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Journalism Information Literacy Framework

Strategies for Assessment

This Framework for Information Literacy in Journalism for Higher Education presents six frames that represent the underlying conceptual understandings or “threshold concepts” of the information practices in journalism, with each frame breaking out associated concepts, practices, and dispositions. A threshold concept is a fundamental understanding within an area of study that is transformative and irreversible in that once understood, the learner comprehends ideas and perspectives within the discipline in a new way. Oftentimes, these concepts can be difficult for students to understand and can be stumbling blocks to moving on to more sophisticated understanding and performance.

It is much easier to assess what a student does than what a student understands or values, particularly when it is acknowledged that learning for understanding is a messy, recursive process. This is generally the difficulty of the assessment of conceptual understanding -  assessment is linear, and learning is not. However, there are meaningful ways of assessing student understanding that, when taken into account alongside traditional methods of assessing student products, can benefit both the instructor and the student. Assessing activities that make learning explicit, such as written reflections, diaries, critiques, research logs, and concept maps, allow the assessor to look for evidence of the understandings, practices, and dispositions of the journalism profession. Recommendations for the classroom and program levels are presented in the following sections.

Skill development is, of course, necessary in learning to become an information literate practitioner, but it is a hollow endeavor without an associated understanding of why journalists perform in certain ways or value certain things. It is even possible that a student may be able to mimic a successful product (news report, opinion piece, research paper, etc.) but not actually understand the underlying concepts of why it is good. Information literacy is a process, not a product. If we only examine the product of a task that requires information literacy, only glimpses of the student’s information literacy abilities and understanding is possible. If we also directly assess students’ actual understanding of the underlying concepts, that can serve as a diagnostic tool for articulating reasons behind the execution of student work.


Meyer, J., Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2006). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: an introduction. In J. H. F. Meyer & R. Land (Eds.), Overcoming barriers to student understanding threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (pp. 3-18). Routledge.

Land, R., & Meyer, J. H. F. (2010). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (5): Dynamics of assessment. In J. H. F. Meyer, R. Land, & C. Baillie (Eds.), Threshold concepts and transformational learning (pp. 61–79). Sense Publishers.

The Importance of Relationships

Meaningful assessment of information practices in journalism is a collaborative endeavor between librarians, students, instructors, and journalism programs. Strong relationships built on shared goals of creating learning environments and opportunities for students ensure that ideas brought to the proverbial table are encouraged and valued. To extend the metaphor, the collaborators are necessary legs of the table -- remove a leg, and the table will wobble. While librarians may lack frequent interactions with students in the classroom and have less access to student work where learning may be evident, they can be expert resources for faculty in designing effective assignments, mapping the curriculum for key outcomes, assessing artifacts to understand at the classroom and programmatic level what students understand, and in understanding how students use information over time.


Meulemans, Y.N., & Carr, A. (2013). Not at your service: Building genuine faculty‚Äźlibrarian partnerships. Reference Services Review, 41(1), 80–90.

Recommendations at the Classroom Level

Journalism curricula are organized around the exposure of students to threshold concepts largely through practical exercises and assignments in order to build confidence and activate enthusiasm for creating real social change and making a difference. In order to assess conceptual understanding, design assignments that specifically diagnose a student’s ability to understand particular concepts, controlling for other factors. The knowledge practices can be clues for these kinds of assignments. For example, an assignment that asks students to, “Identify and describe different types of authority related to a story topic” will assess a student’s ability to understand the contextual nature of authority. 

Students should engage with a threshold concept in multiple ways as different scenarios and learning will be recursive. Students today are, as Filloux (2020) notes, in a “permanent skills-acquisition mode” as they try to acquire an ever-evolving breadth of technical knowledge, so start from what they know. This does not mean that threshold concepts should be simplified for novice learners, though, as this can result in later problems with learning the concept: there becomes a “false proxy” that students settle for. 

