Librarians are available to consult with you in planning relevant and meaningful library assignments for your students. Effective library assignments promote student learning of the subject matter while fostering critical thinking skills and information literacy concepts.
Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when developing library research assignments:
- Have clear objectives
The purpose of each library research assignment should be clear and well-thought-out. If students view library research assignments as "pointless" busy work, they will resent the assignments – and the library research process.
Give clear directions
A library research assignment that gives specific directions is best, and librarians are glad to help at the Reference desk with the specific steps to take in the process and what resources they should use. The more information you include in the syllabus or on the assignment page, the better.
Require the use of resources other than the Internet
Students will always take the easiest route – in this case, the Internet. If you require the use of a specific print or electronic library resource, they will use it and learn something new.
Suggest a variety of topics, or help students to brainstorm about narrowing topics in class.
Many students don't have a clear idea of the topic they are asked to research and spend large amounts of time on deciding on a topic rather than on the research itself. Assigning one broad topic to the entire class makes plagiarism easier -– either from your former students or from online term paper mills.
Place items that every student must look at on Reserve
If you assign every student in a class of 30 to read the same article, you want to ensure that every student really has an equal opportunity to access the item. The best way to ensure that access is to put materials on Reserve in the library. If you don't, the odds are that the material will disappear.
Avoid scavenger hunts
Asking students to find little bits of data on various topics doesn't promote library research skills. Students lack the familiarity with information sources to find pieces of information from almanacs, handbooks, and statistical sources, and Librarians end up finding these bits of data for students. Student learning is negligible.
Pre-test the assignment
Before giving any research assignment to your students, complete it yourself. Expect your students to encounter twice as many difficulties as you do – and to take at least twice as long to complete the assignment.
Make use of appropriate, current resources- and make sure we have access to it.
The sources available for doing research change rapidly in the Internet Age. Sources that were previously in print may now be available electronically. Sources often change their search options or resource coverage several times within a year, and our resource access seems to change constantly.
Be flexible in terms of resource format
If we have the New York Times in electronic format and you insist that students use it on microfilm, students will resent you, the assignment, and experience frustration with the library. If you have a sound pedagogical reason for the use of a certain format over others, explain it to the students and the librarians.
Consult a librarian
Librarians are experts on information sources and information research processes, as well as on students' information research skills and attitudes. We can help you identify potential strengths and problem areas in proposed research assignments.
Ask for a Library Instruction session
Do not assume that your students have had prior training in doing college-level research, or that searching the Web will give them the skills that they need. Students need training and practice in library- and information-research skills. They are also most receptive to training delivered at the point of need. In student time, that's shortly before the project is due, but we prefer 2-3 weeks ahead of time. We expect that Q110, Introduction to Information Literacy, will have a long-term effect on student's research skills, but we may not see the results of that effort for a time.
For more information, contact:
Nancy Wootton Colborn
Head of Information Literacy Services