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Formative assessment: transforming information literacy instruction

Michelle Kathleen Dunaway (Circulation Department, University of Michigan, Dearborn, Michigan, USA)
Michael Teague Orblych (Library Research Center, University of Michigan, Dearborn, Michigan, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 15 February 2011




This paper aims to describe the use of a pre‐assessment exercise and in‐session assessment questions to determine graduate students' existing information literacy skills and to adjust the content of the instruction session accordingly. The paper seeks to propose that the use of assessments to inform instruction increases the practicality of research instruction. The use of formative assessment creates effective information literacy instruction by acknowledging variation in information literacy skills among students.


A librarian partnered with a faculty member to create instruction sessions for graduate level business courses. An open‐ended pre‐assessment exercise was administered prior to the session, and students' responses were used to determine the content of the instruction session. Assessment questions administered during the session provided the librarian with a measure of the effect of the pre‐assessment exercise on students' information literacy skills, and provided students with feedback regarding their individual information literacy and engaged students in the learning process.


The pre‐assessment exercise and the session assessment questions together created an instruction session that included content that was appropriate for the students in each session. Therefore, these information literacy instruction sessions were more practical and beneficial to the students than sessions based on pre‐determined content.

Research limitations/implications

The paper presents a conceptual approach to the design of research instruction sessions rather than extensive empirical analysis of data. Therefore, the essay addresses the need for quantitative measures of the impact of formative assessment on students' information literacy skills.


The process of formative assessment has not been applied to one‐shot information literacy instruction sessions.



Kathleen Dunaway, M. and Teague Orblych, M. (2011), "Formative assessment: transforming information literacy instruction", Reference Services Review, Vol. 39 No. 1, pp. 24-41.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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