Graduate Qualities and Library Assignment

Miranda Morfey and Beth Prior from the Flinders University Library offer the following insights into the role the Library plays in the identification and articulation of Graduate Qualities.

The Library Assignment and Graduate Qualities

The Library has an important role to play in the identification and articulation of graduate qualities. This happens in many ways and especially through creative use of the Library Assignment. This is where we started to explore the connections between graduate outcomes and qualities and the resources at our disposal. The importance of the Library Assignment lies in its usefulness to students as a contribution to their independence as learners and their confidence as information choosers and users.

The Assignment is a self-paced interactive quiz available as a ‘topic' on the university's Learning management System (LMS) for all enrolled students during the first term of each academic semester. It introduces Library and key information management skills. The Library Assignment has been in existence for over ten years and is now embedded in the university's teaching schedule. It is assessed by a number of first year topics and is completed by more than 2,500 students each year. In 2009 we have explicitly referred to the way is can support the development of Graduate Qualities in the bachelor degree programs.

Concept and methodology

The Library Assignment is foundational to information literacy for many students at Flinders. Library and information professionals have for many years advocated a focus on information literacy as ‘a prerequisite for lifelong learning and participative citizenship'. This statement from the Council of Australian Librarians' Information Literacy Standards gives a clear idea of the enabling relationship between literacy and the kinds of qualities newly identified by the University as they relate to individual and collaborative knowledge acquisition, application and communication, ethical use of knowledge resources and the value of these resources when thinking about crossing disciplinary, social and cultural boundaries. An information literate person recognises when information is needed and can locate, access, evaluate and apply that information. The liaison librarians of Flinders University have key responsibilities to both ensure that students and faculty are fully informed of University Library resources, and also to offer creative and interactive programs to enable students to make effective use of these and other information resources for learning and research - like the Library Assignment.

While on one level it could be said that we have created a generic ‘skills exercise' for students new to the university, we have envisioned an intrinsic relationship between this and interdisciplinary approaches to information management. Conceptually, we understand our design of the assignment as more than an instrumental exercise and as potentially a way of opening up pathways to information that would enable students to achieve highly in their studies and beyond. True information literacy outlasts the discipline knowledge or the contexts in which it is learned.

Context: alignment with Graduate Qualities

It is likely that the Library's conceptualisation of information literacy through the Library Assignment paralleled thinking that was informing the first attempts to introduce Graduate Attributes (or qualities as we are calling them at Flinders) as an aspect of quality management and improved educational outcomes. We certainly saw the articulation of a common set of Graduate Qualities as an opportunity to link its advocacy of information literacy into a wider institutional understanding of how we may prepare students for life beyond university. Recently, we have explicitly stated in its introduction, the way the assignment builds skills and qualities that support and develop some of the graduate qualities.

Implementation

We consider that the Library Assignment supports the development of at least three of the seven Graduate Qualities identified by the University. It is clear that doing the assignment does not in itself signify quality in the student, however we do think that the way in which students understand and go about the task is an indicator of engagement with quality learning. We hope that the considered completion of the Library Assignment, rather than just compliance to a set task can build skills that will help characterise students as:

  • knowledgeable;
  • able to apply knowledge;
  • able to work independently.

Future applications

The current version of the Library Assignment is necessarily generic in its approach and there is limited capacity in its design to fully recognise the diversity of study disciplines and modes of learning. However, the WebPET approach to teaching and learning at Flinders, whereby all topics have dedicated online links to topic information, the Library and communication tools via the LMS, means that we can design multiple ‘library assignments' to suit different disciplines and cultures. Indeed a recent initiative between the Library and the School of Education is the creation of a shorter version of the Library Assignment for students in China. Also, the forthcoming course restructure at Flinders introduces the possibility of capstone topics. These potentially offer a significant opportunity for the Library to engage with a fostering of attributes at the pre-graduate level, as well as the foundation level of study, to continue to address our faculty's range of perceptions of both Graduate Qualitiesand information literacy.

Further reading

Australian Library and Information Association, 2005, Statement on Information Literacy for All Australians. [http://www.alia.org.au/policies/information.literacy.html] viewed June 10, 2009.

Barrie, S. (2006). Understanding what we mean by the generic attributes of graduates. Higher Education, 51, 251-241.

Council of Australian University Librarians, 2001, Information Literacy Standards. Canberra: CAUL

Flinders University. (2009) Using Information and Communications Technology in Education. Updated April 9. 2009. [http://www.flinders.edu.au//teaching/ict-in-education/university-guidelines] viewed June 14, 2009.