Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in The Netherlands is a partnership between Wageningen University and Wageningen Research Foundation, which consists of 10 specialized research institutes. It serves 11,500 students in branches all over The Netherlands and abroad, with most lecturers, researchers and other employees based at Wageningen Campus.
The key subject domains are in three related areas:
- Food and food production;
- Living environment; and
- Health, lifestyle and livelihood.
In general, information literacy is part of Wageningen bachelor’s degree programs. For (new) master’s students who have not yet had information literacy training, WUR Library offers an on-campus course of 1.5 credits (representing 42 study hours according to the European Credit Transfer System
In 2015, Wageningen University introduced online Master’s degree programs. The students in these programs have very diverse backgrounds, which is why two of the programs include a mandatory course on skills, of which information literacy is a part. Completion of information literacy is awarded 0.7 of a credit, which encompasses just under 20 hours of study time, to be completed by students in one week.
Information specialists working in the WUR Library create and support the information literacy courses.
The library has extensive experience with digital teaching materials but developing a fully online course was new. Renée de Waal, one of the information specialists, explains: “We prepared to develop this online information literacy course by taking an online course on how to teach online. I found myself that online learning is more engaging, with more possibilities for learning as well as faster. It suits me very well”.
The library took the existing on-campus information literacy course as a starting point for developing the online course. This course begins with three online e-learning modules offering information and practice. The modules cover:
- Locating and accessing the information you need;
- Finding information for your research project; and
- Evaluating, citing, and publishing
Optional e-learning modules focus on describing and introducing three specific, key databases – Scopus, SciFinder, and PubMed. Recently the library added a module entitled Finding research data.
Students are expected to complete the three, mandatory e-learning modules prior to coming to the face-to-face classroom for lectures and computer tutorials. Students work in pairs to do an assignment involving searching and citing sources, with live coaching from staff. The key concepts include:
- How to search for literature, especially scientific sources;
- How to evaluate sources;
- How to select the most important and relevant sources; and
- How to use sources in writing, including as part of content and their proper citation.
In addition to the feedback on-campus students get during computer tutorials and on their assignments, they complete two formative tests on the content of the e-learning modules. Their final assessment is based on an individual, written exam.
Creating the new online course required information specialists in the library to replace this on- campus content, practice and feedback loop through effective online learning in half the time of the face-to-face course. They turned to the Education Support Center for didactic advice and support. The online information literacy course was offered for the first time in 2015.
The master’s students taking this mandatory course complete the three e-learning modules. In addition, essential content is presented through short video clips, offering structured, detailed explanations to better serve students learning on their own.
Replacing the computer room practice with online tutorials for students in multiple time zones demands a new strategy. The course assignments involve a systematic search for, and citation of, sources related to a given topic, according to step-by-step outlines. Steps include defining specific research questions and outlining search strategies undertaken to find appropriate literature. Using the feedback platform in the learning management system (LMS), students upload their results for each step so their peers can comment. In addition to posting, students are expected to comment on the work of two others.
The information specialists monitor the peer feedback and, as described by Renée de Waal: “delicately intervene to correct errors in both student content and feedback”. Students are provided with guidelines on appropriate online behaviour and provision of feedback.
The online students get peer and teacher feedback and can make revisions based on this. The final versions of their assignments are graded by the teacher. In addition, they can complete an optional online quiz.
The three e-learning modules offered to all information literacy students can be found, in English, at https://www.wur.nl/en/Library/Students/e-learning-modules.htm. Below is a sample from the introduction to module 2 on Finding information for your research project
Benefits and Outcomes
The online information literacy course was offered as part of two master’s degree programs for four years. Many of the online students are older with more educational, work and, often, information literacy experience than on-campus students. Most of them find the course to be interesting and useful. To them, it serves as an introduction to searching scientific literature through the specific systems and databases the WUR Library offers.
The majority of students are active online in posting and commenting on assignments.
The information specialists noted active learning and partnerships established through peer feedback as an especially successful component of the online course. Consequently, they added online peer feedback to the on-campus course and found it to be equally effective. Based on a checklist, students in the computer lab sessions offer comments on their classmates’ submissions and then come to a face-to-face class to discuss the feedback they offered and received. Rather than the teacher giving a lecture on feedback and difficulties encountered, half the time is given to an active student discussion of their contributions.
On-campus students responded positively to this new blended approach to learning, finding both the information and feedback more engaging. As Renée de Waal says: “We see them exchanging, being busy and involved in their own and their peers’ learning.” Since 2016, only the blended model is provided to on-campus students.
The teachers take on more responsibilities as facilitators, rather than direct instructors.
Challenges and Enhancements
The video knowledge clips produced to offer the essential content in the online course are difficult to produce as lively and engaging learning resources. A large amount of information is delivered in a compressed time frame and to give a good presentation in a video clip, one needs training and experience.
As this course must be completed in 20 hours within one week, the ideal is to have all students working every afternoon for four hours, but given various time zones and schedules, this remains an ideal. Students may complete the course in two days or work mostly on weekends, making it difficult to coordinate peer feedback on assignments.
In the on-campus course, students complete a preliminary assignment on which they receive feedback prior to undertaking a final written exam for marks. In the online version, time restrictions mean students are assessed on the practice assignments. They receive feedback, from peers and instructors, as they develop the first steps of this assignment, and assessment is done on the final version. The use of the same assignment for both practice and assessment is not optimal pedagogically but is necessary to complete the course within the 20 hours allotted.
The course is offered near the beginning of the master’s program when students are not yet habituated to the balance of work, life and study required for online learning. This, along with the requirement to complete it in a week, creates a challenge for some students.
The initial preparation of the videos and information for the learning management system was demanding, as the information specialists had to compress the information in new formats, while focusing on the needs of the students. The course organization and content have to be easily accessible and clearly presented for students learning independently. This challenge was something the information specialists especially enjoyed working on, even more because on-campus education also benefited.
The library is considering the possibility of offering a fully online, 1.5 credit course (42 hours) for on-campus students. It would be self-paced, which offers challenges for peer review. There are also issues of security in ensuring it is the registered student doing the work. It would, however, fit very well in Wageningen University's aim for flexibility, as well as respond to the wishes of students.