‘Fearless Learning’ to teach information literacy

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Ernie Tsacalis, English professor and co-director of the Quality Enhancement Plan for this college, discusses the importance of Fearless Learning and QEP’s focus on the three Rs of reading, writing and research at staff council Sept. 4 in the faculty staff lounge of Loftin. Photo by Kyle R. Cotton

Ernie Tsacalis, English professor and co-director of the Quality Enhancement Plan for this college, discusses the importance of Fearless Learning and QEP’s focus on the three Rs of reading, writing and research at staff council Sept. 4 in the faculty staff lounge of Loftin. Photo by Kyle R. Cotton

The library and writing center team up to improve reading, writing and research in QEP proposal.

By Roberto Martinez


This college’s proposal for a quality enhancement plan is to provide first-time in college students fresh experiences in and out of the classroom that help develop reading, writing and research skills.

As part of the affirmation process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, this college is required to develop a QEP every 10 years, SAC’s QEP committee co-director Celita Avila, said Aug. 26 in an interview.

The process began with selecting a topic in fall 2013. Faculty, staff, students, and community members were given the opportunity to submit ideas and suggestions via an electronic message board, email and in-person, according to the website at http://www.alamo.edu/sac/FearlessLearning/.

The proposed QEP addresses a single topic focused on improving student learning, according to the summary of the plan. A committee of 24 faculty, staff and students worked on programs that address the topic of information literacy, on May 5, 2014.

According to the QEP executive summary, information literacy refers to a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.”

This committee proposes to combine efforts of the college’s library and writing center and improve five courses whose student learning outcomes explicitly identify the development of key information literacy skills as a central goal.

“We are looking at integrated research, reading and writing processes,” SAC’s QEP committee co-director Ernie Tsacalis, said Aug. 27 in an interview. “During a student’s first year — whether in the library, the writing center or in a classroom — there will be a more coordinated approach to helping students develop the critical skills that will benefit both professionally and academically. Our goal is to helps students navigate through their research as both critical readers and critical writers.”

The executive summary introduces “Fearless Learning” curriculum that will impact five courses taken during a student’s first year in college and aims to help students acquire and improve the research, reading and writing strategies of an information-literate student.

According to the summary, two of these courses are SDEV 0170, College Success, or EDUC 1300, Learning Frameworks, required for first-time-in-college students who test into the highest level of developmental English or college-level English. The other three courses are in the first-year English sequence required to complete the core curriculum. They are INRW 0420, Integrated Reading and Writing 2; ENGL 1301, Composition 1; and ENGL 1302, Composition 2.

Tsacalis touted this focused approach and vertical alignment of SAC’s first-year English sequence, and believes in the effectiveness of additional writing center use and library instruction.

“Institutional data show that the library instruction program and the writing center are successful in helping students succeed in their classes,” he said.

According to a measurement rubric of information literacy skill performance during a library instruction class, more than 90 percent of respondents to this college’s fall 2014 faculty satisfaction survey administered by library instructors agreed or strongly agreed that library instruction classes:

  • helped students understand how to identify and locate relevant resources.
  • covered the subjects related to students’ research needs.
  • helped students successfully complete research assignments for the course.
  • helped students become more confident about using the library resources after attending the instruction session.

Similar patterns of increase in student success and passing rates among English composition students also have been consistently noted at the writing center since its initiation as an Achieving the Dream pilot program in 2004.

“Librarians, who understand the research process completely, will be armed with greater understanding of the student’s experience, both in the classroom and at the tutoring table,” Tsacalis said.

“We want to create situations for students to engage their own process and empower them to learn a little more about how to share and articulate their ideas.”

Tsacalis believes this is a much more enriching way to learn rather than passively consuming information and knowledge.

This semester, he and Avila will begin a more deliberate cross-training around the student learning outcomes and information literacy instruction content.

The co-directors will complete writing center College Reading and Learning Association Level 1tutor training, two library instruction sessions and an Association of College and Research Libraries Frameworks session hosted by the library and will observe class sessions in each of the five identified information literacy foundational classes.

In addition to the formal cross-training, Tsacalis and Avila will finalize a list of library activities and begin testing them in classroom and tutoring sessions.

Students enrolled in any of the five classes in this pre-pilot will complete a pre- and post- survey and a brief post-assessment survey modeled after the library instruction program’s current “wrap up” assessment tool.

Tsacalis is excited about the direction and passionate about the program’s outcome.

“We still have sometime to go, but this semester for us is all about cross-training and pre-pilot activities. This past year has been awesome learning as much as I can about their world. It’s interesting to find out where our disciplines overlap. Whatever it is that comes out of our projects, will be a more coordinated learning experience for our students.”

For more information about the proposed quality enhancement plan, the program’s timeline, or the Fearless Learning curriculum, visit: http://www.alamo.edu/sac/FearlessLearning/.


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