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Faculty Resources: Designing Effective IL Assignments

Suggestions for Designing Effective Research Assignments

  • Inform the students of the purpose of the research assignment: Defining and sharing objective helps your students understand your expectations, what they will learn as a result, and how this will help them long term.
  • Do you want students to know and use major resources in a subject, gather resources for a research paper, solve a problem, evaluate different types of sources? What do you want students to do with the information once they have found it?
  • Be specific: Let students know what is acceptable and/or required. Length, format for references (MLA, APA), and acceptable types of sources (books, scholarly articles, magazines, web).
  • Test the assignment beforehand. Try to put yourself in the students' shoes with their experience and perspective. Be sure the resources you are asking them to use are available. Many Iona students have no prior experience using a college library. Ask your library liaison for input. They see a lot of good research assignments, but they also know the assignments that may unnecessarily frustrate students.
  • Provide students with resource lists to give them somewhere to start. Ask your library liaison for research guides.
  • Schedule a library instruction session to introduce your students to the process of research.
  • Send a copy of your assignment to your Library Liaison. It would be very helpful if librarians had a folder of current assignments at the Reference Desk in order to be better prepared to assist students.
  • Whenever possible model the inquiry process to students in the classroom. If you have access to a projection system in your classroom, take questions from class or plan questions to demonstrate to students how to choose a database, how to create an effective search statement, and how to access full-text. The more times they see the process for different questions, the more they will remember and learn.
  • Topic selection. Students often choose "hot topics" when conducting research and may have difficulty developing a focused research question from a current news event. Require a variety of sources, but be flexible; not all topics, particularly those chosen by students themselves, are covered in every type of resource. Before students finalize their research questions, consider having them run their topics by you for approval. Students can find good topics from the English research guide.
  • Allow for incremental and continual improvement. Allow students to choose a topic early in the semester. Have them turn in a bibliography of initial sources. Check the appropriateness of the sources selected (this could also help prevent plagiarism). Have them turn in a revised topic statement based on consultation of initial sources. This emphasizes the process of incorporating new information into the student's knowledge base.
  • Provide examples of scholarly journals. Many students may not understand the distinction between popular and scholarly sources. If you require students to use articles from peer reviewed journals, provide examples in the assigned readings, refer to them, and discuss the characteristics of scholarly research and publication.
  •  "Scavenger Hunts." Use wisely if you choose to do it. Why? An entire class of students all attempting to use the same resources to find the same information leads to frustration for students. Scavenger Hunts can provide students with the opportunity to be in the library and also to begin exploring all that the library has to offer. What is important when crafting a scavenger hunt is the incorporation of problem solving, analysis, and critical thinking skills. This is not an easy task. Scavenger hunts typically don't require learners to evaluate the source or information or use the information for any purpose. Thus, students sometimes see this as a purposeless exercise and lose interest. If you are interested in designing a scavenger hunt, please contact your library liaison for assistance
  • Student use of the Web. The use of the web is expanding, and library materials are increasingly web-based. Students will come to the reference desk and state that they are not allowed to use web sources, yet most of our full text journals are available on the web through our library subscriptions. Be precise in your instructions for student use of the web for research, and reinforce the distinction between such reliable library sources and general "internet" searching.
  • Place limited resources on reserve. If there is a book or a chapter you want all the students in your class to read, place it on  Reserve so everybody has access.
  •  Give citations not photocopies. If you assign students to read an article in a journal that is in our online collection, give them the article citation, not a photocopy or link to the article. Students need the experience and practice of finding articles from citations.
  • Schedule a library instruction session. Librarians can teach your students how to conduct effective research. Instruction should be tied to an assignment and scheduled at the beginning of the research process


More Assignment Ideas

  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications: Compare and contrast discussions of the same topic in a popular magazine and a scholarly journal on the criteria of authority, content, style, bias, audience, etc. (Incorporates ACRL Standards 1,3)
  • Letters to the Editor: Each student chooses a topic of current national interest and writes a letter expressing his/her opinion on the subject to the editor of a local newspaper. Students work in small groups to critically examine one another's letters and to identify any dubious statements. Each student is assigned to substantiate those statements that were singled out by the group as needing more convincing evidence or authority. Research is required for the process, and the result is a 750-word essay, with documentation in the form of notes and a bibliography. (Incorporates ACRL Standards 3.5)
  • Database Searching: Provide a precise statement of your topic, a list of keywords or thesaurus terms (as appropriate), and a list of actual searches to enter into appropriate library research databases you've chosen. After carrying out the search(es), write a report explaining why you chose that database and describe how the search results either met or did not meet your expectations. Can work in groups and present to class. (Incorporates ACRL Standards 1,2)
  •  Comparing print and web resources: In groups of 3-5, have students examine pairs of items (books or journal articles and web sites) to determine indicators of quality in each item; where exactly they found those indicators; the appropriate use for each item. Have them report their findings to the class after the class has had a chance to also evaluate the sites. Have an open discussion of what is and isn't on the Web. (Incorporates ACRL Standards 1,2)
  • Research Activity: Finding Related Sources using Bibliographies: Students find an article for their topic and then, from that article, try to locate other articles listed in the bibliography.  (Incorporates ACRL Standard 2)
  • Evaluating Internet sites: Brainstorm evaluative criteria for Web sites and use criteria to evaluate selected sites. Students find two Internet sites on topic, use evaluation criteria to ascertain quality of information on sites and write an evaluation of each site. Give students printouts or urls for several Internet sites. Students rate them according to appropriateness for college level research, reliability of information, currency, etc.
  • (Incorporates ACRL Standard 3) Annotated Bibliography or Webliography: Students create an annotated bibliography or webliography of sources used for their projects and explain why they chose each source and its relevancy. (Incorporates ACRL Standards 1,2,3,5)