Assessing Information Literacy Skills Demonstrated in an Engineering Design Task

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Practicing engineers must continuously renew their knowledge and skills in order to remain competitive in the field. Yet, recent studies have found very little improvement in engineering graduates' lifelong learning skills. Research on information literacy, a critical component of lifelong learning, in technical fields is limited.


This study sought to evaluate the information skills of first-year engineering students. Specifically, it investigated the extent to which students gather information from a variety of sources and from high-quality sources, use gathered information to support an argument, and document information sources.


This study used content analysis of memos written by teams of engineering students. A random sample of 40 memos, selected from a pool of 263, was coded using InfoSEAD, a structured coding protocol developed for this study.


Overall, 82% of the sources used were Web resources, of which 12% were of high quality. From the information threads that could be traced to the original source, 68% were relevant and used appropriately. Due to documentation errors in the memos, 28% of the sources cited could not be classified, and 57% of the information threads identified could not be traced to the original source.


Student teams mostly relied on Web resources, but their documentation skills were weak. When students did successfully document information, it was generally done appropriately.