instruction can be easily reduced to brief information sessions if there is no formal course requirement in place (384).

Ratteray (2002) identified this as a problem of perception when he argued that "it may be that information literacy, having emerged as an instructional service to students and faculty from the bibliographic community, came to be accepted on campuses as primarily a librarian's responsibility" (p. 369). He contends that successful IL initiatives must be developed through collaboration among faculty, [End Page 204] librarians, and administrators (p. 369). This requires an investment among all participants at the institution, extending beyond the library as primary facilitator. IL is an across-the-board "learning outcome" that intersects all others and is an integral part of an institution's assessment and self-study process (370).

IL figures prominently in three standards for accreditation defined by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. According to Standard 12: General Education, "students acquire and demonstrate college level proficiency in general education and essential skills, including oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical analysis and reasoning, technological competency, and information literacy" (Middle States Commission, 2002, p. 37). This standard situates IL within the entire general education curriculum. It is not an isolated skill that is easily acquired and applied in one context, but rather, one of the "essential skills" associated with all others (p. 37). As the Middle States Commission asserts, general education is the ideal environment for students to gain IL expertise in relation to other fundamental college proficiencies.

In Developing Research & Communication Skills: Guidelines for Information Literacy in the Curriculum, the Middle States Commission emphasizes the importance of IL in the comprehensive "literacy goals" of the college or university. The commission continues to support IL in general education but also challenges institutions to consider more advanced approaches to IL instruction within discipline-specific courses (Middle States Commission, 2003, p. 3). This requires programs to "distinguish between lower-level, rudimentary information literacy skills and higher-level, more sophisticated skills" (p. 10). In the self-study process, each institution must determine how student learning will be assessed and at which levels, but the results "should reflect the progressive development of their information literacy skills throughout their college experience" (p. 13). This practice extends the scope of IL instruction beyond entry-level skills development to an integrated set of competencies that are applied throughout a student's college experience. The accreditation process supports these goals from an institutional perspective and ultimately has an impact on the way IL programs are developed and implemented. [End Page 205]

The University at Albany Experience

The IL program at the University at Albany, SUNY, has developed through strong institutional support and an environment of collaboration. All undergraduates at the university are required to complete one information literacy course for credit, out of an array of approximately 15 different course options. This is a general education requirement that should be fulfilled during the student's freshman or sophomore year. Students have the option to complete quarter courses taught by library faculty, or full-semester discipline-specific courses taught by departmental faculty. The discipline-specific courses are currently taught by the departments of Communication, Computer Science, East Asian Studies, Geography and Planning, Linguistics, and Women's Studies, as well as the School of Information Science & Policy (SISP). Students also have the option to receive IL instruction in the first-year experience program (Project Renaissance) and selected developmental and career skills courses. All options count toward a student's general education program.

IL courses are approved by a subcommittee of the General Education Committee. Participants include faculty from several departments on campus, Project Renaissance, and faculty librarians from the University Libraries. The subcommittee facilitates dialogue among librarians and faculty from different disciplines and maintains continuity for IL course requirements. Members of the subcommittee also provide a knowledgeable resource for other instructors interested in revising current courses to meet this requirement or for developing entirely new courses.

The first two teaching models proposed in this article are based on courses that meet this general education requirement. UNL (University Libraries) 205: Information Literacy is a lower-level, one-credit course taught by library faculty. ISP (Information Science and Policy) 301: The Information Environment is an upper-level, three-credit, discipline-specific course taught by departmental faculty in SISP. The third teaching model is based on an upper-level, three-credit course entitled ISP 361: Web Development. The same model is illustrated with a similar assignment in a three-credit graduate course entitled ISP 523: Fundamentals of Information Technology. While the University does not have a graduate-level [End Page 206] information literacy requirement, ISP 523 is informed by several IL skills and concepts.

Different IL Levels Lead to Different Models

One of the challenges involved with teaching students IL skills at various points during their academic careers is the need to differentiate the material that they learn. Based on the experience at the University at Albany, students have little patience for learning the same concepts and strategies, either at different times in the same course or in different courses. They also find it frustrating and redundant to complete similar assignments that focus on specific IL skills development. The ideal situation is to design progressive IL instruction with corresponding assignments. As we propose in this article, different models allow students to learn increasingly sophisticated IL skills at appropriate times during their academic careers. This would allow instructors of upper-level courses that incorporate IL elements to presume that all students have basic IL skills upon which to build (a strong argument for a general education IL requirement taken within the first two years of study). As students progress within their majors, they need to learn more complex and focused IL skills, and the two upper-level models we present reflect this need.

