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Maximising information literacy skills for first year management students

Leighton Jay
School of Management
Curtin University of Technology
In today's business environment, being able to access, analyse and effectively use information is more important than ever. This paper reports a project undertaken to embed the teaching and assessing of information literacy skills within the framework of the undergraduate business communication unit taught by the School of Management at Curtin University. The project incorporates the development of online, interactive resources to help students develop their information literacy skills. It also incorporates the development of resources for teaching staff to maximise their capacity to facilitate student learning of these skills. From a student perspective, there are two key outcomes of this project. The first is that students completing the unit will report an improvement in their information literacy skills. Secondly, it is anticipated that students will report an increased level of confidence to source and use information effectively and in a timely manner for the remainder of their studies and beyond.


In 1999, the Executive leadership team in CBS introduced a Professional Skills Project into the Undergraduate commerce degree program. The aim of this project is to enable students to develop a range of generic skills that employers have identified as important for graduates to possess through an integrated development process throughout a student's three-year degree (Candy et al., 1994; Mayer, 1992; Guthrie, 1994). Business Communication 101 is a first year unit taken by all students doing a management major, as well as by some marketing and IT students. Unsurprisingly, it focused on the development and assessment of students' generic communication skills in a business context. This includes their presentation skills, 'speaking out' skills, writing skills and information literacy skills. It is the last point that is the focus of this paper.

Business Communication 101 is taught in class groups of up to 25 students, with a team of twelve staff being responsible for the various classes. Ten of the twelve teaching staff are sessional lecturers, invited to teach this because of their expertise as facilitators of student learning and/or their extensive business knowledge and experience. As the Coordinator for this unit, the author works with the team to ensure that all team members can strengthen their ability to facilitate student learning outcomes by sharing teaching ideas and business experience with each other. In addition, all lecturers participate in various types of training to develop their skills for an academic environment.

The professional skills were first incorporated into Business Communication 101 in 2000. Subsequent evaluation of these skills has focused on improving the way in which these skills are taught and assessed. This paper reports the findings of a second semester project that evaluated how effectively Information Literacy skills are taught and assessed in this unit. At the start of semester, training was provided by Library and Information Services staff to resource and improve the IL skills of the staff teaching this unit. Subsequent to this, staff were interviewed about their confidence and ability to teach and assess this skill, and asked to subjectively comment on whether students were making any improvements in their development of this skill. Students were surveyed twice during the semester as a more objective means of assessing their skill development. A pre-test/post-test experimental design was used.

The CBS Professional Skills Taskforce define information literacy in the following way.

Information literacy

A student who has successfully completed an undergraduate degree with Curtin Business School will be information literate. This means that the student will be able to:

Prior to the start of the project, the following desirable outcomes were identified:


After consulting the Professional Skills Project leader, a pre-test/post-test experimental design was adopted for this project. A survey instrument was designed that measured students' behaviours and self perceptions in relation to a range of information literacy tasks and skills. This instrument was administered at the start of semester, prior to a class that addressed the topic 'Academic Writing' (of which information literacy forms one part). It was re-administered at the end of semester after students had been taught about information literacy in class, and had completed two written assignments and an in class presentation, all of which required students to find, analyse and use information from a range of sources in an effective way.

Data were collected from staff on three occasions. Prior to the start of semester 2, staff were surveyed about their current levels of confidence and competence in relation to teaching and assessing information literacy skills. Staff self reported their information literacy confidence by using a six point scale to respond to seven statements. They were also asked to report their behaviours in relation to:

At the start of semester two, Library and Information Services staff conducted a training session to improve the IL skills of those teaching the unit. At the end of the training session, staff were interviewed about the perceived value of the training session.

Late in the semester, staff were interviewed again to assess whether they perceived a change in their information literacy skills, and to assess the degree to which they had successfully transferred their learning to the teaching environment.

Student information literacy skills were assessed using a 'pre-test/post-test' method in which the initial levels of student knowledge and skills were assessed in week 2 of semester (before the information literacy seminar and submission of assignment 1). This established a benchmark of prior student knowledge against which their subsequent learning could be measured. At the end of semester, students were surveyed to measure what changes (if any) had occurred.

