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CREATING EFFECTIVE RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS : Additional Guidelines

"DIDN'T THEY LEARN ALL THIS IN ANOTHER CLASS?"

  • What students learn in high school or as freshmen is at best a foundation. Appropriate research skills for a freshman are not the same as those for a sophomore, junior, or senior. Just as students gain new skills and fluency in their majors, their research and critical thinking skills should also be addresed on a regular basis.

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AVOID THESE COMMON PROBLEMS:

  • Don't require scholarly sources on non-scholarly topics. A student allowed to write a paper on a current pop star is going to have a tough time finding scholarly sources.

  • The mob scene: an entire class looking for one piece of information or researching one topic. This is seldom a positive library experience for students.

  • The shot-in-the-dark assignment: students working from incomplete/incorrect information; materials assigned that the library does not own; inappropriate methods given in instruction; impossibly vague topics assigned.

  • The scavenger hunt: students given obscure factual questions and told to find the answers without any guidance. The librarian does all the work and the student doesn't really learn anything.

PROVIDE THEM WITH SUBJECT HEADINGS.

  • Subject and reference guides give students something to work with by listing specific information sources or types of sources for a particular assignment.

  • The librarians have produced many such guides already and can create a guide just for your class or for a specific assignment for your class. This is not cheating; students will not usually find reference books by themselves. Knowing the literature of their discipline should be an outcome of their education.
  • The library may have created a tutorial to assist students with specific research related issues or to introduce them to a specific resource.

"WE ALREADY KNOW HOW TO DO RESEARCH"

Students will tell you they know how to do research. Chances are that they don't or at least need a refresher. Most students are unaware of the plethora of services and resources available in the Paul Meek Library.

CONSULT WITH THE LIBRARIANS AND USE THEIR SERVICES.

  • Consultation in designing assignments, determining appropriate research strategies, and ensuring that needed materials are available.
  • Printed or electronic subject guides and bibliographies for a discipline or a specific assignment.
  • Remind your students to use the expertise of the library's reference staff.
  • Library or class instruction on specific tools and methods. These can be done in the library or in your classroom. If you schedule such a session tell your students why it is important, and be there during the session to contribute and to encourage student participation. Students will follow your lead! Talk with them afterward to see what they learned, and ask them again at the end of the semester for feedback on the session.
  • Be aware of the services at the Reserve Desk, as well as Inter-Library Loan .

REFERENCES

Much of this content was adapted from John Kupersmith, Assistant Reference Librarian at the University of California, Berkeley.  The paragraph on effective assignments was taken directly from Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame. For many additional ideas on this topic, see Sara MacDonald's collection of links on Diigo.