Patrick Power Library
Tips for Developing Research-Based Assignments
- Identify the learning objectives for the assignment (including information literacy objectives) so that students know what to do and why.
- Give clear instructions in writing.
- Define sources to be used or not to be used.
- In order to prevent large numbers of students from needing to use the same information sources at the same time, allow students to choose from a range of topics.
- If you expect some sources to be heavily used, request that they be placed on Reserve by calling 491-6314.
- It is always a good idea to check that the library has the sources your students will need to complete their assignment. Do not assume that library sources are available.
- Check the Novanet catalogue to verify library holdings or consult with library staff at the library's Information Desk (420-5544).
- Library staff can help you to verify that your assignment can be accomplished and that the sources your students need are available.
- Library staff can provide suggestions as to what sources to use and can alert you to new sources that have become available.
- Send a copy of your assignment to the library's Reference and Research Department. This enables library staff to prepare in advance, to better assist your students. Please forward your assignments to Nicole Carter, Reference and Research Librarian (420-5540).
- Discuss the research process in class and review the kinds of sources you expect students to use.
- Distinguish between different types of sources (e.g., journals vs. magazines, primary vs. secondary, research databases vs. the Internet). Many students do not understand the differences.
- Ensure that students understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Internet as a source of information.
- When referring to the library or to a particular source, it helps to give specific instructions (e.g., Tell students to find journal articles using PsycINFO, as opposed to telling them to look for articles in the library).
Offer Library Instruction
- Consider scheduling a library instruction session. Many students have never used an academic library, and those who have, often lack the skills needed to use the library effectively. Participation in library instruction sessions should not be optional. It is also important that you attend the session with your class. Your presence and participation may motivate students to be more engaged in the session.
- When scheduling a library instruction session, please allow two weeks' notice. Contact the Information Literacy Librarian (420-5541) for more information.
- Encourage your students to ask library staff for assistance. Students can be hesitant to seek help when needed.
- Alert students to Reference-By-Appointment service for in-depth reference assistance and/or for individual instruction in how to effectively search the library's electronic resources.
Incorporate Critical Thinking
- Avoid "scavenger hunt" assignments that ask students to locate random facts. This type of assignment can be very frustrating to students.
- Assignments that require students to evaluate, analyze, compare, question, and/or synthesize the information they find make for a better learning experience. They also help build skills that are transferable to other research projects.
Break Assignments into Manageable Steps
- Divide assignments into parts and establish a time frame for completion of each part. For example, as a first assignment have students produce an outline or an annotated bibliography. Breaking up the assignment into manageable steps allows you the opportunity to monitor student progress and offer feedback. It also prevents students from leaving their assignment to the last minute when panic may cause some students to take shortcuts that could result in plagiarism.
- You may also want to put some restrictions on the types and numbers of sources students can use (e.g., 2 books, 4-6 journal articles published within the last five years, maximum of 2 websites, etc.). This can help to ensure that students use materials that are appropriate and that they do not rely too heavily on one source to write their paper.
- To discourage plagiarism and to check that students are correctly citing their research, ask students to hand in photocopies or printouts of their sources with their completed assignments (It is best not to ask students to "clip out" and "attach" information, as this may lead to damage or theft of library materials.)
- It can be helpful to complete the assignment yourself to make sure it can be done and to determine how long it should take students to complete. Give students a reasonable time frame in which to complete an assignment.
- Once students have completed the assignment, ask them what they thought about it. Solicit feedback.
- Ask the Information and Research Desk (420-5544) for feedback. Library reference staff may be able to tell you what difficulties, if any, your students had in finding information for their assignments.
Discuss Copyright and Plagiarism
- Make sure students are aware of the university's policy on plagiarism (e.g., include information about plagiarism in your course syllabus; refer students to the Academic Calendar (see section on Academic Integrity and Student Responsibility, p. 22); show students where they can find additional information (e.g., A Student's Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism).
- Discuss the appropriate use of information sources. Provide information on how to cite their sources (see, for example, the online resources that are available via the library and the Writing Centre web sites (e.g., Style Guides and Citations; Useful Writing Links). Provide information on the use of copyrighted material in assignments (see the Copyright Guide for Faculty and Staff).
- Be clear about your expectations. Refer students to the style manual you prefer them to use.
Evaluate Information Literacy Skills
- Evaluate the research process and information literacy skills as well as the end product.
- Methods of evaluation may include:
- Analyzing student bibliographies (e.g., evaluate types of sources, relevancy, currency, and accuracy in citing, etc.)
- Asking students to describe and hand in a research strategy (e.g., have students list the search tools they used and the various search strategies, keywords they tried, etc.)
- Requiring printouts of database search histories
- Asking students to describe at least 3 criteria they applied to judge the quality of a webpage or site they used as a source of information
- Asking students to write a brief (one page) essay, or orally report on their research process and what they learned from it.
Information literacy is knowing how to find and use information effectively.
According to the Association of College & Research Libraries, "An information literate individual is able to:
- Determine the extent of information needed
- Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
- Evaluate information and its sources critically
- Incorporate selected information into one's knowledge base
- Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
- Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally."
Association of College and Research Libraries. (2008, November 5). Information literacy competency standards for higher education.
Retrieved March 25, 2009, from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency.cfm