In undertaking this research project, it was anticipated that evidence would emerge to demonstrate that student learning of information literacy skills and knowledge had occurred over the course of the semester. As the subsequent discussion demonstrates, this did, in fact, occur.

In attempting to identify whether identified changes were significant or not, the results were tested for educational significance rather than statistical significance. Using this method of analysis, it was possible to determine if the identified change was due to learning that had occurred, or if it was due to some other factor. Carver (1996) suggests that in educational research, statistical tests should be replaced with estimates of effect size and of sampling error. Borg and Gall (1989) agree, arguing that researchers should calculate effect sizes which, when used appropriately, prove to be a helpful method for assessing the practical significance of relationships and group differences. In this study, therefore, effect sizes are a measure of the direction and strength of the difference between the pre and post test mean scores (Hattie, Biggs & Purdie 1996).

When interpreting the effect sizes the following conventions were adhered to:

While there is no simple answer to the problem of determining educational significance of research results, reporting effect sizes offers a viable method for assessing the educational significance of relationships and group differences (Borg & Gall, 1989).


One hundred and fifty six student responses were obtained with pre and post test results. Eighty eight students came from an English speaking background. Sixty eight had a non-English speaking background. There were noticeable and significant changes in a wide range of the items measured during the pre and post testing procedures.

Part A of the survey instrument (see Appendix One) asked students to respond to each of 15 statements using a Likert scale in which 1 = not at all true of me; and 5 = very true of me. The pre and post scores for each statement were averaged, and the change in means analysed for significance. Significant positive changes were identified in ten of the fifteen statements (see Table 1).

It appears that the areas in which students seemed to learn most were in relation to sourcing information, evaluating information for relevance and usefulness, and correctly citing and formatting sources in assignments. It is not clear from this survey whether this learning is 'deep' learning, or 'surface' learning, or whether students are able to generalise from this situation and apply their skills in research tasks in other subject areas.

Table 1: Self reported results of student learning

Survey instrument statement assessing:'g'
Use of library catalogue to source books0.43Small
Use of library catalogue to find journal holdings0.35Small
Identifying potential sources of information from a reading list or reference list0.36Small
Use of effective search strategies0.47Small
Searching electronic databases for academic articles0.75Medium
Access to information - including saving/printing it0.28Small
Critically evaluating information for relevance0.21Small
Locating suitable and convincing quotes0.32Small
Correctly citing references within an assignment0.35Small
Correctly formatting bibliographic details0.31Small

From Table 1, clearly the area in which the greatest learning occurred was the ability to search electronic databases for relevant articles. For this item, g = 0.75, demonstrating that a medium effect size change was noted for this item. The medium size effect for this item was also noted for the subgroups of males, females, and those from a non-English speaking background. For those from an English speaking background, g>0.8 signifying a large effect size change. Clearly, this item represents the most significant area of across the board learning for Bus Com students in the development of their information literacy skills.

For some of the statements in Table 1, medium effect size changes were reported by certain subgroups. These results are shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Subgroups for which medium effect size changes were reported

SubgroupSurvey instrument statement assessing:'g' value
Students <21 yrsUse of library catalogue to source books0.50
Male studentsUse of library catalogue to find journal holdings0.51
English speakingUse of effective search strategies0.53
Male studentsUse of effective search strategies0.59
Male studentsAccess to information - including saving/printing it0.51

It is interesting to note that the male student cohort report greater improvements in aspects of their information literacy skill development than do other subgroups, or the population as a whole. In comparing the responses of males and females to each of the three statements reported in Table 2, it is evident that the means of the male pre test results are lower than the comparable means for the female cohort in each case. However, the post test means for both groups are almost the same for each statement.

Student use of IL resources

Q 17 of the survey instrument asked students to identify the resources or methods they had used to improve their information literacy skills. Online resources available through the Library's website were the items which scored the largest increases.

Table 3: Resources used by students to develop IL skills

Resources usedPre testPost test
Step by step guides (electronic)1937
Subject guides (electronic)2529
Harvard Referencing Guide99122

Of these resources, the Harvard Referencing Guide and InfoTrekk were clearly the resources that students used the most frequently. InfoTrekk is an award winning interactive, online resource developed by Library and Information Services staff to assist students in their information literacy skill development. Students are directed to it in the Unit Outline and in class as a useful tool that will enable them to develop their information literacy skills beyond their current level, whatever that may be.

