Book Reviews

Jennifer S. Ferguson. Using Authentic Assessment in Information Literacy Programs: Tools, Techniques, and Strategies. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield, 2018. 157p. Paper, $45.00 (ISBN 978-1-5381-0481-1).

Book cover for Using Authentic Assessment in Information Literacy Programs: Tools, Techniques, and Strategies

In the field of education, few topics have had the enduring interest of practitioners and researchers alike as assessment. Understanding what students are learning, how they learn, and, more centrally to the concept of authentic assessment, what they are able to do is critical to being an effective educator. An additional layer of complexity exists within academic libraries, as librarians investigate whether a connection (or more than one) exists between librarian-led, library-centric instruction and student outcomes. Within this multilayered conversation is Jennifer Ferguson’s examination of incorporating authentic assessment as part of information literacy. The eight chapters of this relatively slim volume divide the topic of authentic assessment, broadly speaking, into the past, present, and future. The first chapter, “Authentic Assessment Defined,” begins provocatively by asking a series of rhetorical questions regarding the current state of library assessment and challenging the profession with the observation that much of what passes for assessment within libraries “tells us very little about the actual learning that takes place in information literacy instruction.” However, beyond that, until near the end of the book, there is little direct challenge to the status quo. Instead, the bulk of what follows suggests that instructional librarians adopt existing, authentic assessment methods to gain a better understanding of the impact of their instructional efforts.

After the initial portion, the first chapter goes on to provide a brief overview of the topic both from the broader educational perspective as well as within librarianship. Some historical perspective is provided, as well as more recent developments, all in an effort to arrive at a working definition of authentic assessment. Given both the wealth of available literature on the topic and the evolutionary history of assessment, the six pages given to this part of the conversation is not much more than a cursory glance. However, the references included at the end of this and all the other chapters include a number of highly cited works (as well as others that are not highly cited), thereby enabling readers who wish to explore this part of the subject more deeply to do so. Chapter 2, “Authentic Assessment in Academic Libraries,” offers further development on the current state of authentic assessment within various forms of library instruction (in other words, credit-bearing courses, embedded librarians, librarian-departmental faculty collaborations, information literacy programs, one-shot sessions, online instruction, and “other settings”). The discussion for each of these instructional settings is approximately a page in length, and the relevance of this chapter will vary with each reader. After all, not every librarian has experience with this variety; indeed, as the author observes, most librarians are limited to one-shot sessions. This limitation, and the challenges of authentically assessing student learning during one-shot sessions, is reflected in that discussion, which is nearly twice the length of most of the other instructional methods included for discussion.

From there, chapters 3 through 6 form the heart of the text, each examining the same formative assessments (that is, discussion boards, guided focus groups, minute papers, peer evaluation, performative task-based assignments, problem-based activities, quizzes, and reflections) and summative assessments (in other words, annotated bibliographies, portfolios, pre/post-tests, presentations and writing/research, proficiency projects/tests, and research logs) from a variety of perspectives. For example, chapter 3, “Authentic Assessment Instruments,” offers suggestions about appropriate assessment tools that may be used during instructional sessions. However, because of time constraints inherent in one-shot sessions, the vast majority of these are not viable for those sessions, a fact that the author acknowledges repeatedly. While the author is blameless for the fact that one-shot sessions are the lifeblood of library instruction, the fact that so much of the content is, realistically speaking, inapplicable to much of the instructional work librarians do, is a disappointment. Chapter 4, “Authentic Assessment in Action,” is composed entirely of a discussion of assessment case studies, making it a lengthy (36 pages) literature review. Specifically, Ferguson provides an overview of 42 published studies, focusing exclusively on the same formative and summative assessments first introduced in chapter 2. While it is useful to learn of how librarians are incorporating these various assessment methods into instruction, the reader discovers that, in many of the cases, the researchers had access to their students either ahead of or following the instructional session(s), thereby allowing for assessment that is more robust. As a result, repeatedly, the content of this chapter is couched in the acknowledgment that what is discussed is less likely to be helpful in assessing a one-shot session. In chapter 5, “Authentic Assessment in Context,” the author highlights “the key components of effective teaching and instructional design,” focusing on the same instructional settings first laid out in chapter 2, through a discussion of the research literature, with previously cited items buttressed with additional citations unique to this chapter. Chapter 6, “Adapting Authentic Assessment to Common Instructional Session,” with its step-by-step instructions, sample worksheets, and accompanying narrative, might be the most popular chapter in the book. The templates that Ferguson provides her readers are the type of practical, quick-start help that any instructional librarian will value.

In chapters 7, “Future Directions in Authentic Assessment,” and 8, “Authentic Assessment, the ACRL Framework, and Beyond,” Ferguson once again provides a broader view of current trends in authentic assessment in higher education and the potential impact on the future of academic librarianship. Of particular value in this section of the book is an extended discussion regarding ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, including how the Framework relates to both the instructional efforts of librarians as well as the assessment of that instruction. In the concluding chapter, the author returns once again to challenge the assessment paradigm that the profession has adopted, one that focuses primarily on “the bits and pieces that students may…pickup [sic].” The argument in this chapter, that authentic assessment can, and should, inform both “the teaching and learning” that occurs during library instructional sessions, is one that may resonate with readers; it underscores the fact that this work is at its best when it confronts the status quo. Most of the text, by design, focuses on the intersection of instructional settings and assessment methods, but the book is at its very best when pushing the reader to see instruction and assessment in a fundamentally revised way.—Joseph Aubele, California State University Long Beach

Copyright Joseph Aubele

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