September 20, 2021

Exploring the impact of an embedded approach to Information Skills teaching

 Information skills teaching is a core element of the service that the Library offers to students and, occasionally, staff at the university. In the past, these sessions were often known simply as “the Library session” or something similar when discussing this support with academic staff. As a result, there has often been misunderstandings and a lack of clarity about what these sessions covered and what students would learn should they choose to attend. Another important characteristic of these sessions was that they were often standalone, relatively generic sessions and even if they were, theoretically, linked to a module, they rarely made any reference to the assignments that the students would undertake on that module so, arguably, were having a limited impact on the overall performance of students taking those modules.

Over the last few years, the picture has changed, increasingly, these teaching sessions are embedded within modules and overall degree programmes. The content taught relates directly to the assessments the students will complete and students are not only developing generic research skills but gaining a greater understanding of the importance of these skills to ensure they complete their assessments to the best of their ability. These changes have often been driven by greater opportunities to discuss where Information Literacy (IL) or Information Skills teaching can be embedded into academic programmes with module leaders, but also wider programme teams as well.

At York, the Academic Liaison Team has recognised that a more embedded approach was desirable but no research had been done by the team to measure the effectiveness of this approach and the impact that this approach actually has on students and academic staff. In 2019/20 I undertook research to measure the impact of embedded teaching on students in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science. The Library delivers IL teaching that is embedded on two core modules in stage 1 and stage 2 of the Linguistics UG programme. Throughout the course of this research, 8 students and the 2 module leaders were interviewed. 

The research demonstrated that a more embedded approach had a positive impact on engagement with the IL teaching in a number of ways. Students noted that the sessions being clearly linked to their assessments ensured that they engaged in a way that they would have been unlikely to had the sessions just been generic sessions that were not timetabled in their regular weekly lecture slot (stage 1) or strongly urged to attend by their module leader who also attended (stage 2). 

In both modules, the module leader was present for the teaching sessions and actively engaged with the session as well. The students felt this was useful but not essential to the success of the teaching. However, both the students and the module leaders acknowledged the value of the module leader being present so that they were aware of the content that had been discussed and could add additional context about their module during the session which helped the students to fully appreciate the importance of what they were learning in the session and how they could apply it to their assessments.

In addition to ensuring that the students will improve their literature searching skills as a result of attending these sessions, it is also hoped that students will increase their knowledge and understanding of the resources available and recognise why they might use one resource over another. As part of the research, students were surveyed before they attended the teaching session and then again after the session so that their answers could be compared to try and measure the impact of the session on student knowledge and understanding of literature searching techniques and the resources available. In the stage 2 students especially, students demonstrated much more awareness of the LLBA database following the session. It was also clear that students had developed a good understanding of the key concepts discussed in both sessions relating to literature searching principles and also evaluation of sources.

Students often overestimate their own IL competency so it was unsurprising that very few students admitted to a lack of confidence in their IL ahead of the sessions but their was a noticeable shift in confidence following the sessions which was one of the most satisfactory findings as a key aim of delivering the teaching is so that students will have the confidence to find high quality sources quickly and efficiently.

It became apparent in the interviews that many students do not have a great deal of awareness of the existence of an Academic Liaison Librarian for their department, and even if they are aware of that, they are even less likely to realise that the Librarian can offer them any additional support and what support might look like. This was also seen in the survey where ahead of the teaching sessions around 80% of respondents indicated if they couldn’t find the information they need, they would either search online, ask the module convenor or a friend for help with only a handful of respondents indicating they would ask a Librarian. Following the teaching sessions, this had dropped to just over  20%. 

In conclusion, this research has offered a really useful insight into the perspectives of both students and staff on the impact that embedding IL teaching into a module and overall academic programme can have. It also demonstrated the importance of taking this approach to ensuring that students engage as much as possible with this teaching as it is critical that students develop these skills, not just to be successful in their degree programme, but also to enhance their future employability. It is hoped that the opportunity will arise to do further research in other faculties as well in order to measure whether students have similar perspectives on other programmes. If you would like to discuss the findings from this research further please contact Tony Wilson ( . 

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