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Guidelines for Designing and Implementing Effective Library Research Assignments LRC@TCC

Suggestions | Characteristics | Pitfalls | Resources

We're Here to Help! When designing assignments for your students, it can be helpful to consult with a librarian regarding resources available at the TCC Libraries. Librarians will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Prior to handing a library assignment out to your students, consider providing the librarians with an advance copy, along with recommended sources (if any) you would like your students to use. With a copy of the assignment in hand, librarians are better able to assist students in finding the resources they require. When an assignment is over, feel free to ask librarians for feedback. (e.g., did any students seem confused or have trouble understanding the assignment? Were there any resource access problems related to the assignment?) Suggestions for library assignments:

  • Check with the librarians in advance of the assignment to assure availability of and access to required library resources.
  • Test the assignment beforehand. Try to put yourself in the students' shoes with their experience and perspective, which is probably much more limited than yours ("walk" or "web" it through).
  • Request an instructional session for your class to familiarize students with research techniques and sources.
  • Tell the students what purpose the research assignment serves.
  • Describe the specifics of the assignment (e.g., length, acceptable types of sources, format for references/bibliography - APA, MLA, etc.).
  • Give the students a printed list of sources if there are specific ones you want them to use. Include library call numbers for books and/or World Wide Web address(es). Online library instructions are available.
Characteristics of Effective Assignments
  • Clarity. Give library research assignments in writing (rather than verbally) to reduce confusion.
  • Select terminology carefully and define any questionable words. Students tend to take library research assignments at face value and may be confused by terms that they or a librarian cannot interpret definitively. For example, some instructors tell students not to use the Internet but students must use the Internet to access any of of the Library's paid subscription databases. Some instructors differentiate between magazines and journals, while others use the terms interchangeably. Does "use the Library's computers" or "use the Internet," mean the online catalog - or another computer database? Does an assignment such as "find an article on the Internet" refer to the Internet in general, or one of the Library's paid subscription fdatabases? Additionally, do students understand what is meant by "primary" or "secondary" sources (if you require their use)?
  • Currency. The Library regularly updates and adds to its resources. New sources and ways of accessing information occur with increasing frequency. By checking your assignments regularly, you can make certain that you are not asking your students to use outdated or withdrawn sources.
  • Appropriate time frame. Remember to allow for students' inexperience and for the availability of materials.
Pitfalls to Avoid
  • Assuming that most students know the basics. The information environment changes rapidly. As a result, students may need an introduction (or re-introduction) to current library resources. Many students have no prior experience using the library. Even students who have attended a previous library orientation may not have received information relevant to the needs of your current assignment. Keep in mind that transfer or new students may have no prior experience using the library.
  • Thinking that required sources are readily available. Double check current library holdings as resources are often added or updated from semester to semester. The Library may not own the identical items that you have used at other libraries. Consider re-testing an assignment before giving it out in a new semester.
  • Giving the entire class the same assignment and sources. If an entire class has the same assignment, students find themselves competing for materials. As an alternative, for example, instead of requiring the entire class to research the history of Microsoft, you might ask them to research a major public American corporation of their choosing. If it is necessary for a whole class to use a particular source or set of sources, it may be helpful to place them on reserve by calling your Library's circulation desk.
  • Assigning a scavenger hunt. The least effective scavenger hunt only asks students to locate random facts (e.g., "How many volumes comprise the Oxford English Dictionary?"). Librarians rather than the students frequently end up locating the answers. The most effective scavenger hunts balance the search process with identifying appropriate information sources (e.g., "What source in the library would provide an overview to literary criticism written about Maya Angelou?").
  • The Library staff is always eager to assist you.
  • The Library offers a variety of customized library instruction sessions and/or advanced instructional sessions. Our library instruction page offers online instruction such as library research and literature research web pages which include online worksheets.
  • The librarians can also provide subject guides designed to meet your class requirements.
  • Early scheduling can guarantee that a librarian and library facilities will be available to fit your specific course needs.

Adapted from University of Wisconsin-Madison, Library and Information Literacy Instruction Program and from University Library, California State University, Northridge