thing 23: Assessing Dispositions


As discussed in previous things, the Framework does not include learning outcomes, allowing librarians more flexibility to tailor assessment efforts to their local environment. Each frame of the Framework also includes dispositions, “which describe ways in which to address the affective, attitudinal, or valuing dimension of learning.” How can we address this component of learning in our assessment work?

Instead of offering a reading to get you started thinking about this, we’ve invited some librarians to record a short video sharing their thoughts & experiences about assessing affective learning:

These videos were recorded in response to two questions:

  1. Why is it important to assess learners’ dispositions, attitudes, or habits of mind rather than focusing exclusively on skills and behaviors?
  2. How have you approached assessing learners’ dispositions or affective learning in your own assessment practice?

See below for Ellysa Cahoy and Bob Schroeder’s responses in conversation with each other, and visit Flipgrid to see videos from Ken Liss and Kim Pittman (The grid password is: 23Frames).

To see Ken and Kim’s videos with captions, follow the links below:

Question 1 (videos with captions)
Question 2 (videos with captions)


Record your own video (up to 90 seconds):

  • Responding to one of the of the questions above
  • OR in dialogue with one of the video responses already posted
  • OR sharing your ideas/inspiration of how you plan to incorporate affective learning into your assessment practice

We’d love for your responses to be in video format, but if you’re feeling shy, feel free to respond in the comments below.

Questions about how to use FlipGrid? Contact Amy Mars, or check-out FlipGrid’s support site.

Thanks to the following librarians who contributed their thoughts on assessing dispositions!

  • Ellysa Cahoy, Education and Behavioral Sciences Librarian and Assistant Director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book at Penn State University and co-author of “Embedding Affective Learning Outcomes in Library Instruction” published in Communications in Information Literacy
  • Robert Schroeder, Education Librarian and Associate Professor at Portland State University and co-author of “Embedding Affective Learning Outcomes in Library Instruction” published in Communications in Information Literacy
  • Ken Liss, Head of Liaison & Instruction Services at Boston University and team leader of an Assessment in Action project focused on information literacy habits of mind
  • Kim Pittman, Information Literacy & Assessment Librarian at the University of Minnesota Duluth, 23 Framework Things co-creator, and (full disclosure) author of this post


  1. I think affective learning is absolutely an important part of learning, and I also agree with what Ellysa said about it often being informal. I think this is particularly true in the traditional “one-shot” library instruction session. A one shot session often doesn’t leave a lot of time for formal instruction, and I think sometimes trying to cram it in can lead to it feeling “hokey” to students or (worse) a waste of their time).

    I also think it can be a great formal component of more complex interactions with students, such as a for credit class. I’ve become a big fan of doing reflective journaling – I think its really important for students to reflect on why they are learning what they are learning, and how the various units in a class or various courses relate to one another, and students have so much going on I don’t think they always take the time to do this, and/or have so much else going on it doesn’t occur to them unless they are prompted. I like to ask students how what they are learning will relate to their “real lives,” such as their employment when they graduate.


  2. I enjoyed Kim’s comments about how she has approached assessing learners’ dispositions. She mentions that the students did a series of reflective essays about how they felt about research and what they did when they hit a snag in their research. Kim mentions that it was very helpful to hear where students struggled and what they did to overcome that obstacle, so the librarians could address those specific areas. As more information literacy activities get integrated into the GE Capstone course at my institution, it will be helpful if we can see what students are struggling with so we can focus on those areas when we speak to the class.


  3. The quotation that Ellysa shared “Where anxiety is present, it must be allayed before the work of instruction can begin” struck a chord with me. I know it is true in my own learning, and I have witnessed it in 30 years of classroom teaching and individual tutoring sessions (non-library) and in my almost two years of being on the reference desk of a college library. When teaching one-shot library classes, I always leave a lot of time for individual student searches and walk around and ask students individually where they are in the process and if they have any questions. If a student is particularly anxious, I make a point of visiting them a few times during the hour-long session to make sure they are making progress and experiencing success—things that tend to alleviate negative emotions and anxiety around the research process.