The Art of Annotation

The Art of Annotation model introduces students to formal research methods within a general education course and requires the development of an annotated bibliography. Lower-level undergraduates frequently are unfamiliar with the wide range of scholarly information sources available to them. Students who must find multiple resources on a topic, from a variety of information categories, have a chance to apply newly learned skills of distinguishing different types of sources and basic searching strategies. In addition, students put into practice citing and evaluating their sources. This model is easily scalable across general education courses. It is flexible in connection to the topics students select, the types of sources they are expected to find, [End Page 207] and the bibliography style they use. This model, which defines a new skills set appropriate to freshmen and sophomores, builds a foundation for upper-level undergraduate and graduate school research.

Art of Annotation University-Wide

Several of the lower-level IL courses at the University at Albany require students to produce ten-item annotated bibliographies. Initially, this was a required assignment for all of the IL courses in general education. The IL subcommittee believed that this assignment incorporated many of the basic IL skills students would be learning, and reflected students' need to expand their information source horizons. Over time, as upper-level courses began to meet the IL requirement, subcommittee members recognized that the structure of this assignment was too limiting. The general assignment was therefore broadened to: "at least one research project that requires students to find, evaluate, cite, and use information presented in diverse formats from multiple sources and to integrate this information within a single textual, visual, or digital document" ( However, the multisource annotated bibliography project was retained by most lower-level IL courses because it is an appropriate instrument through which students might show their increasing proficiencies.

Professors teaching discipline-specific lower-level IL courses find the annotated bibliography assignment, and instruction in the skills it requires, to be an effective way for students to begin to become familiar with the literature of the discipline. The annotation assignment may also be used in upper-level courses, with a more sophisticated set of required sources. Upper-level undergraduate and graduate students are better able to evaluate their sources and to place them in the context of the field.

Information Literacy (UNL 205)

One of the courses that incorporates the Art of Annotation is UNL 205, the quarter-long IL course taught by librarians. Approximately 30 sections of this course, which is designed for freshmen and [End Page 208] sophomores, are taught each year. UNL 205 is one of the key means for students to fulfill the IL requirement on campus.

Professors teach students to appreciate the differences between types of information sources (e.g., book versus journal, popular versus scholarly, primary versus secondary). Students learn, in a computer environment, what tools to use when searching for information in these and other categories, using a topic of their choice. They thus become familiar with a library catalog, journal databases, and a more sophisticated level of Web searching than most are used to. Students learn the importance of evaluating information, and practice doing so in the critical annotations that accompany their bibliography entries. Students are also introduced to key concepts related to information ethics, including plagiarism, the need to cite their sources, and how to do so using a particular style of citation.

Annotated Bibliography

The culminating course assignment is an annotated bibliography of ten sources. Students are urged to select their own topics based on a specific paper or project they are completing in another course. After selecting a topic, students must develop a thesis statement to guide their information search. Lower-level undergraduate students frequently select research topics that are too broad or too narrow for the extent of their assignments. The need to write a thesis statement strongly encourages students to focus the direction of their project from the very beginning. Each week during the course, as students learn new search skills and tools and become familiar with distinct categories of information, they seek material on their topics from a variety of categories. These include:

  • a book
  • a reference source in book format
  • a popular Internet site
  • a scholarly Internet site
  • a print article from a popular magazine or newspaper
  • a print article from a scholarly journal
  • a full-text article (from a source such as EBSCO, JSTOR, or LexisNexis) [End Page 209]
  • a primary source
  • a secondary source
  • an additional resource from one of these categories: electronic reference source, government document, or multimedia source.

Students submit draft citations using the APA style and critical annotations each week. The feedback they receive allows them to become more adept at writing the follow-up drafts due in successive weeks. The corrected draft assignments are combined to form the final bibliography.

Assessing the Art of Annotation

The essential components of the annotated bibliography assignment—thesis statement, citations, and critical annotations—do not come easily to most lower-level undergraduate students. While class time is spent explaining and practicing all of these components, instructors have found the weekly draft assignments to be vital for student learning. Not only are students grappling with an unfamiliar type of writing; they are also learning about new categories of information and how to effectively access them. Students' abilities to think critically are advanced by the need to:

  • evaluate an author's expertise
  • determine the scope and main purpose of the material
  • recognize any standpoint or bias
  • identify the intended audience
  • compare with other sources on the topic
  • select appropriate information sources.

