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Library instruction program: Research Assignments

Creating Assignments

Research assignments provide opportunities to help students develop their critical thinking competencies and practice their information seeking skills.

Assignment instructions can provide the guidance students need to succeed in the assignment, and prevent anxiety, stress, and frustration by being explicit about what resources to use, how to search for them, and how and why to use them to complete the assignment.

  • Keep the skill level of your students in mind. Many research skills and concepts that seasoned researchers take for granted are often completely unintuitive to students used to using Google to find information for non-academic purposes.
  • Create clear research objectives for your assignment
    • Let students know the research skills that they are expected to learn and demonstrate through the assignment. 
  • Present students with recommended sources, along with an explanation as to what recommends them and why.
  • Describe criteria for evaluating sources specific to the assignment. 
  • Provide students with access to library support (Service Desk, email and chat reference, library instruction sessions, appointments with their Subject Librarian).
  • Test your assignment before giving it to your students.
    • Even better, get a librarian to test it. Librarians meet with students struggling to interpret their assignments every day and know what parts of the assignment are most likely to cause confusion and anxiety in your students.
  • Check the availability of resources before recommending them to your students.
    • A resource that you have used before may no longer be available, or we may have a newer, better resource for your students' research needs. If many students are researching the same narrow topic and need access to the same few books, you may want to place them on reserve.

The following sample assignments address information literacy concepts. These may be standalone activities, or may be incorporated as components in larger research projects.

Citation Chaining

* Students explore the impact of an article on a field by locating citing articles and writing about how those articles have used the original article.

Close Reading

* Students read and deconstruct an article as a class to become familiar with the anatomy, structure and purpose of scholarly articles.

Comparing Different Formats

* Students find two sources in different formats on the same topic and compare and contrast the information found in those sources. (ex. book reviews in newspapers and academic journals; health information for consumers and practitioners; academic articles from different disciplines).

Exploring Keywords

* Students use keywords in different disciplinary databases to see how the search results differ. Students critically analyze the keywords and Subject Headings found in disciplinary databases to see how different disciplines frame scholarship on a topic.

Journal Club

* Students read and critically evaluate individual articles in depth and have a group discussion about the article.

Research Logs

* Students maintain a log of their research experiences, making note of search strategies, successes and challenges and reflecting on how the information they found affected the way they thought about their topic.

Science in the Media

* Students examine media portrayals of science and evaluate the nature and quality of evidence presented.

* Students find a popular media article that refers to a research study and have to find the original academic source based on clues in the media article.

Scholarly Conversations

* Students define a venue where a scholarly conversation is taking place (online forum, blog, online journal, etc.) and identify key scholars and key perspectives, issues, etc.

Synthesis Matrix

* Students complete a matrix to compare and contrast sources, gaining practice in making connections between authors and reading and integrating different formats and styles of writing.

Wikipedia Contribution

* Students locate a "stub" and expand on it. Or, students find an article requiring clean up or verification and improve it by verifying information and adding citations.

Assess students on their IL skills and ensure they demonstrate evidence of these skills by incorporating them into your grading rubric.

Assign grades to process-related tasks, rather than just the final product of the research. This can help ensure students are conducting the process adequately.

This can be as easy as awarding marks for the quality and relevance of sources rather than simply for the type and number of sources, or awarding marks for evidence of decision-making, selectivity and strategic searchingwith regard to information gathering and selection.

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