Assignment ideas

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Develop an assignment and talk about it in class...

Assignments that teach information literacy skills don't have to be term papers. They may involve something as simple as an enhancement of an assignment you are already using. This page offers only a few of the many possible models available. Remember that assignment assistance is also available from the Jacobson Center. Contact Julio Alves at extension 3033.

Choose an assignment on one of the following topics...
Expanded footnotes Author Credentials Primary vs. Secondary
Topic Manageability Value of a Book Following the Trail
Annotated Bibliography Evaluating a Book
Scientific Research in the
Popular Press
Create an Anthology How Scholarship Changes
over Time
Research Log
Background on a Topic Kinds of Resources Peer Review
Popular vs. Scholarly
Web Search Engine vs.
Scholarly Internet Source
Citation of Sources vs.
Website vs. Peer-Reviewed
Article Comparison

Expanded Footnote

Rather than simply asking students to provide the sources of their research in a series of footnotes, ask them to specify how they located these citations. Did the student use a web search engine, a footnote from a book or journal article, an electronic database (if so, which one?), the library's online catalog, suggestion from a faculty member, librarian, or friend, a website (if so, how was that found?), or other source? Students should be encouraged to defend the validity of their chosen sources. For more ideas on how to rework student bibliographies, click here.

Topic Manageability

Have students submit a potential topic (or two) upon which they intend to write. Ask them to write a version of the topic which they think would be too broad to cover within the scope of their assignment - and also one that is too narrowly focused. Students should be able to defend the scope of the topic they have chosen as appropriate.

A variation of this topic - or perhaps a succeeding stage of its accomplishment - requires a sample thesis statement to accompany the preferred topic. Another variation also requires one or two scholarly sources to verify that research on the topic is indeed plausible and a plan for how the student will accomplish the remainder of necessary research.

Annotated Bibliography

Have students compile, read, and evaluate a number of scholarly items on a topic. Be specific about what topics you will accept, and demand that students express and defend their opinions about the items read. Depending upon the subject matter, insist that the chosen items be from peer-reviewed sources and that at least some be very current. Once again ask students to indicate how each item was located. For more ideas on how to rework student bibliographies, click here.

Create an Anthology

Over the course of a term – or a portion of a term – ask students to assemble a collection of materials related to an important idea or theme being discussed in class. These materials can be creative work such as short stories, poems, plays, or works of art or music. Alternatively the materials could be scholarly essays – or even websites.. Students should write an introduction to the anthology in which they provide biographical material on each author and explain the rationale for including each item in their anthology. Anthologies can be shared on Moodle – but not photocopied en masse due to copyright restrictions.

Background on a Topic

In the early stages of work on a topic, ask students to consult a scholarly subject encyclopedia. (Librarians can suggest several possible online and print examples).

Have students identify major concepts or controversies in the area which might provide the basis for further investigation of the topic. Ask students also to identify useful citations for further research provided by the encyclopedia article.

Popular vs. Scholarly Articles

Ask students to locate a group of articles on a topic using an electronic database. (Librarians can easily recommend good candidates and can conduct a class in which students get hands on experience in selecting and using these databases).

Have students select those which they believe to be most scholarly - and have them defend their choices. Criteria should include issues of: intended audience, language, publisher of journal, credentials of author, and citation of sources in footnotes and/or bibliographies.

Website vs. Peer-Reviewed Article Comparison

This might also be called a Web Search Engine vs. Database Comparison.

Have students run a search using Google or Yahoo. Using the first three items which appear on the search ask students to analyze the following:

  • What does the URL teach about the source of the information?

  • Who is responsible for the site, and what are their reasons for putting up this information?

  • What are their credentials?

  • What is the point of view of the website? Is it fair and unbiased?

  • Does it present both sides of an issue or only one?

  • How current is the web page?

  • Would you use this as a source for a paper on this topic? Why or why

There are many guides to website evaluation. Evaluating Internet Resources from the University of Maryland is a good one, and can be found on all Smith College Libraries subject web pages.

Now have the student replicate the search using Expanded Academic ASAP, EBSCO Academic Search Premier, or, if you prefer, another database. Repeat the questions above for the first three items found. [Note that Expanded Academic ASAP and EBSCO Academic Search Premier allow searches to be limited to peer-review articles.]

Author Credentials

Ask students to determine the author credentials by consulting the sources themselves, biographical dictionaries, or web pages. The search should also include an analysis of other books/articles written by the author and an evaluation of whether he or she is an acknowledged authority in the field. An addition or alternative might be to ask students to locate book reviews from scholarly journals as part of their search.