The weekly assignments ensure that assessment of student learning is ongoing throughout the course. Students use this formative evaluation to improve their skills in both resource evaluation and citation style.

Research and Composition

The Research and Composition model involves writing assignments focused on a research topic developed by the student. This model is [End Page 210] scalable to all levels of higher education and may result in research papers, electronic texts, or Web sites. Although this model is based on a specific information science course, similar assignments can be developed for any course that requires research writing. The scope of assignments will vary depending on the context and level of instruction. Research writing challenges students to synthesize a range of sources and requires the application of a set of skills, including the ability to:

  • access and retrieve discipline-specific sources in the library and online
  • differentiate between scholarly, popular, and trade sources
  • develop a concept map for topic ideas and essay organization
  • outline essay structure
  • participate in peer review and revision
  • document sources based on discipline-specific style guides.

This model builds on the research skills students gain in lower-level IL courses. Students with experience conducting research and providing analysis for an annotated bibliography assignment will be prepared to expand on the types of sources they access for a research essay. In addition, experience in writing critical annotations will benefit the summary and analysis of sources for a research document.

The discipline-specific nature of assignments in this model challenges students to move from general resources to more specific ones that relate to a topic in a specialized field of study. Students expand their research skills by taking the time to concentrate in depth on scholarly journal articles, books, or professional Web sites from a particular discipline. Since it is not always possible to guarantee that students complete upper- and lower-level courses in sequence, this model is scalable to separate stand-alone courses that require research and writing competencies.

The Information Environment (ISP 301)

ISP 301: The Information Environment is an upper-level, discipline-specific course in the SISP undergraduate program. As an introduction [End Page 211] to the field of information science, this course covers such topics as: copyright and intellectual property, digital divide, internet security, human-computer interaction, Web usability, and Web accessibility. ISP 301 meets the University at Albany's IL requirement and includes a Web development component. Students learn research methods for writing a paper and for developing several Web sites about information science topics. The IL requirement emphasizes the access and evaluation of scholarly resources such as journal articles, government documents, professional Web sites, popular magazines, and newspapers. Students also learn to differentiate among these different sources and to make choices about the most effective materials for their paper or Web documents. The IT requirement emphasizes the basics of HTML as well as XHTML, XML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and digital imaging.

The purpose of this dual IL and IT requirement is for students to apply research and writing in both paper and Web documents. In a research paper, students focus on the analysis and interpretation of sources in a structured essay. On the Internet, students develop hypertexts in collaboration with other students, and experience writing in a visual medium that juxtaposes both text and image. The Internet is less structured and less predictable than word-processed formats and expands the audience for student writing beyond the professor and teaching assistants. The focus on research in paper and on the Internet emphasizes the importance of meaningful content in any medium and supports a purposeful context for learning technology. As an introduction to the field of information science, this course actively explores the technologies discussed. This helps students to demystify how the Internet works as they learn the underlying technical architecture of this expansive space. Students gain new insights about the coding of Web pages, the directory structure in a UNIX environment, and hypertext links to professional sources on the Internet and to other student projects. This allows students to put theory into practice as producers of their own Web pages. As the following assignments demonstrate, IL offers many creative possibilities in a multiplicity of media formats.

Before the university's IL subcommittee expanded the assignment guidelines, ISP 301 students developed annotated bibliographies as Web pages. Although the Web development aspect of this [End Page 212] assignment was unique, the annotated bibliography requirement was similar to all other IL courses. This created a redundancy problem for students who took more than one IL class. After the guidelines changed, the creative potential for assignments in this model expanded considerably. As a result, several different research assignments have been explored in ISP 301, including a Web-based hypertext magazine project, a scholarly journal critique, and a formal APA-style research paper. A brief explanation of each assignment will illustrate the central characteristics of this model. Although this section delineates the evolution of research and composition in one course, each assignment could be applied in lower-level general education or upper-level discipline-specific courses with some modification. In particular, courses in disciplines other than information science will need to include a technology component that provides students with the skills to engage with course materials as Web producers.

