A well-designed library assignment teaches students valuable research skills and serves as a positive introduction to the research process, the library, and our resources. Your department's liaison librarian and the instruction librarians are available to collaborate with you in creating effective library and research assignments. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when developing or revising assignments.
The "No Websites" or "Print Only" assignment
While the underlying logic can't be argued - finding in-depth resources that are very likely to be authoritative - more and more resources are either "born digital" or becoming available only in electronic format. Increasingly, the only way for students to access certain scholarly content is through our web-based databases.
If the purpose of the assignment is to be able to identify and use authoritative resources, consider placing the emphasis not on the format (print vs. electronic), but on the content (scholarly vs. popular/mainstream). Require that students find books or articles with bibilographies, or have them follow a citation from one published paper to an earlier one and make the connection between the two.
The "Scavenger Hunt" assignment
Scavenger hunts are great fun, but in today's age of electronic indexes and reference they rarely acheive the goal of introducing students to the basics of searching in the library, or the variety of library resources available.
Think about structuring a curriculum-based "information hunt" instead. Ask the students to identify a journal in the discipline, find a database that deals with the class topics and research an article in one, or search the library catalog with varying relevant keywords to show the different results.
The Research Paper
Based on class objectives, a traditional research paper might not be the most appropriate assignment to teach research skills. Alternatives such as research logs, annotated bibliographies, poster sessions, or literature reviews may be better tools to meet instructional goals.
Engineering Plagiarism Resistant Assignments
At the 2011 CTL Summer Institute, the library led the following discussion on creating plagiarism-resistant assignments using library resources. Have more ideas? Let us know and we'll share them here!