Value of a Book

Have students select a topic of interest - or have them choose a subject from a list you provide. Ask each student to locate both a scholarly article and a book published by a scholarly press. If possible both should have been written within the past ten years. Now ask students to evaluate the usefulness of each source as a basis for a longer paper on the topic.

VARIATION: assign this to small groups and enlarge the number of items to be found accordingly - perhaps 2 books and 2 articles for a group of four. Each group should report their findings in class, and the class should be asked to come to a consensus on the value of each kind of source.

Evaluating a Book

This is a good topic for a small group. For a book being read by the class ask a group of students to locate book reviews from scholarly journals on that book. The group should report on the major issues highlighted by book reviewers including the book's major ideas and especially any controversies or disagreements emphasized in the reviews. Do students agree or disagree with the reviewers' perceptions? If reviews disagree how does this reflect larger issues of controversy in the field?

How Scholarship Changes Over Time

Have small groups of students locate an article on a topic from the 1990s or 2000s and another from the 1960s or 1970s and discuss the differences in approach and content between the two time periods. Depending upon the topic (e.g. historical or scientific) the passage of time may positively or negatively impact content and perception. Ask students to discuss these issues in a brief class presentation.

Kinds of Resources

This is a good assignment for small groups. Have each group identify at least three kinds of resources useful for research on a topic. These might include: books, newspaper articles, popular magazine articles, scholarly journal articles, popular (or scholarly) web pages, government documents, legal cases, NGO reports, etc. Have the group supply one example of each format which they feel would be appropriate as a citation for a paper on their topic.

Web Search Engines vs. Scholarly Internet Sources

Have your students run a search on Google or Yahoo and then on ipl2:Information You Can Trust. Have students compare the first three items retrieved using criteria stated above. Another variation is to use those web pages listed on your Smith College Libraries Subject Page - see "Resources by Subject" on our Research page.

Primary vs. Secondary Resources

First have students get an overview on a historical topic by consulting a current scholarly subject encyclopedia. (A librarian can help to suggest a series of appropriate encyclopedias, some online and many others in print).

Now have the class find contemporary first-hand accounts of the events in newspapers such as the online New York Times Historical (1851-1999) or Washington Post Historical (1877-1987). Have students write or discuss the distinctive value of each format.

Following the Trail

Assign the class to read a well footnoted scholarly article on a topic. Then ask each student to read one of the studies cited in the article. (You probably should divide this up to avoid many students using the same footnote) Allow enough time and latitude to allow for some items' not being in the library - planning ahead will help here. How does the later article build upon and use the ideas of the former? Does the citation share or oppose the ideas of the later article?

Scientific Research in the Popular Press

Ask students to find newspaper articles from the New York Times or other major newspaper on a scientific discovery. You should give them some examples (e.g. cold fusion or perhaps mapping the human genome). Be sure the articles are at least two years old.

Now ask students to find a study in a peer-reviewed scientific journal on the same or a similar topic. This is a good topic for small groups.

Now discuss in class the reason for the newspaper coverage. What did the article choose to emphasize? Was this emphasis replicated in the scientific study? Have students discuss the implications of popular vs. scholarly scientific publication in a democratic society.

Research Log

Have students maintain a log that documents their research activities during a portion of or the entire term. Students should be encouraged to discuss their reasons for deciding upon a strategy and their evaluation of their success or failure. Students should be required to draw conclusions from their experiences and to indicate how they might approach future research assignments. This log should be reviewed periodically during the term.

Peer Review

Nothing teaches as well as teaching. Have your students critique each other's bibliographies. They will of course need to understand your criteria both for their own and their colleagues' work. These criteria should include at the very least: currency, variety of resources (books, articles, scholarly websites, government documents, primary/secondary sources, scholarly encyclopedia articles, etc.), scholarly level of citations, and correct format (e.g. APA, MLA, or CBE, or University of Chicago Style.

Citation of Sources and Plagiarism

No matter what assignment you give, students need to be reminded of the seriousness of correct citation of all sources - and the need to give credit where credit is due. Students tend to get caught up in issues of punctuation rather than of ethics. Having students document in detail not only what they have found - but how - discourages plagiarism - and helps to document those rare cases that do occur. Never assume your students know how to cite sources correctly. Help to guide them on these issues - or have a librarian deal with the issue as part of a class presentation or a Jacobson Center writing consultant assist a student in a one-on-one session.

For assistance in citation technique, see the Libraries' Citation Guides & Style Manuals web page.

More Ideas

Use the ideas in the Association of College and Research Libraries' Using the Standards.

See further examples of assignments from the University of Maryland University College's "Information Literacy and Writing Assessment Project: Tutorial for Developing and Evaluating Assignments"