Web-Based Hypertext Magazine

This assignment replaced the original Web-based annotated bibliography in ISP 301 and required students to develop Web pages based on an information science topic. The popular magazine format is familiar to students and defines a self-contained thematic entity comprising related articles. Magazines also tend to effectively combine text and image in cohesive and visually appealing ways. Developing a magazine for the Internet provides a creative challenge to apply skills in Web production, research, writing, and teamwork. Students worked together as a team to produce a Web-based magazine based on their information science research topic. Each student article was an individual contribution and did not necessarily require collaboration, although students did need to work within the same information topic area to create a consistent magazine theme.

In terms of research, students used a range of scholarly resources accessed in the library and online. Each Web article linked to online resources and other student Web pages. This assignment challenged students to develop their writing in a digital medium and to properly document sources through APA-style citation methods and via hypertext linking to professional Web sites. Rather than [End Page 213] write critical annotations based on separate sources of information, students synthesized these materials in a Web essay and worked together to conceptualize and present their work in a collaborative online magazine. This assignment avoided the redundancy of the Web-based annotated bibliography assignment and enabled students to expand the scope of their research and writing online.

The Web development aspect of the hypertext magazine assignment was limiting for some students because it did not allow them to fully explore topics in a single Web page. Some students found the Web design requirements cumbersome in combination with the research and writing expectations. In addition, some expressed concern that they were basically developing a research paper for the Internet that could be easily plagiarized. Based on this feedback, a separate essay assignment was developed in the following semester that emphasized the critical evaluation of scholarly journal articles on information science and required the production of a word processed document rather than a Web page. Students in the course continue to develop research-oriented Web pages, but the format of the Web assignments vary from semester to semester.

Scholarly Journal Critique1

This assignment was developed to focus directly on the critical evaluation of scholarly journal articles. It expanded on the skills many students learned in the Art of Annotation model and allowed them to concentrate on their research and writing without having to create another Web page. Although this five-page essay fell short of being a full research paper, it involved specific source requirements and APA-style documentation. The difference, however, between this assignment and a formal research paper is that students were required to respond to directed questions about their sources and to do so in a cohesive essay. This assignment included two sets of questions. In the first part, students were asked to analyze the scholarly journal article in detail:

  • What conclusions did the author arrive at?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the conclusions?
  • Did the author fully support his or her conclusions? [End Page 214]
  • Did the author refer to other scholarly journal articles, books, magazines, and/or Web sites?
  • Is the writing intended for a specific or a general audience?

In the second part, students were asked to compare the information presented in a scholarly journal article with additional sources of information, including popular, trade, and government documents. The second set of questions included the following:

  • How do these sources relate to the scholarly journal article?
  • In your view, what are the most obvious differences between the scholarly journal article and your popular, government, and trade sources?
  • How would you describe the writing style of your additional sources?

Many of these questions represent a mode of inquiry needed to critically evaluate and compare several distinct resources. This presented a way of raising questions about the literature that encouraged students to examine each resource in depth. The assignment also allowed students to explore the associations among texts related to common topics. In addition, the questions presented a practical way of thinking about information to further support research in other courses and at different levels of their academic careers.

The scholarly journal critique was also developed to prevent plagiarism in student research writing. The directive nature of the questions prevented students from submitting generic research papers that could have been downloaded or copied and pasted from Web sites. The questions created a specific analytical framework for students to think through several key aspects of their information sources. Within this context, the summary of information was not as important as the original analysis of source materials. This emphasis on the production of new knowledge through the critical evaluation and interpretation of source materials made it less likely for students to resort to copying from the Internet without proper documentation. Based on their essays, students understood that they were being asked to provide an informed evaluation of the materials. This offered a certain amount of freedom for them to think and write on [End Page 215] their own. The specific questions also provided a valuable outline for many students who were developing an advanced discipline-specific research essay for the first time.

At the same time, the design of this assignment prevented some students from exploring their topics in an expansive research paper. Some found the directive nature of the questions to be more of a restraint than an open-ended conceptual framework or outline of ideas would have been. The requirements also led to some confusion about what was expected and some students responded in a perfunctory question and answer format, rather than a cohesive essay informed by the questions. Based on student feedback and an analysis of student essays for two semesters, the scholarly journal critique was replaced by a formal research paper. This new assignment provides students with the flexibility to explore ideas in greater detail than was possible with the critique, allowing for a closer reading of source material and the development of associations among sources in an essay.

