Information Literacy in an Era of Fake News

Information Literacy in an Era of Fake News

Kevin Fosnacht – Today undergraduates face a conundrum: They can access more information on their phone at a moment’s notice than previous generations could access at in a multi-story university library. Yet, the increasing inclusion of terms like “alternative facts” and “fake news” in the popular discourse highlights how much of the information digested by students is of questionable quality or misleading. This reality makes knowing how to properly search for, use, and evaluate information a critical skill for the 21st century.

NSSE collaborated with instructional librarians to create the Experiences with Information Literacy  Topical Module which focuses on student engagement in activities associated with information literacy skill development and the extent to which instructors emphasize the proper use of information. A recent study, published in the 2017 ACRL Conference Proceedings, examined the validity and reliability of the module and investigated how three information literacy constructs influenced selected higher education outcomes using data collected from 44,700 seniors attending 128 U.S. colleges and universities.

Figure 1

Seniors’ Engagement in Information Literacy Experiences



Figure 1 displays a summary of the item frequencies from the module for the items inquiring about how often students engage in various information literacy activities. Most students frequently used information beyond course readings to complete course assignments. Over half of seniors frequently received feedback that improved their usage of information resources. However, only four in ten students decided not to use an information source due to its questionable quality. About half of seniors frequently looked for a reference cited in something they read. Figure 2 displays how much instructors emphasized various activities. Most students indicated that their instructors emphasized the proper use of information sources in a variety of ways. Consequently, the results indicate that information literacy is a frequent point of emphasis inside the classroom. Furthermore, students appear to be searching for and using information sources frequently, but using them uncritically.

Figure 2
Instructors’ Emphasis on Information Literacy Activities


Table 1

Fixed effect estimates of the relationship between information literacy constructs and selected outcomes


Reflective &
Integrative Learning
Perceived Gains
Est. Sig. Est. Sig. Est. Sig.
Information Use 0.21 *** 0.15 *** 0.22 ***
Information Evaluation 0.13 *** 0.24 *** 0.19 ***
Instructors’ Emphasis 0.19 *** 0.12 *** 0.24 ***
R2 change 0.16 0.12 0.25
Final R2 0.20 0.21 0.29

* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .05

Notes: Models hold constant race/ethnicity, time spent working, major field, grades, transfer status, educational aspirations, parental education, age, and enrollment status. Models include institution-specific fixed effects. The information literacy constructs and outcome measures are standardized with a mean of 0 and standard deviation of 1. R2 change is the amount of additional explained variance by the information literacy constructs after holding accounting for student and institutional factors.

The study identified and assessed the predictive validity of three constructs within the topical module, information use, information evaluation, and instructors’ emphasis. After controlling for both student and institutional factors, Table 1 shows how the information literacy constructs each uniquely predicted a significant proportion of the variation in the Higher-Order Learning, Reflective & Integrative Learning, and perceived gains scales. Additionally, these relationships were all positive and not trivial as all of the coefficient estimates were greater than .10. Therefore, a standard deviation change in one of the information literacy constructs would be expected to result in roughly a tenth to quarter standard deviation change in Higher-Order Learning, Reflective & Integrative Learning, and perceived gains. Furthermore, as the information literacy constructs were significantly correlated, yet exert a unique influence on the outcomes, the effects of more engagement in information literacy activities appears to be additive. Finally, as demonstrated by the R2 change and final R2 statistics, the information literacy constructs accounted for half to three-quarters of the explained variance in the outcome measures. This finding indicates that information literacy activities play an important role in student learning and perceived gains.


Fosnacht, K. (2017). Information literacy’s influence on undergraduates’ learning and development: Results from a large multi-institutional study. In D. M. Mueller (Ed.) At the helm: Leading transformation – The Proceedings of the ACRL 2017 Conference. Paper presented at the ACRL 2017 Conference, Baltimore, MD, March 22-25 (pp. 348-360). Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.