Information Literacy Assessment

The purpose of this guide is to provide a starting point for those who need to assess information literacy student learning outcomes, particularly those working with the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

Is that source reliable/credible?  Well, let's take a look at who made it. 

The role of expertise in evaluation sources has been a part of information literacy from the beginning.  What the Framework has done is to take that concept and greatly expand and elaborate on it.  Authority is Constructed and Contextual goes beyond just expertise to looking at authority as a socially constructed concept.  So,  a person's authority my vary greatly depending on the particular context or whom you ask.  A scholar, a politician, a journalist, and a religious figure might all have authority, but but not the same amount in every situation.

Authority is Constructed and Contextual has close ties to three other frames.  It shares a strong connection with Information Creation as a Process, because both are integral to the idea of evaluating sources. It overlaps with Scholarship as Conversation, because authority (in the form of expertise) is a key concept to understanding scholarship.  It relates to Information Has Value in a more conceptual way, which is the emphasis the Framework puts on understanding the social context in which information is created.  That theme is most strongly felt in those two frames, plus Information Creation as a Process.

It might surprise those who teach information literacy, especially librarians, that authority did not have a very prominent place in the Standards.  It is only mentioned in two learning outcomes under a single performance indicator of Standard Three:

Performance Indicator 2.  The information literate student articulates and applies initial criteria for evaluating both the information and its sources.

a.  Examines and compares information from various sources in order to evaluate reliability, validity, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view or bias.

d.  Recognizes the cultural, physical, or other context within which the information was created and understands the impact of context on interpreting the information. 

I would say that if the Framework as a whole has an overarching theme, outcome d comes very close to expressing it.

Learning outcomes that can be assess through multiple-choice questions

I found it difficult to write outcomes for multiple-choice questions for this frame.  The focus on the contextual nature of authority does not lend itself well to questions that need have one obvious correct answer.

Students will be able to connect common types of authority to specific formats/source types.

  • Which of the following source type is a scholar the least likely to create?
  • Trade publication articles are usually written by which of the following?


Students will be able to identify types of authority accepted in academic settings (or in a specific social context).

  • Which of the following credentials do most scholars have?
  • If you were writing a paper on topic X, which of the following people would be considered the most authoritative?
  • A politician (or another type of figure) would be considered most (or least) authoritative in which context?


Students will be able to use credentials as indicators of authority.

  • What credential would you expect the author of a scholarly journal article to have?
  • A high school teacher would be considered authoritative in which context?


Students will be able to indicate source types (or journals or people) that are considered authoritative in discipline X.

  • Which of the following is a well-known scholar in discipline X.
  • Which of the following is considered the most prestigious way to publish in discipline X?

Learning outcomes for shorter assignements or quizzes

Students will be able to list types of people who might have authority on a specific topic.

  • Students are asked to list people who would have authority on their selected research topic. 
  • Provide students with a list of people with an interest in a specific topic.  Ask students to rank them from most to least authoritative and provide reasons for the ranking.


Students will be able to discuss what types of authority are respected in a specific social context.

  • Provide students with a short scenario describing a problem/issue/research topic.  Students need to describe people who would be considered to have some form of authority on that topic.


Students will be able to use authority as a criterion for evaluating sources.

  • Provide students with one or more sources and have them make an initial evaluation.  Then have them look up information on the author and ask if it changed their impression of the source.
  • Provide the students with several short biographies and a specific problem/issue/research topic.  Student discusses whether they would use sources written by those people.


Students will be able to compare the authority of different formats (e.g., scholarly, media, web/blog). Also Information Creation as Process

  • Assignment where students given sources by one author in different formats.  Students discuss how the format affects the authority of the source.
  • Provide students with a variety of sample sources.  Students need to describe what types of people most likely made those sources and what, if any, authority they would have.


Students will be able to describe the role of authority in online/social media settings.

  • Assignment where students evaluate comments on a specific site.
  • Assign students to track and analyze the comments (and responses to the comments) of a specific frequent contributor.  Depending on the circumstances, the person's identity and credentials could either be known or unknown.
  • Assignment where students learn to create or edit Wikipedia (or another wiki) articles.


Students will be able to discuss what constitutes authority in discipline X.

  • Assignment where students research a well-know scholar within the field (credentials and publication history).
  • Assignment where students must identify well-known scholars on a specific topic.

Learning outcomes for longer assignments with rubrics

Students will be able to list/discuss types of authority appropriate to a specific research project.

Students will be able to evaluate potential sources with a critical perspective on authority.

Students will be able to select sources whose authority is appropriate to the research topic and assignment parameters.

Students will be able to  incorporate multiple/varied perspectives.

West Chester University   ---    WCU Libraries  25 West Rosedale Avenue, West Chester, PA 19383  610-430-4400