Research Paper

The current Research and Composition model in ISP 301 involves a formal APA-style research paper based on specific information science topics. Students continue to produce research-oriented Web pages in ISP 301 for other assignments, but the research paper has been developed as a separate requirement. As an extension of the scholarly journal critique, this assignment also requires students to access a range of information sources, including:

  • two scholarly journal articles
  • one newspaper article
  • one professional or academic Web site
  • one government document
  • one trade or popular source.

With the research paper, however, students are encouraged to construct and support an argument based on their sources rather than respond to directed questions.

In many ways, the research paper is a return to a more traditional format than the hypertext magazine project or the scholarly journal [End Page 216] critique. The goals of creating an intersection between IL and IT skills development are still central to this class. The separate research paper requirement, however, allows students to concentrate intensely on the academic research and writing for this one assignment. This work is complementary to the research-oriented Web assignments and informs the research, writing, and citation guidelines for all Web development. Writing a formal research paper teaches students how to construct arguments informed by outside sources and how to document those materials based on a discipline-specific style guide. These critical thinking and writing skills are valuable in any medium and extend beyond the use of a particular technology.

The research paper assignment also requires several pre-planning activities that take place in class and via the course management system, WebCT. During class, students develop concept maps and linear outlines for their research papers. This activity involves a brief lecture on these terms with examples from the University Libraries Web site and a peer review component for students to offer suggestions to each other in small groups. In a follow-up WebCT Bulletin Board assignment, students further expand on the writing started in class with a proposed topic, a draft thesis statement, and a 500-word proposal. Each student receives comments in the Bulletin Board from at least one other student in class and an individual e-mail response from the instructor with specific feedback about their proposal. These activities demonstrate the complementary nature of Web production skills. For example, when producing documents for the Web students need to plan the layout and design of separate pages and the organizational structure of entire sites with storyboards, site maps, drawings, and/or charts. These skills may benefit the nonlinear organization of concept maps for brainstorming for research papers. As students gain visual skills based on their experience as Web producers, this work has the potential to have an impact on the ways they conceptualize information in any format, including word-processed research papers. It is important for students to see the relationships between different media forms through distinct practice in each area.

As with the scholarly journal critique, individual student work is protected from plagiarism by other students because the essays are submitted as word-processed files to WebCT, rather than published on the Internet. These documents are available exclusively to the [End Page 217] instructors and are not viewable by other students. The teaching assistants write subjective comments in WebCT and fill out a standardized feedback form based on the assignment criteria that is returned to the students in class. Teaching assistants and professors also work with students on their research papers during office hours and in computer lab sessions. Based on this feedback, students revise their papers for a second submission via WebCT.

In ISP 301, the scholarly journal critique assignment was more effective than the research paper in preventing plagiarism. With the research paper, there was a higher incidence of copying and pasting from the Internet. At the same time, most students developed more expansive and complex essays about specific information science issues in the research paper format. Plagiarism prevention continues in this course through lecture materials, readings, quiz and exam questions, library tutorials, and in-class discussions focused on copyright and intellectual property case studies. We must continue to explore a range of options to further stress the originality of ideas, the construction of arguments based on academic sources, as well as the proper documentation of those sources in any media format; all essential outcomes of IL instruction. These goals are achieved with ongoing reminders and discussions in class, as well as inventive and variable assignment options that encourage students to apply information skills in creative ways.

Assessing Research and Composition

As these three assignments demonstrate, the Research and Composition model offers many options for students to apply IL skills in upper-level courses. This model builds on the ability to search, retrieve, and annotate resources. It also teaches students to synthesize scholarly materials and develop an argument based on discipline-specific topics. This case study also demonstrates the value of a separate word-processed essay or research paper to explore and expand ideas, even in a course that involves extensive Web development. The assessment of two Web assignments (the Web-based annotated bibliography and hypertext magazine project) in ISP 301 resulted in changes that allowed students to conduct specialized research for an individual essay. This is not to suggest [End Page 218] that the collaborative Web assignments did not have value, but within the context of this course students also needed an opportunity to work independently and to receive direct feedback from instructors about their research and writing. It was determined that the development of a formal, discipline-specific research paper is a necessary requirement in an upper-level information science course. The research paper demands a set of skills that builds on prior experience and prepares students for more advanced research and writing in graduate school.