    I am a proponent of informal, rather than formal, assessment of affective learning as I try to read the emotions and stress level of individual students and sometimes of a whole class. I typically present information first then observe student behavior as they conduct individual searches on their respective topics. This Thing has made me aware that perhaps I should address the students’ hidden anxieties (at least hidden from me at this point) right up front at the start of my sessions before launching into the cognitive aspects of the session.


  4. Dispositions, attitudes, or habits of mind allow us to view our students holistically and qualitatively, rather than quantitatively. I can collect quantitative data all day long, but it tells me only a portion of the larger picture. Knowledge practices are easier to quantify as learnable than attitudes and feelings, but without the right attitude or feeling, the skill being learned is just a skill; it cannot transform into a habit of the mind without the accompanying disposition. Success comes when there is a union of knowledge practice and disposition, and these unions contribute to that complete information literacy that we are stiving to achieve within all of our students.

    Way back in Thing 11, we discussed student learning outcomes; and in my response, I mentioned writing an SLO targeted with guiding students to overcome the feelings exhibited in Kulthau’s ISP model, so that they can arrive at Formulation and Collection more rapidly. One method I was going to use to achieve this was with self-reporting questions on the post-instructional assessment. By answering self-reporting questions, the students would have the opportunity to follow their thought-processes to logical conclusions based upon scenarios posed in the questions and respond accordingly.

    So, self-reporting questions/responses are one way in which I assess the ways students feel about/respond to their learning.

    In addition, I keep copious anecdotes about my interactions with students who have participated in my library instructions. Our classes are small, so it’s much easier to remember the students I have taught, but most of them self-identify themselves as having participated in a library instruction. They are also repeat customers, returning repeatedly for assistance.

    When I’m teaching, I use the natural pauses within the instruction to check-in with the students and find out how they are feeling, via verbal response and non-verbal cue, about the instruction. I’ll ask a general question – “are you confused about [insert concept]?”, and even if they respond with a “no,” but their facial expressions indicate a “yes,” I may backtrack to that particular section again a little later from a different angle to ensure learning takes place. I do a lot of facial expression scanning while I’m teaching, and if there are grimaces or expressions of confusion, I stop, retrace my steps, and we re-discuss the concept until the students exhibits awareness and understanding. They are typically quite verbal in their expressions of understanding, and I don’t discourage them from expressing their awareness.

    If I’ve done my job right, my students will be positively encouraged to ask questions and to seek out answers for themselves. That’s always the goal.


  5. I think philosophers and researchers have been trying to crack the “how do we learn?” code for ages. I don’t think we’ve found an answer. Affect has certainly been a part of the equation, especially when it comes to motivation as intrinsic motivation is considered more conducive to learning than extrinsic motivation. But does knowing that really help with the teaching process? Especially when there is no one-size-fits-all reason behind intrinsic motivation?

    And that’s why I struggle when it comes to assessing affect, dispositions or habits of mind in students, especially in the limited time I get with them. I used to give out a survey after an information session which included many questions to assess their feelings about the library after the information session, how much they felt they learned and how confident they would be in using library tools. The results tended to be positive about me and the library as a whole. I then added a section which served as a short and simple skills assessment. It turned out that their confidence in how much they learned exceeded how much they actually remembered from the session. In theory, their affect should have produced better outcomes.
    That’s always a danger with self-reported data and it’s something researchers work hard to strip from their assessments as to reduce the risk of bias. When it comes to reflective journals, students are well aware of the eyes that will read their thoughts later.

    There is also the question of how to change a person’s affect when again, everyone starts in a different place. I found it interesting that some of the suggestions to bring students out of anxiety is by teaching them skills.
    I think everyone recognizes this is a murky area. Despite my cynicism, I do think it’s worth continued study to see if we can unlock some mystery which will improve learning. And in spite of my critiques, I don’t even completely disregard the theory. Every time I’m in front of students, I try to think of something to make them realize they didn’t know as much as they thought they did so they’re more receptive to my expertise. I hope instructors give them flexible assignments so they will stumble on a topic they truly want to learn more about instead of just going for a grade. One of my biggest takeaways, especially during a one-shot classroom is that they realize I can be a helpful resource which may give them the tool or skill which will make knowledge seeking easier and satisfying.

