The First-Year Experience and the Library

In fall 2013, Loyola Marymount University implemented a new core curriculum which, for the first time in our history, systematically integrated information literacy into the curriculum. Most importantly, information literacy became a key component in two required first-year classes: First Year Seminar and Rhetorical Arts. Our information literacy program has been recognized by ACRL as an “Exemplary Program” in two categories: Goals and Objectives, and Articulation within the Curriculum.

First-Year Core: Information Literacy from Day 1

First Year Seminar (FYS) courses give new undergraduate students an early introduction to academic excellence and intellectual rigor through small classes with a faculty member in their discipline. The library created and maintains information literacy tutorials for these courses, embedding the online modules into every FYS Brightspace course page. Through these modules, students learn about scholarly discourse, how to distinguish between peer-reviewed and popular sources, and how to search for books and articles through the library. In spring 2020, 90% of students at LMU had completed at least one module, with 86% completing all four. Average scores for the four modules ranged from 87% (Finding Articles) to 92% (Starting Your Assignment).

Librarian teaching LMU student in computer classroom
Librarian Darlene Aguilar working with a student

These library modules, which were recognized by the ACRL Instruction Section’s PRIMO in 2013, give students an early introduction to scholarly communication and doing research at the library, while working closely with their faculty to learn the work of a scholar. We frequently survey FYS students and faculty to assess where our tutorials can be improved. We carefully review this feedback and adapt our modules as necessary. For example, we recently eliminated a separate quiz in Brightspace in order to give more emphasis to the graded portions in the modules themselves. In the most recent surveys from 2018, students reported higher agreement with statements like “the module videos were informative,” “the tutorial modules increased my ability to differentiate between primary and secondary sources,” and “the tutorial modules increased my ability to cite sources in my assignments” than in previous years.

The other required course in the first year experience, Rhetorical Arts, focuses on rhetorical concepts, encouraging students to consider how they use arguments to further their own writing. Rhetorical Arts draws on the Jesuit rhetorical tradition of eloquentia perfecta, or “the good person writing and speaking well for the public good” to frame the course, encouraging critical thinking and moral discernment. Each Rhetorical Arts class comes to the library for an in-person information literacy session focused on finding and evaluating sources using a customized “RADAR challenge” (Adapted from Mandalios, J. (2013). RADAR: An approach for helping students evaluate Internet sources. Journal of Information Science, 39, 470–478). Our RADAR challenge is an interactive online game that students play in teams to consider the rationale, authority, date, accuracy, and relevance of sources. The activity uses game design thinking to increase student engagement, including motivational feedback, collaboration, and competition.

Librarian Nataly Blas teaching a class
Librarian Nataly Blas teaching a class of first-year students

A library instruction session is a required part of each Rhetorical Arts course. According to assessment surveys conducted with instructors, 89% of respondents encouraged their students to use the RHET 1000 LibGuide to help with information literacy assignments, and 89% thought the library instruction was at least somewhat valuable in helping students complete course assignments. We also conduct summative assessment periodically on a source analysis task completed by students during the instruction session (we apply a rubric to a random sample of student responses). This assessment provides a more thorough picture of where students may have succeeded or struggled with the activity. After the most recent assessment, librarians streamlined the source activity to focus more on information literacy outcomes and to give students time to focus on the reading and analysis of their source.

“We aim to increase students’ information literacy proficiencies through a program of cumulative skills training integrated with the curriculum.” (Library Strategic Objective 1.1)

In the recent COVID-19 period, with most students completely online, we reimagined Rhetorical Arts by creating a flipped classroom environment for shorter sessions, with two new videos embedded into each Brightspace course about RADAR assigned as homework, and using class time to enhance the discussion. Seven years of experience with First Year Seminar tutorials and incorporating online learning into Brightspace pages meant we were poised to transition online with the onset of COVID-19. We had already created a variety of how-to videos for students, and added half a dozen more for students navigating a solely online research environment, gathering hundreds of views in just a few months. These videos covered topics like “How To: Access Library Resources in the Time of COVID-19,” “How To: Evaluate Sources Using RADAR,” and “How To: Find E-books.” We also hosted a series of workshops for other librarians and staff to collectively improve our video creation skills, enabling us to reach out to students in a time when students needed virtual support more than ever before.

In order to assess the success of the library’s information literacy instruction in the new core classes, we conducted a homegrown information literacy test on the last graduating class of seniors passing through the previous core system and then on a class of seniors who had passed through the revised core curriculum. There were statistically significant increases between the 2016 and 2018 tests on using the library catalog to retrieve a book, and distinguishing between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. An outside assessment, the iSkills test developed by ETS, also found increases between a 2012 (pre-core) and 2017 (core) administration of the test.

Common Book: Community Experiences through Reading

Students listening to a speaker
LMU students listening to 2014 Common Book author Dave Eggers

The William H. Hannon Library co-leads another aspect of the experience of first-year students: the Common Book. This program creates space for common experiences by bringing together students, faculty, and staff to discuss the themes of one select book each year. Some themes discussed in previous years included mysticism and mystery (Ozeki, “A Tale for the Time Being”), colonialism (Endo, “Silence”), race in Los Angeles (Revoyr, “Southland”), and confinement at our southern border (Luiselli, “Tell Me How It Ends”).

The Common Book programs serves as a nexus of connection for departments across campus. The 2019 Common Book, “Tell Me How It Ends,” was adopted by a number of Rhetorical Arts courses, as well as classes in graphic design and First-Year Seminar, and more than 250 people attended one of two author events held on campus. Students in graphic design classes read the Common Book each semester and then design a new book cover based on the themes. We exhibit their works in the library each year. To encourage group discussion of the book, we circulate a “book club in a bag” — a set of ten copies of the Common Book available for checkout together, along with a custom reader’s guide. Like the core classes for first-year students, the Common Book encourages intellectual dialogue within and among a variety of disciplines across the university, giving students a rigorous start to their years on campus.

The library works with First Year Seminar and Rhetorical Arts instructors, as well as other Academic Affairs units, like the Academic Resource Center, to provide a coordinated first-year experience. Our campus recognizes, through curricular infrastructure and annual programming, the importance of information literacy and its role in student learning. As a result of our work within the first-year experience, LMU students are able to utilize a critical framework, developed and directed by librarians, to assess information resources, both in the classroom and through shared extracurricular experiences.

This article was first published in our 2021 ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award dossier. For more information about the William H. Hannon Library, please contact John Jackson, Head of Outreach and Communications.