Ethnography as an Assessment Tool: The ERIAL Project

  • Asher A
  • Duke L
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The Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries project was a twoyear research study, funded by a Library Services and Technology Act grant through the Illinois State Library, which ethnographically examined how undergraduate students at five universities Illinois Wesleyan University, University of Illinois Springfield, University of Illinois Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, DePaul University conduct academic research and utilize library services. The project was organized around three core goals: to gain a better understanding of undergraduates research processes based on firsthand accounts of how they obtain, evaluate, and manage information for their assignments, to assess the role academic libraries and librarians play in these research processes, and finally, to adjust library services to more effectively address students needs. Because of the complex processes involved in information literacy acquisition, and the diverse array of problems this study has observed in students research practices, the problem of how to best measure the impact of library instruction continues to be a central issue. As an assessment tool at IWU, a general information literacy test appears to be effective for providing baseline data of students knowledge, but ineffective for evaluating postinstruction improvements or for providing insight into students application of this knowledge. By contrast, the qualitative interviews provided a rich data source for holistically understanding students research processes and practices, as well as a finegrained tool for analyzing the obstacles students encounter when conducting research. Findings from the ERIAL Project, as well as an outline of IWUs current efforts to develop and implement a standardized qualitative interviewing method that can be used to make longitudinal comparisons of students information literacy skills in conjunction with a general information literacy test, will be discussed

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  • Andrew D Asher

  • Lynda M Duke

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