Who Do They Think They Are?: IL Mastery or ILlusory Competence of First Year College Students

Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters

Conference Location

Oakland University, Rochester, MI


Librarians commonly use surveys in attempt to gauge students' information literacy (IL) skills and/or self-reported competencies. Many times, these are issued in the pre-test/post-test format, with the idea being that the post-test results will reveal, to some degree, the impact had by library instruction. The Research and Instruction Librarians at Hope College recently employed this method to broadly measure IL learning outcomes in Expository Writing I, a course in which all sections schedule 2-3 sessions with a librarian. They found, however, that the most compelling revelations were emerging from the pre-test results—namely, students (mostly first year, first semester) had reported improbably high levels of proficiency and self-assuredness in their IL skills and abilities to perform college-level research. Although no direct skill-testing questions were given to correlate with the pre-test responses, anecdotal evidence, reinforced by course instructors' reactions, made it safe to hypothesize that what had occurred was a classic case of the infamous Dunning-Kruger effect, or "not knowing what you don't know.” What was first viewed as an assessment initiative gone amiss quickly grew into a cogent argument and talking point in support of even stronger, early IL immersion to ensure that students do in fact “know”.