    Ultimately, I know that the break through moment only sometimes comes with me. It often comes later in their studies and careers. However, what I can give them is the skills and tools to use when that moment comes for them.


  6. What I am discovering is that the Framework treats students as whole being, so as teachers we can ask more questions. The hope here is that we have access to a wider range of options for engaging students.

    In the Thing 20: Rubric Based Assessment I was struggling with the idea of how can we evaluate habits of mind or dispositions. The librarians who shared their thoughts in the videos all spoke to the idea, as I heard it, about the idea of engaged learning requires that the student is receptive and ready to learn. Your “affect” is what allows for learning to occur. But how can we assess this.

    If my stated Learning Objectives from Thing 20 succeed in listing a set of dispositions or habits of mind, then I can assess the students accordingly. But these SLOs listed below can also be considered a set of skills. If I were to rewrite these using the Affective model proposed by Cahoy and Schroeder on page 77 of the article linked above they would probably look like this.

    -Students will be able to identify the intended audience of resources (blogs, articles, books) they have accessed in order to determine if it is appropriate for their particular project.

    -Students will be able to relate their work to other scholars and experts in the area that they have conducted research in order to understand the importance of acknowledging others ideas and work.

    -Students will be able to prepare/produce appropriate projects for the field they are conducting research in order to recognize how information might be shared.

    -Students will be able to recognize when and why information is not available to people in order to learn alternative search strategies.

    -Students will be able to identify whose voice is being heard or ignored in different resources in order to identify potential bias.

    But, what if we were to let go of the idea of assessment? I just attended an amazing seminar that questioned the whole concept of needing to move students from point A to point B. What if we just introduced students to interesting and challenging concepts and material and let them take their own journey. What if the journey is the learning, not the destination?

    Or perhaps what I am questioning is how best to define assessment, and the why of assessment. I forget where I heard this, but the idea introduced is that we need to measure what we value, NOT value what we measure. I’m coming out of this exercise with more questions than answers, but am sure that there will be some small benefit to students who I get to work with.

    I feel like Ann Hokanson’s questions are mine as well. She articulated many of the same questions I have and pushed me in this direction along with all these other influences I have mentioned.


  7. This is a fascinating topic. I’m an adminstrator with a public library background. Whenever I undertake an assessment of anything, I need to ask myself what I intend to do with the information I accrue. Will it guide me to make changes? Will it document/validate effort made? Will it provide me with what I need to make a compelling case for funding? Does the assessment give me (create) the information I need in a format I can use?

    Public librarians in Minnesota, because of some state funding, are often asking their author tour audiences things like “This program was paid for with state dollars, so we need to assess its impact, on a scale of 1-5 how much new information on the topic did you gain?” And of course the survey results produce the answer “lots!” (I’m not giving a real example, and of course we do try to do the best job possible, but you can see the cunundrum. It is hard to truly assess when everyone being assessed can predict the desired answer.)

    And when I complete an assessment, whether as a student or in any role, I ask myself how will my answers be used? Who will see them? Are they an opportunity for constructive feedback? What value do they have? How honest do I want to be? How much time should I invest? I think we should always be aware when assessing affect that people are filtering their behavior and attitudes, and that what we perceive or conclude are attitudes and mindsets might not be actually so.

    The set of videos so far is very interesting in that the presenters convinced me that affect does impact an ability to learn, but once affect is assessed by an instructor, are there follow up tasks? Is it the role of the librarian to take actions that place the student in a better frame of mind to learn? Is there a need to adapt the instruction based on the assessment of the affect of the class? Is this as informal as being aware of whether or not the whole class just needs a stretch break or that the lesson plan has lost its relevancy and needs a refresh? What is the purpose of assessing affect?

    And so, the importance of assessing affect: because when we assess student affect well, it helps us teach effectively because_______

    I’m not sure I heard the speakers directly address that blank.

    Thing 23 gave me a lot to think about. I thank all the presenters and organizers.



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