Designing Effective Research Assignments
Often students have difficulty with library assignments because they
don’t understand the purpose of the assignment, are unfamiliar
with the resources they must use, or are confused by ambiguous terminology.
Help your students get the most out of a library assignment by following
the guidelines listed below:
Make sure students understand why they have been
given the assignment
An effective library assignment relates to some aspect
of the course subject matter. It should also reinforce the process
of locating information related to that subject.
Prepare your students for the assignment
If the assignment requires the use of specific sources, provide your
students with a list. Don’t just send students to the library
without any idea of what they are supposed to do when they get there.
Make sure students understand the assignment
Give library assignments in writing and make sure the terminology
is not ambiguous. If you differentiate between popular and scholarly
journals, or primary vs. secondary sources, make sure your students
understand the distinction before they start looking for information.
Use full and correct titles of journals, databases, and print sources.
Explain what “peer-reviewed” means, if you intend that
students locate these types of sources.
Check your assignments regularly
Library collections and services change constantly. New sources replace
older ones, electronic subscriptions may replace print, new databases
are constantly being added. Check your assignments regularly to make
sure they still work.
Avoid scavenger hunts
Scavenger hunt assignments are usually the least effective assignment
that can be given. Students are asked to locate random information
which has little or nothing to do with meaningful library research.
Students don’t understand the purpose of the assignment and are
frustrated by the questions, which they perceive as useless busy work.
If you insist on giving a scavenger hunt assignment, make sure your
students have the basic information necessary to complete it, understand
its purpose, and comprehend its relevance to the learning process.
Be careful when limiting students’ use of
Sometimes faculty limit their students’ use of Web sources.
Make sure your students understand whether “Web sources” means
ALL information delivered via the Web, including
full-text articles and other information obtained from library subscription
databases, or just “free” Web sites found using search
engines and subject directories. Since libraries are acquiring more
and more material in electronic format, students should not be discouraged
from using online databases and scholarly electronic journals or government
publications. The text of a full-text journal article or government
publication will usually be exactly the same as the print version.
Consult with a librarian
Librarians will be happy to work with you to develop an assignment.
Subject specialists are familiar with the resources in their subject
areas and can help make a library assignment be a good learning experience
for your students.
Schedule an instruction session in the Library
Librarians regularly meet with classes to discuss library resources
and search strategy. Contact a librarian from the list of subject
specialists or use the Class Instruction Request
form to contact the Coordinator of Library Instruction. Schedule
a class as far in advance as possible. Library classroom space is limited
and fills up rapidly during peak times of the semester.