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Faculty Toolkit: Designing Research Assignments

How Librarians Can Help

Librarians are available to consult with faculty and instructors to create or revise effective research assignments and classroom activities that foster critical thinking, evaluation skills, and promote lifelong learning.

Librarians can help you:

  • Understand students' research capabilities.
  • Create, revise, or offer suggestions on your research-based assignments.
  • Talk about alternatives to traditional research papers or presentations.
  • Identify and discuss library resources suitable for an online class research guide
  • Provide individualized training on library resources.

Provide Tools & Support

  • Provide copies of research assignments to your librarian so we are better prepared to assist your students when they need help.
  • Consider putting materials on reserve that will be needed by large numbers of students to ensure all students will have access to them.

Consider Alternatives to the Research Paper

  • Explore the library as an "Ethnographer" (Library Discovery Tour not to be confused with a scavenger hunt)
  • Compare disciplinary perspectives on the same topic
  • Compare popular and scholarly coverage on the same topic (content, style, bias, audience, etc.)
    • Find and compare articles on oil spills in the news and the scientific literature
    • Read a short article from the popular press (provided by professor) dealing with results of original research. Locate the original research findings on which the article was based, discuss the relationship between the popular article and the original research, and critique the accuracy of the popular article
  • Find facts to support or contradict an editorial
  • Research the publications and career of a prominent scholar
  • Compile an annotated bibliography
  • Prepare a literature review
  • Find book reviews on a text used in class
  • Evaluate a web site
  • Find and summarize recent news related to a class topic, discuss in class (one-time or recurring).
  • Research a topic and present findings as a poster session for classmates or larger group.
  • Research a topic or event using information published in different decades. Compare and discuss what changes occurred in the literature and why.

Tips for Designing Library Research Assignments

  • Address Learning Goals Related to the Research Process. Consider what research skills you would like students to develop in completing the assignment and discuss with your students the importance of developing those skills.
  • Be Clear about Your Expectations. Remember that your students may not have prior experience with scholarly journals, monographs, or academic libraries. Spend time in class discussing how research is produced and disseminated in your discipline and how you expect your students to participate in academic discourse in the context of your class.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Collaborate with Librarians. 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.
  • Encourage students to visit the Library early in their research!
    • Make sure they know how and where to get help from librarians.
    • Librarians will meet with students to help them develop their topics and teach them how to find and evaluate sources.

Some content is adapted from University of Wisconsin - Madison Libraries

Common Problems to Avoid

  • Waiting until a couple days before the class to ask for an instruction session doesn't allow librarians adequate time to prepare and reserve a classroom.
  • Sending (or bringing) an entire class to the Library for research time without notice. The Tioga Library Building is for Quiet Study.  In the Snoqualmie Building, there is a limited number of computer workstations and small group study spaces. The staffing at the Reference desk cannot adequately accommodate working with classes.
  • Assigning Scavenger hunts - Roaming around the library looking for trivia is not research and is often seen as busy work by students that is disconnected from their research assignments.
  • Be sure the library has the resources your students need!  Avoid requiring students to use resources the library does not own or have in your preferred format (e.g. print journal articles) and cannot obtain within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Avoid having each student research the same topic.  This tends to stretch library resources too thin, especially when printed materials or limited connections to a key database are involved.