Last fall, I was enrolled in two different courses exclusively because they were required to earn an Associate in Arts degree at Minneapolis College. One was an online-only health course on fitness nutrition, and the other was “Information Literacy and Research Skills.” The requirements that led me to enroll in these courses in order to earn a two-year degree may well be eliminated for future students.
The requirement to take one health course and one physical education course is questionable at best. The only really positive here is that it doesn’t require the completion of specific courses, but rather the completion of one course for each category from a list of approved options. If I had it to do again, I might have taken a different health course that could have been more useful than Fitness Nutrition. While I did learn a few things—notably why whole grains have more nutrients—I could have probably gained an equivalent knowledge base from a one-day seminar. What was more comical is that because I was required to take a gym class, I actually took a course called Fitness Walking a couple summers ago. The main takeaway from that course was the intended purpose for each type of athletic shoe. Though there is certainly some value in that information, I could have undoubtedly put that college credit to better use.
Let’s move on to the topic of the information literacy requirement. This is the one where I can see significant merit, as long as we evaluate students on competencies gained rather than time spent in a classroom seat. During my INFS class last semester, some of the material was new to me, but much of it was review. That said, I feel that my information literacy is probably above average. I’ve always visited the library several times a year at a minimum. Some of my peers were less familiar with the physical library and were used to getting all their information from Google. Not everyone was sure how to find a book on the shelves if given a call number. All of us had room for improvement in deciphering what was a credible source versus what information should be labeled murky at best.
So what’s the problem? Doesn’t this mean we all needed the information literacy class? Yes and no. Everyone has room to improve their information literacy, but not everyone is at the same level of competency. This isn’t an insult—we are all graded on our competency upon admission to Minneapolis College through the administration of the Accuplacer. Some students test into college level math, while many others—myself included—need to take developmental courses (such as Math 0070 or 0080) to climb up to the college level. The system works…you don’t need to make students who already understand parabolas sit through a discussion about polynomial long division. In other words, I’m suggesting that Minneapolis College ask students to take an information literacy placement test.
What? Another test? Look, I get it…I don’t like tests either. But what I’m suggesting has already been done at Long Island University. According to Eduardo Rivera’s journal article “Using the Flipped Classroom Model in Your Library Instruction Course,” Long Island University requires students to demonstrate their competency in information literacy, which can be done in two ways. At some point in their first 2-3 years at the university, they must take an information literacy exam. If they pass, they’ve met the requirement. If not, they are required to take a 7-week developmental course (for no college credit), passage of which will meet the requirement. Rivera and his peers appear to be quite innovative in the administration of said course. But there is a flaw in what they’re doing…it requires people to take more courses for no credit. So how can we improve on what our friends from New York are doing?
I propose that we strengthen the Information Studies department by asking them to produce a wider variety of courses, and to tailor them to different levels of incoming student competency. Students could then be asked to take a placement test, and the college would use the results to place them in a course that would increase their information skills regardless of their starting point. The current INFS 1000 would be a baseline competency that they would expect everyone to attain, but if you scored higher, you could take a different course that would put you even further above the curve when you transfer to finish your bachelor’s degree. And by the way, if you score high on information literacy you really should get your bachelor’s degree. This proposal creates a win for everybody. It retains an extremely important requirement that is a major predictor of college success (people with higher information literacy do better in college), while avoiding the common problem of grouping everyone into the same ability level. Moreover, it avoids terming INFS as a remedial skill as they do on Long Island.
The administration is going to do what they will, and honestly their decisions are largely due to pressures they have from their superiors. It’s nothing personal and I don’t blame them. But at some point, we need to start thinking about how we can bring students at Minneapolis College up as high as we possibly can, rather than looking to see how simple it can be to get a two-year degree. Unless you’re in a technical program (in which case INFS may not be required anyway), an associates degree probably isn’t good enough for most employers. As such, AA degrees need to be geared towards preparing students for baccalaureate study, where students will need to do more reading and writing for each course (believe me, I’m already feeling the burn), and they darn well better be able to do quality research. I would rather ask students to take one more class to be sure that they understand information well than merely send them off on graduation day with an AA and a prayer.
Christopher David is a 2019 graduate of Minneapolis College and currently studies at the University of Minnesota.