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First Year Students Demonstrate Information Competence
by Lynn Cameron, Library Instruction Coordinator

Soon after first-year students arrive on campus, they begin learning how to navigate the information world.  Carrier Library and General Education faculty collaborated to develop a nationally recognized program that requires JMU students to learn and demonstrate mastery of essential skills in information retrieval early in their university career.  In GenEd Cluster One courses, students complete Go for the Gold, a web-based instruction program for information seeking skills.   Go for the Gold is composed of eight learning modules with instruction, illustrations, links to databases and Internet sources, and exercises that are immediately scored online.  In addition to Go for the Gold, students in Cluster One are given assignments, such as research papers, annotated bibliographies, and speeches, that require them to find and evaluate information in a variety of print and electronic sources, strengthening their newly learned skills.   

By the end of second semester, students are required to demonstrate competency by passing an online Information-Seeking Skills Test (ISST) developed by librarians at JMU.  This 53-item test requires students to answer knowledge questions, where they identify terms and know when and how to use various types of sources, and application questions, where they look up answers in databases and on the Internet.  Students also evaluate Web sites, a critical skill today, when we have such a large quantity of information that is not necessarily reliable.  The ISST is administered in a proctored testing lab in Ashby Hall.  Students who fail may review Go for the Gold or attend a workshop taught by librarians and then retake the test.  All first-year students are expected to pass the test by April 26, 2001.  Student performance on the ISST for 1999-2000 is shown in the table below:


Number who passed the ISST





Attempted the test









Passed the test





Total first-year freshmen









Although many universities have library instruction programs, few have instruction relating to information-seeking skills integrated into the curriculum with competency-based testing.  The library has received numerous requests from other colleges and universities to borrow or adapt Go for the Gold and the ISST.

Our hope is that by becoming information literate, students will learn skills that will help them in their courses while they are here at JMU and will continue helping them long after graduation.

Editor's Note:  The ISST is a separate test from the technology tests required by the GenEd department.  Please consult the GenEd web page for information on the technology tests. 

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