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Guidelines for Assignments that Build Information Competence

  • Check with the Library in advance of the assignment to assure availability of, and access to required resources. The online environment is especially fluid and can change from one day to the next.
  • Test the assignment beforehand. Try to put yourself in the students’ shoes with their experience and perspective.
  • Create learner-centered assignments.
  • Don’t assume that students know the basics. Many SFSU students have no prior experience using a library or library sources. The web is most likely the first place they go to for information.
  • Inform the students of the purpose of the research assignment.
  • Describe the specifics of the assignment. Length, format for references (MLA, APA), acceptable types of sources (books, journal articles, web)
  • Allow for incremental and continual improvement. Allow students to choose a topic early in the semester. Have them turn in a bibliography of initial sources. Check the appropriateness of the sources selected (this could also help prevent plagiarism). Have them turn in a revised topic statement based on consultation of initial sources. This emphasizes the process of incorporating new information into the student’s knowledge base.
  • Topic Selection. Students often choose “hot topics” when conducting research, and may have difficulty abstracting a research question from a current news event i.e., “I need to do a paper on animal rights.” Before students select their topics, consider an exercise in which students define a research question for a number of news headlines.
  • Provide examples. Many students may not understand the distinction between popular and scholarly sources. If you require students to use articles from peer reviewed journals, provide examples in the assigned readings, refer to them, and discuss the author’s credentials, and elements of the research process.
  • Student Use of the Web. The use of the web is expanding, and library materials are increasingly web-based. Students will come to the reference desk and state that they are not allowed to use web sources, yet many full text journals are available on the web through our library subscriptions. Be precise in your instructions for student use of the web for research, and reinforce the distinction between such reliable library sources and general “internet” searching.
  • Course Integrated Seminars: Schedule a library instruction session. Session should be scheduled close to the time of need, when the student begins the research process. To be meaningful, the library session should be tied to an assignment that is relevant to the course; they need to apply what they have learned during the session. Library assignments that only take students through the procedural steps of using the library, without asking them to read, analyze, and apply the information, fall short.

Library Assignment Suggestions

  • Create a reading packet. The model for this assignment is the annotated book of readings with which most students are familiar. In this case, however, rather than being given the anthology, they are asked to compile it themselves. The assignment can limit the acceptable content to scholarly articles written within the last ten years, or it can be broadened to include popular articles, chapters or excerpts from books, subject encyclopedia articles, web sites, or older materials of particular merit. Students should be asked to write an introduction to the anthology that would display an overall understanding of the subject. In addition, each item should be described, and an explanation given as to why it is included. The assignment could also require a bibliography of items considered for inclusion.
  • Compare scholarly and popular resources on a topic. Find a reference to a study from a newspaper or popular magazine, such as Time, Psychology Today, Life, etc. Then have students find the actual study in a scholarly journal and write a several paragraphs comparing the popular sources with the original research.
  • Evaluate and Compare Websites. Use “Evaluating Information from the World Wide Web” (OASIS, Chapter 4:, or have the students develop course or topic specific web evaluation criteria. Compare sites.

(Adapted, with permission, from Cal State Fullerton)

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