Instructors who have difficulties remembering what it is like not to understand a threshold concept should take time to listen to students in order to develop a greater understanding of their patterns when wrestling with a concept. Listening to students can take place informally through the use of written reflections like MacMillan’s (2009) I-SKILLS résumé which asks students to reflect on, assess, and describe their information skills. This type of instrument can be introduced to both novice and expert learners in an attempt to discern the growth of individuals' information literacy as well as curricular interventions. Peer review is another form of assessment that can be incorporated into classroom assignments. The act of giving feedback can aid the development of conceptual understandings.


Meyer, J. H. F., Land, R., & Baillie, C. (2010). Editors’ preface: Threshold concepts and transformational learning. In J. H. F. Meyer, R. Land, & C. Baillie (Eds.), Threshold concepts and transformational learning (pp. ix–xlii). Sense Publishers.

Filloux, F. (2020, May 24). The upcoming journalism school overhaul. Monday Note.

MacMillan, M. (2009). Watching learning happen: Results of a longitudinal study of journalism students. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(2), 132–142.

Recommendations at the Program Level

Capstone courses are commonly found in a majority of journalism education programs, and among programs that offer a capstone course, almost all place it in the core curriculum. These kinds of courses offer programs the opportunity to “assess the quality of instruction and the level to which its students attain desired outcomes”. At the same time, capstone courses offer students the opportunity to “reflect and synthesize what they have learned” in previous courses as they prepare to embark on professional endeavors. These two goals can have competing and conflicting expectations. Capstone courses frequently have students produce a tangible product, such as a professional portfolio, in an attempt to demonstrate employability. 


Bowe, B. J., Blom, R., & Davenport, L. D. (2020). Journalism and mass communication capstone course: Bringing it all together? Communication Teacher, 34(2), 161–174.

Awareness of Accreditation Standards

The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC) is the agency responsible for ensuring that accredited programs meet rigorous standards for professional journalism education in colleges and universities. As part of the accreditation process, journalism and mass communication programs are to comply with nine standards. 

Each standard has indicators and measures of evidence. Standards 2 (Curriculum and Instruction) and 9 (Assessment of Learning Outcomes) are especially relevant in light of this Framework. Standard 2 outlines 12 professional values and competencies necessary to prepare journalism students to work in a diverse global and domestic society. Standard 9 offers suggested assessment measures, like exit exams, interviews, and professional projects or portfolios, to improve teaching methods. Overall, the ACEJMC contends that three criteria should guide the assessment of student learning: awareness, understanding, and application.

Librarians should familiarize themselves with the language used in these standards, along with the ongoing discussions surrounding the accreditation process, when communicating with instructors and program directors about assessment, competencies, and values. 
Librarians should also consider how the knowledge practices and dispositions can connect to the standards when mapping the curriculum and designing learning opportunities.


See Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. (n.d.). Nine Accrediting Standards.

See Christ, W. G., & Henderson, J. J. (2014). Assessing the ACEJMC professional values and competencies. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 69(3), 301–313. and Henderson, J. J., & Christ, W. G. (2014).Benchmarking ACEJMC Competencies: What It Means for Assessment. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 69(3), 229–242.

Assessment of Dispositions

Assessing dispositions may present unique challenges given the emphasis on the value dimension of learning which may not fully reveal itself by the end of a 10-14-week course. However, journalism education programs trying to comply with ACEJMC standards have a commitment to advancing the profession through regular communication and engagement with alumni and professionals. This commitment offers opportunities for assessing dispositions. 

Working together, librarians, instructors, and programs can conduct informal surveys or interviews with recent alumni -- e.g., those who have graduated in the past five years -- to address not only their perceived readiness for entering the profession, along with the reality of it, but also their critical attitudinal behaviors toward their place in the profession. Moreover, interviews and engagement with veteran journalists can help identify how observable changes in the profession, like disruptive innovation, alter or reinforce professional values. These kinds of conversations can offer both librarians and faculty with advantageous material to incorporate into curricula.


See Rosenstiel, T., Ivancin, M., Loker, K., Lacy, S., Sonderman, J., & Yaeger, K. (2015, August 6). Chapter 6: Skills, knowledge and comfort levels with job skills. American Press Institute.

See Ferrucci, P. (2018). “We’ve lost the basics”: Perceptions of journalism education from veterans in the field. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 73(4), 410–420.