Writing for the Web

The Writing for the Web model extends research and writing to the Internet and requires students to develop research-oriented Web sites. This model is scalable to all levels of higher education including general education, upper-level discipline specific courses, and graduate courses. This model involves teaching Web design and IL in tandem. Through Web production, students integrate complementary skills in a digital medium that is visual, textual, and potentially collaborative. Web development involves technical skills in problem-solving, coding, software applications, and digital imaging. Content development for the Internet involves research skills in accessing, evaluating, writing about, and documenting information. This model is ideal for technology-centered courses, but also offers a chance to incorporate Web production into nontechnical courses. Both components, Web development and content development, enhance and extend IL skills in a digital medium. This section will examine a final Web assignment that is used in an upper-level undergraduate course as well as in an introductory technology course in the SISP Master of Science in Information Science (MSIS) graduate program.

Web Development (ISP 361)

ISP 361: Web Development is another core requirement in the SISP undergraduate program. Students expand on the skills they gained in ISP 301 in a computer lab environment and learn new Web design techniques such as JavaScript, Practical Extraction & Report [End Page 219] Language (PERL), and Common Gateway Interface (CGI). Since ISP 301 is a prerequisite for ISP 361 the two courses make up an effective sequence in research, writing, and Web design. Although ISP 361 does not meet the University at Albany's IL requirement, student research is a key part of the final Web project in this course.

Fundamentals of Information Technology (ISP 523)

ISP 523: Fundamentals of Information Technology is the title given to several introductory technology courses in the SISP graduate program. Graduate students complete two ISP 523 courses as part of their degree requirements. One of the many options available to students within this selection of courses focuses exclusively on digital imaging and the Internet. This section of ISP 523 introduces graduate students to HTML, XHTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript, and digital imaging. Students develop weekly Web pages based on the techniques covered in the computer lab component and work toward the development of a final research-oriented Web site. Although this course does not fulfill an IL requirement of any kind, graduate students are expected to develop a properly documented final Web site based on a research topic.

Final Research Web Site in ISP 361 and ISP 523

The assignment options for the Writing for the Web model are extensive. In ISP 301, for example, students develop several introductory Web pages based on critical evaluations of course readings and a final collaborative Web site based on course themes. Through various Web-based assignments students are constantly engaged in a process of reading, writing, and Web production. In both ISP 361 and ISP 523, this emphasis on learning Web development in association with research methods and content development is at the core of several weekly assignments and the final research Web site. Combining research and writing challenges students to integrate complementary skills. It also reinforces content over technique because research in any medium requires a defined methodology and standard documentation procedure. This model exemplifies the potential for IL in upper-level, discipline-specific technology [End Page 220] courses, as well as the infusion of IT into nontechical IL courses at any level.

In ISP 361 and ISP 523, students have several options for their final Web project: information site, community site, or Web-based tutorial. With the first option, students develop a Web site about a particular information science topic. For the second option, students work with someone from a community organization on campus or in the Albany area to develop a site based on a particular community need. For the third option, students develop an instructional tutorial based on a specific Web technique or software program. Although each assignment option is very different, students are required to conduct both primary and secondary research to develop original content that is properly documented. Rather than simply develop a research paper in a single Web page, however, students consider the presentation of content in an expansive site that utilizes multiple pages, hypertext linking, navigation, and digital imaging. The core criteria for all final projects is the same, requiring students to produce a main page for the site, at least four quality content pages with images and text, and a reference page that carefully documents all of their sources.

Since the three main assignment options vary considerably, students are given a great deal of freedom to develop their final site based on these core criteria. Students are encouraged to define and locate the source materials that are most appropriate for their project. Rather than work from a directed list of required sources, students consider a range of possibilities from a suggested list of both primary and secondary materials. For example, a student working with a local organization may need to interview members of the community to obtain information. The student would utilize this information for the development of Web content and then properly document with a formal citation. A student developing an instructional tutorial may want to interview a technical expert in the field. At the same time, a student working on an information site may explore the university archives to locate original photographs, newspapers, or rare books as part of his or her research process. In addition, students may want to extend their research beyond text-based sources and develop their own instrument for data collection. The development of a Web-based feedback form, for example, assists in this process and demonstrates [End Page 221] the power of interactivity on the Internet rather than the presentation of materials in static Web pages.

