Assessment of Library Instruction  

Ideas for assessing teaching and student learning
Last Updated: Apr 8, 2015 URL: Print Guide

Outcomes to Assessment Print Page

Additional Readings on this Topic

Gilchrist, D. & Zald, A. (2008). "Instruction & program design through assessment." In Cox, C. & Lindsay, E. (Eds.), Information literacy instruction handbook (pp. 164-192). Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.  
Available at PSU ZA3075 .I536 2008 (I also have a copy of the chapter if anyone would like to borrow it).

Megan Oakleaf, (2009) "The information literacy instruction assessment cycle: A guide for increasing student learning and improving librarian instructional skills", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 65 Iss: 4, pp.539 - 560. Available freely online.

From Outcomes to Assessment

Below is an image of the ideal process for preparing for teaching a class, starting with definining outcomes and ending with what criteria you will use to determine whether a student has achieved those outcomes.

Outcomes to assessment


Selecting Outcomes

For a single class session, select the 2-4 things that you most want students to learn from your instruction session. You'll usually want to select no more than three for a 1 hour session. 

Example: Students in a class have to select a historical figure involved in ecology/environmentalism that they will research for the entire term. They will need to find biographical information, things they've written, as well as information on attitudes towards ecology and environmentalism at the time in which they were active.

To me, the three things they really needed to learn were how to use reference sources to get general information about the historical figures they might want to research, determine the best places to search for the different aspects of their research, and determine whether an article or book they're looking at is relevant/useful.

I defined three outcomes for this session:

  1. Use general information resources to increase familiarity with the topic and disciplinary vocabulary.
  2. Identify the features and content of different research sources (such as databases, catalogs and websites) in order to search those most appropriate to the information need.
  3. Examine a work’s citation and abstract in order to determine its relevance to their research.
Clearly, I am showing them more than those three things that relate to our outcomes (like searching, finding stuff in full text, and using Summit), but my focus in the class is on getting them to be able to do those three things and those goals will inform the content I cover, my pedagogy and the assessment I do.

Determining Content

Content is a list of the things you actually plan to cover in the session that will ensure that students will know how to do the outcome well. They should flow from the outcomes.

Example: If my outcome was to "identify keywords, synonyms and related terms in order to flexibly search information resources" I might select the following content to cover:

1. Turning topics into keywords

2. Thinking of synonyms and related terms or phrases

3. Sources for brainstorming keywords (i.e. reference sources)

4. Boolean operators to connect those keywords


Determining Pedagogy

Pedagogy is how you actually plan to teach that content; the learning activities.

Example: If I was covering the content from the previous example (brainstorming keywords), my pedagogy might be a brief lecture and demonstration followed by an active learning exercise in which each table brainstorms keywords related to a specific topic and then compares the terms they came up with with those from other tables. 


Selecting an Assessment Activity or Tool

When looking to come up with an assessment, think about how will you be able to determine whether or not the students have learned what you set out to teach them with your outcomes? Assessments can be classroom activities, worksheets that students have to complete, quizes, pre-tests/post-tests, students self-assessments, authentic student work that's already part of the class, and much more. They can be very simple and lightweight or very complex and requiring significant collaboration with the instructor.

Example: In the example above with brainstorming keywords, the assessment could be the activity itself, as it would demonstrate how well the students could brainstorm keywords. If I wanted to assess each student individually, I could assign a worksheet that would ask them (among other things) to brainstorm keywords on their own topic.


Determining Criteria

The criteria is what you use when looking at your assessment to determine whether students did well or not. Rubrics are certainly one easy way to develop criteria that allow you to assess each student's work in the exact same way. Rubrics help you to define what success looks like, what partial success looks like and what failure looks like in terms of mastery of that learning outcome.

Example: From the example of the worksheet above, I could use the following rubric to determine whether each student has a firm grasp of the concepts:

Performance level


Performance level


Performance level


Performance level



Determines key concepts that reflect the research question/thesis using synonymous and related terms.   


Determines key concepts that reflect the research question/thesis (including more than just those terms used in the research question/thesis) but does not identify synonymous terms.

Lists the same terms used in the research question/thesis with nothing additional.

Does not determine any concepts that describe the research question/thesis.