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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 sources

    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.

This page is maintained by Meg Grotti, Coordinator, Library Instruction, Reference Department. Last modified: 07/02/13