Effective Research Assignments
Well-designed course-related library assignments are an effective way to introduce students to library research. The following guidelines are meant to insure students a positive library experience and reinforce library use as a means of learning.
Consult with a Reference Library before you give the
Librarians will work with you to design an appropriate assignment that will achieve you course goals/objectives. Sending a copy of the assignment to your library faculty subject specialist or the Head of Library Education Services before you give it to your students will ensure that the library staff is ready to help your students when needed.
Assume minimal library knowledge.
Although many students may be familiar with using some library tools (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.), few really understand the intricacies of academic research, and many have never used research journals. Too many students rely on Google and other search engines.
Explain the assignment clearly, preferably in
Students need a clear idea of what the assignment involves. What do you expect the students to learn as a result of the assignment, and how do the objectives for the assignment fit in with your course objectives? Suggesting types of sources to be used is helpful. Give complete, accurate citations for specific works you recommend to your students.
Always be sure the library holds the needed
It is very frustrating to look for what does not exist or the library does not own. Ask librarians for help in identifying resources. New resources are always available. Sending an advance copy of the assignment and its due date to your library faculty subject specialist or the Head of Library Education Services is very helpful in preparing the librarians to assist students.
Teach research strategy when appropriate.
Include a list of steps involved in the research assigned. Invite your library faculty subject specialist to review strategies for the assignment with the class and discuss appropriate resources or types of materials.
Discuss plagiarism with your students.
Avoid the mob scene.
Dozens of students using just one book, article, or index, or looking for the same information usually leads to misplacement, loss, or mutilation of materials. Give students a variety of topics and sources. Use the course reserves as needed; use photocopies of “classic” articles if you can conform to fair-use practices.
Avoid scavenger hunts.
Searching for obscure facts frustrates students, can cause chaos in the library stacks, and teaches students little about research. If planning a library exercise, talk to your library faculty subject specialist about designing one appropriate to the class. See below for innovative assignment ideas.
Be clear in your use of the term
Many library licensed journal databases and full-text resources are available through the Internet and could be considered Internet sources. Clarify what students should use. Do you want your students to find authoritative web sites or use library resources?
Refer students to library staff for help.
Remind students that librarians and other library staff are available at reference and information desks and can provide individual help. Even students who have had a library instruction session may need additional help. Get Help is a terrific resource for your students!
Librarians can provide presentations and written materials geared specifically to your course and assignments, as well as general orientations for more inexperienced students. PLEASE ASK! Contact us!
Adapted with permission of the University of Oregon Library System , Eugene , Oregon .
Research papers are not always the only way to teach research strategies. Below are some ideas for innovative assignments. Sites providing examples of innovative or alternative research assignments include:
Gustavus Adolphus – lists assignments in the following categories: Interpretive assignments, Synthesis assignments, Exploring discourses and Quick and dirty
Ohio Universities with ideas for general education, sciences, social sciences, history and literature.
We know that students use Wikipedia. See site on using Wikipedia in research assignments.