Assessing Writing for the Web

This model encourages students to expand their understanding of research in upper-level and graduate courses. Students do more than create Web pages; they advance their own discipline-specific research process in a Web-based medium. In order for this approach to work, however, the guidelines must be clear. For example, a final Web site that is supported with only Web-based materials would not be acceptable. Students must be aware that when their projects are evaluated, the veracity of their research methodology will be considered equally with the look, organization, and technical functionality of the site. This requires higher-level research skills because students are involved in the design and implementation of the procedures and do so based on the needs of the project. This builds on students' previous experience while expanding their levels of competency in new ways.

In both ISP 361 and ISP 523, this approach has led to a number of excellent Web projects, including information sites about campus history and architecture, numerous instructional tutorials on specialized software programs, and several community sites for local organizations. Although neither course is officially designated IL, it is this intersection with research methods, writing, technology, and interview techniques that challenged students to advance their IL skills. Unfortunately, plagiarism continues to be a problem in both courses. Even though plagiarism prevention is discussed extensively in each class some students copy and paste content from other sites. In some cases, students even copy code from other students in the same class or from previous semesters. Most students, however, do not plagiarize because they understand the ethics of information and are guided by the same standards for documenting sources as in a research paper.


We are at a juncture in IL education that demands the development of fully integrated, comprehensive programs. These initiatives must move beyond the library community to general education, upper-level [End Page 222] discipline specific courses, and graduate school. If our students are going to build on a foundation of information skills, they must continue to have experience with IL activities throughout their college careers. This requires us to develop scalable models that work in lower-and upper-level courses, beyond the one-time only library sessions.

The three models discussed in this article, the Art of Annotation, Research and Composition, and Writing for the Web, are increasingly sophisticated methods that are transferable to many courses in a variety of disciplines. These models are based on effective assignments and courses at the University at Albany. The Art of Annotation model teaches students how to access, evaluate, and interpret a range of academic sources to prepare them to write critical annotations. The annotated bibliography assignment builds a strong foundation for academic writing throughout a student's career. The Research and Composition model teaches students how to conduct discipline-specific research. This model prepares students for writing in a variety of forms, including Web and word-processed documents. The Writing for the Web model teaches students to develop meaningful Web content based on sound research practices. Web production prepares students to participate in a constantly changing digital environment.

All three models illustrate how different approaches to IL teaching strengthen courses at varying levels of instruction. The IL requirement at the University at Albany has been a catalyst for campus-wide conversation among librarians, faculty, administrators, and students. The effectiveness of each model in separate courses demonstrates the potential to extend IL instruction beyond the library and general education, even at an institution that has been successful in requiring all students to complete IL for credit. This integrated approach is equally appropriate at a wide range of institutions of higher education. While some of the assignment ideas are not entirely new, the planned, graduated nature of the three models, specifically designed to enhance students' research skills, offers a novel and practical way to teach IL.

Tom Mackey is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information Science and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY. He has earned a Ph.D. in Writing, Teaching, and Criticism, a Master of Arts in English, and a B.A. in Communication. His research explores information literacy, web design, pedagogy, and collaboration.
Trudi Jacobson is the Coordinator of User Education Programs at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her co-authored volume, Motivating Students in Information Literacy Classes, was published in 2004 by Neal-Schuman. Her research interests focus on information literacy collaboration and on critical thinking and active learning in the classroom.


1. Assignment description for the scholarly journal critique in ISP 301: The Information Environment is available in Appendix 5 of Middle States Commission on Higher Education. (2003, pp. 102-103). [End Page 223]


American Library Association. (1989). Presidential committee on information literacy. Retrieved June 7, 2004, from &ContentID=21798

Breivik, P. S. (1998). Student learning in the information age. Phoenix: Oryx Press.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education. (2002). Characteristics of excellence in higher education: Eligibility requirements and standards for accreditation. Philadelphia: Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education. (2003). Developing research and communication skills: Guidelines for information literacy in the curriculum. Philadelphia: Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Ratteray, O. M. (2002). Information literacy in self-study and accreditation. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28(6): 368-375.

Rockman, I. F. (2002). Strengthening connections between information literacy, general education, and assessment efforts. Library Trends, 51(2), 185-198.

Sellen, M. (2002). Information literacy in the general education: A new requirement for the 21st century. Journal of General Education, 51(2), 115-126.

Webber, S., & Johnston, B. (2000). Conceptions of information literacy: New perspectives and implications. Journal of Information Science, 26(6), 381-397.

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