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Tips for Assignment Design
Best Practices - Designing Library Research Assignments
- Integrate the Gen Ed Infused Competency of Information Literacy with Course Objectives. Information literacy, or the ability to find information and use it effectively to accomplish a specific purpose, is a required General Education infused competency for students at Westchester Community College.
- Be Clear about your Expectations. Most Students Have Limited Research Experience. Don't assume that students have had prior experience in using the library. A surprising number of students have never used the library for anything except studying or reading reserve materials. Remember that your students may not have prior experience with scholarly journals or academic libraries.
- Scaffolding your Assignment Brings Focus to the Research Process. Breaking a complex research assignment down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable parts has a number of benefits: it models how to approach a research question and effective time management, it gives students the opportunity to focus on and master key research skills, it provides opportunities for feedback, and it can be an effective deterrent to plagiarism.
- Devote Class Time to Discussion of the Assignment in Progress. Periodic discussions in class can help students reflect on the research process and its importance, encourage questions, and help students develop a sense that what they are doing is a transferable process that they can use for other assignments.
- Provide Clear Criteria for Assessment. In your criteria for assessment (i.e. written instructions, rubrics), make expectations related to the research process explicit. For example, are there specific expectations for the types of resources students should use and how they should be cited? Research shows that students tend to use more scholarly sources when faculty provide them with clear guidelines regarding the types of sources that should be used.
- Test Your Assignment. In testing an assignment yourself, you may uncover practical roadblocks (e.g., too few copies of a book for too many students, a source is no longer available online). Librarians can help with testing your assignment, suggest strategies for mitigating roadblocks (i.e. place books on reserve for your students, suggest other resources), or design customized supporting materials (i.e. handouts or web pages).
- Consult and collaborate with librarians before creating the assignment. Librarians can help you design an effective research assignment that helps students develop the research skills you value and introduces your students to the most useful resources. We also can work with you to develop and teach a library instruction session for your students that will help them learn the strategies they will need in order to complete your assignment.
- Always make sure that the Library has the resources that your students will need. It is frustrating for students to discover that they-have to arrange to go to another library to get the source that you want them to use--and even more frustrating to learn that they went to another library to use a source that is available at WCC. A book you have assigned in the past may have been lost or out-of-date.; more suitable resources may be available in our collection or in our subscription databases.
- Restriction on Use of Encyclopedias: Please don't exclude all encyclopedias as sources! The Library collection includes many excellent, up-to-date, scholarly subject specific encyclopedias both in print and in online format. The format of these articles is often exactly what students need to get an overview of their topic, in order to narrow their research focus. And depending on the assignment, even Wikipedia has its place in student research as a way to gain beginner's knowledge of a subject.
- Restricting the Use of the Internet: Emphasize the quality of a source, not necessarily its medium, and be specific about what you will and will not accept. When students see "No Internet" they assume that anything accessed via the web is inappropriate, and that would include the majority of our periodical sources and many of our e-books, and e-reference sources.
- Promote ethical habits of scholarship. Make sure your students understand the importance of academic integrity and the avoidance of plagiarism. Expect proper source citation..
- Match the Assignment to the Research Level of Your Students. College freshmen are not grad students.
- Be Creative. Traditional research papers are fine, but there are many other types of assignment as well that help students learn and practice information skills. Try to promote critical thinking; doing something with the information found and not just looking it up!!
- Make Assignments Relevant and Content Oriented. Successful; assignments require students to work with information that is significant to them. Try to link research skills assignments to other assignments ot integrate them into the course. Assignments are more valuable if they require students to think critically about the resources' content, function and relationship to the discipline.
- Timing is Everything. Consider how your assignment relates to the class as a whole. For example, an assignment to tech students about types of disciplinary methods woll work best when accompanied by a lecture or discussion on method.
- Set Clear Goals. Be clear about what the assignments are meant to accomplish. What skills do you expect the students to learn, and how do they relate to scholarly practice in the discipline?