The cumulative increase in resources accessed by the end of semester indicates that many more students now have first hand experience using these resources. When combined with student responses to other questions and staff reports of an improvement in student information literacy, it suggests that this program has had a significant role in the development of student information literacy skills.

Student use of electronic databases

Students were asked to rate their confidence in using a range of electronic databases to find information. The following figures represent pre and post scores combining Likert scale responses of 'confident' and 'very confident' for each database.

Table 4: Student use of electronic databases

Electronic database usedPre testPost test
ABI/Inform Global Proquest Direct3789
Business Australia on Disc (BAOD)611
Dow Jones Interactive713
Current Contents1319
Expanded Academic ASAP1839

While the improvements in student confidence range across all databases, the most impressive improvements can be seen in their use of the ABI/Inform Global Proquest Direct and Expanded Academic ASAP databases. These two databases are given particular mention in the unit outline and in class as being both important and relevant for student research within Business disciplines. Once again, this result is suggestive that this project has been a causative agent in the improvement of student information literacy skills.


The development of students' information literacy skills has been approached as a cognitive intervention (Hattie, Biggs & Purdie 1996). As such, students have been encouraged to develop particular task related skills, and to group these together into a useable strategy to assist in their research for assignments. Parsons & Haberle (1998, p2) suggest that "when information literacy skills are integrated into a specific subject content students can relate to it so much better as it falls into their field of interest and it becomes a more realistic experience, directly related to a true information need."

In Business Communication 101, a contextualised approach has been adopted alongside a conscious attempt to develop information literacy skills (de la Harpe, Radloff & Wyber 1999). It is envisaged that further units of study will provide students with additional opportunities to continue their development of these skills in context without the need for students to receive further instruction regarding information literacy skills.

The results of this research project indicate that Business Communication 101 students have significantly developed their information literacy skills and knowledge across a range of discrete tasks. Self reporting by students indicates that their confidence to complete information literacy tasks is now significantly higher than it was at the start of semester, suggesting that some important learning has occurred for most students. It is anticipated that students will be able to generalise their learning and skill development to other subject areas, and so gain a benefit for their subsequent units of study. Furthermore, it is hoped that the development of these skills will form the foundation for ongoing use and development of information literacy skills in professional settings that students will encounter after completing their university studies.

The reported improvement in students' ability to search electronic databases for relevant information is the most significant improvement noted through this project. Given that most students are completing Business Communication 101 at the end of their first year of study at university, this represents a particularly strategic improvement in their research skills for the subsequent duration of their studies. Vast amounts of current research are available through electronic databases, and students who are unable to tap this source of information in an effective and efficient manner are severely disadvantaged within a university context.


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Candy, P., Crebert, G., & O'Leary, J. (1994). Developing lifelong learners through undergraduate education. Report to the NBEET, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

CBS Professional Skills Taskforce (1999). Integrated professional skills project: Report of phase one task force. Curtin Business School, Curtin University of Technology, Perth.

Guthrie, B. (1994). Graduate labour market survey. Report for DEET, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

de la Harpe, B., Radloff, A. & Wyber, J. (1999). What do professional skills mean for different disciplines in a business school? Lessons learned from integrating professional skills across the curriculum. In 7th International Improving Student Learning Symposium, York, England.

Hattie, J., Biggs, J. & Purdie, N. (1996). Effects of learning skills interventions on student learning: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66(2), 99-136. Available: Proquest Education Complete [2001, 7 November].

Mayer, E. (1992). Putting general education to work: The key competencies report. The Australian Education Council and Ministers for Vocational Education. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Parsons, P. G. & Haberle, N. (1998). Information literacy as a generic skill. In 6th International Improving Student Learning Symposium, Brighton, England.

Author: Leighton Jay, Associate Professor, School of Management, Curtin University of Technology. Email: jayl@cbs.curtin.edu.au

Please cite as: Jay, L. (2002). Maximising information literacy skills for first year management students. In Focusing on the Student. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 5-6 February 2002. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2002/jay.html

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