Skip to Main Content

Information Literacy: Biology

Information Literacy Skills for Biology Majors

Information Literacy Outcomes:

  • Access necessary information effectively though basic reading and research strategies, especially via scholarly literature.
  • Select and evaluate, for significance and reliability, potential resources in a variety of formats (book, journal, website, etc.), and understand the differences between scholarly (peer-reviewed) and popular sources.
  • Understand the ethical use of information in the creation of new knowledge.  In particular be able to cite sources properly, and avoid plagiarism. 
  • Interpret information from sources for use in their own writing.

The Biology department at MCLA stresses information literacy throughout the curriculum.  We have taken several steps to include information literacy skills at ever level, and have designed the development of skills to be sequential by level.  The ability to read scientific literature and incorporate the information into written work (e.g. lab reports) is a important skill in the sciences.  We therefore stress information literacy throughout the curriculum.  Information literacy is also one of our programs key outcomes:

  • Understand fundamental concepts in the discipline
  • Write a lab report to communicate the findings of a scientific experiment
  • Design an experiment to test a hypothesis
  • Find and analyze primary literature in the field
  • Demonstrate appropriate technical skills in the laboratory
  • Analyze data with appropriate statistical analysis

Information Literacy by Course Level

Information literacy begins with Introduction to Biology (BIOL 150) and freshman Seminar (BIOL 101), and continues on into upper-level specialized topics courses. In the upper-level biology seminar (BIOL 330), which every student is required to take, students read scientific literature, present, and then discuss the material.  Below is a detailed description of Information literacy by course level.


Freshmen entering as biology majors are enrolled in Introduction to Biology (BIOL 150), and Freshman Seminar (BIOL 101) concurrently.  These courses, in tandem, expose students to library resources, reading and dissection of scientific literature, and incorporation of information from scientific literature into lab reports.  Students write two lab reports during their fall semester, with the goal that they are 1) able to demonstrate fundamentals of explain an experiments goals and outcomes, 2) able in compare their results to two other similar scientific studies, and 3) identify and include all standard sections of a lab report (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) and place appropriate information into each section.


At the 200-level students are required to take Genetics, Zoology, and Botany, except students in specific concentrations (e.g. Allied Health and Pre-Physical Therapy) that are waived out of Botany.  In all three 200-level courses students are required to write a minimum of two lab reports.  Lab Reports at the 200-level require students to build upon previous writing, and information literacy skills.  Lab reports include the expansion of the introduction and discussion to include a more in-depth use of scientific literature.

300- and 400-Level

Most courses at the 300- and 400-level are topics courses, and any of these courses with a laboratory component require a minimum of two lab reports.  By the 300-level students have had significant experience writing lab reports (having completed at least one 100-level and one 200-level).  Therefore, we expect students to competently write a lab report with substantial use of scientific literature to compose a through review in the introduction, and then comparison to their results, and assessment of their results to the current knowledge in the discussion.


500-level courses include student’s independent research, independent study, and internships.  Students are typically asked to write a research paper.  For internships they typically are on an organism they worked with in their internship (if animal care based), or a medical technique or diagnosis (if human or veterinary based).  These papers include

Information Literacy in the Core

We also place great importance on the literacy of scientific literature, including popular-press coverage of scientific advancements.  To emphasize the importance for students to be able to read and critically analyze scientific information we have included several assignments in our courses aimed at serving the core curriculum (BIOL 100 – Concepts in Biology, BIOL 105 – Human Biology, and BIOL 150 – Introduction to Biology).  In Concepts in Biology and Introduction to Biology we have students write lab reports.  In BIOL 100 the first lab report is pre-empted by an assignments designed to have students find articles related to their first lab report topic, and then assess the articles.  This allows students to pull the necessary information from the article to be cited in their lab report, but also teaches them to assess articles before using them as resources in their own work.  In BIOL 105 students conduct research and formally present their work in class, teaching students to gather information from several types of media sources.

Information Literacy Assessment

The Biology Department has several self-assessment topics, one of which is the ability to write a lab report, since it is a critical skill in the sciences.  As we have taken steps to make writing lab reports an important part of the curriculum, we have also taken steps to include information literacy in other way.  Two examples that are used in multiple courses are i) Assignments where students my read and critique scientific literature; and ii) Students read and critique each others work (blind peer-review).  Both of these assignments are designed to improve student skills in critically assessing scientific literature, and providing cogent written assessment of scientific literature.