Maryville Library Research Assignment

Research assignments encourage your students to inquire deeply, think critically, and engage with the discourse of their discipline. 

Here are some tips for crafting effective research assignments.  Contact your subject librarian for information about current resources that may provide useful starting points for your students.  Librarians are happy to consult with you during the assignment design process.  We can also provide a library instruction session tailored to support your assignment.

Tip One:  Be Clear

  • The purpose of the assignment and its learning objective should be clear to the students. For tips on syllabus design, creating learning outcomes and aligning assignments and assessments to your outcomes, visit the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning.
  • Examine the terminology that you use when describing the sources to be consulted.  Do not assume that students have prior understanding of terms such as 'abstract', 'database' or 'peer reviewed'. 
  • If you ask students to consult primary sources, provide some guidance to the students as to what that means, recognizing that primary sources can look very different across disciplines.
  • While it is important for students to chart their own course in the research process, providing some guidance can be helpful. Consider providing specific starting points for your students, such as Google Scholar, or a specific database (e.g. Web of Science, Academic OneFile, etc.)

Tip Two: Build in Opportunities for Reflection

  • Research on information literacy skills acquisition and college students has identified research topic creation to be one of the most difficult tasks for students.  Model how an idea can be shaped into a research question with a scope that is appropriate to the assignment.
  • Consider requiring students to keep a research log to reflect on their unfolding inquiry and evaluate their own research strategies.  How has their understanding of the scholarly conversation evolved?  How have their search strategies become more sophisticated?  
  • Discuss or have students develop criteria for judging the quality of sources, and provide a mechanism for feedback.

Tip Three: Get an Update!

  • If you are re-tooling an assignment that mentions or focuses on specific resources, check with your subject librarian to ensure that the resources are still available.  
  • Ask your subject librarian to create a class page that will quickly group the most useful resources for an assignment together, saving your students a great deal of time.

Assignment Ideas and Examples

CARLI Toolkit: Information Literacy Assignment ideas based upon the ACRL Framework

Penn Libraries: Assignment Examples

Lawrence University:  Alternatives to Term Papers

Information Literacy Assessment Ideas and Examples

AAC&U Information Literacy Rubric

Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (RAILS):  An IMLS-funded research project designed to investigate an analytic rubric approach to information literacy assessment in higher education.  Includes numerous rubrics for various elements of the information seeking, use, and evaluation process.

West Chester University Library Guide to Information Literacy Assessment:  Provides guidance for instructors who wish to assess information literacy student learning outcomes, particularly those working with the new ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education.

Seneca Libraries Information Literacy for Faculty:  Provides worksheets, tutorials, and rubrics for various elements of the research process.

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