Ideas for library/information assignments

Students need to acquire the ability to find, evaluate, and use information. But the skills required to find the best information, and in the most efficient manner, are ones that must be taught and practised - and practised - and practised. The term/research paper has been the most commonly used method of evaluating whether or not students can successfully apply information seeking skills - but there are other ways. Often the library has been the place where they did their research - and it still should be. Now many of the resources of the library are available outside of the building and are accessible through the home pages of the MUN Library System.

We want to work with you to plan assignments which will make good use of the resources of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Libraries, and to present research classes for your courses. Contact us to explore some of the alternatives to term/research papers.

The ideas on these pages are organized to reflect the primary teaching objective of the assignment. We have a number of handouts which will help students with different types of assignments, e.g. writing annotated bibliographies. The links within this document will take you, and your students, to those handouts.

Learning Research Skills

Anatomy of a term paper

Assignment: Conduct the research for a term paper. Do everything except write it. At various stages, students submit:

  1. topic clearly defined
  2. annotated bibliography of useful sources
  3. outline of paper
  4. thesis statement
  5. opening paragraph and summary

Purpose: Focuses on the stages of research and the parts of a paper, rather than on the writing of it.

Research Log

Assignment: Keep a record of library research: methodology, sources consulted, keywords or headings searched, noting both successes and failures. Professors can provide forms, so students understand how to structure their approach.

Purpose: Provides a good introduction to how information is organized in libraries. Encourages students to think about the choices they must make as researchers. Focuses on the importance of terminology. A good follow up would be a class discussion with a librarian about search techniques.

Annotated Bibliography

Assignment: Find a specified number of sources on a topic and write descriptive or evaluative annotations.

Purpose: Sharpens the skills of literature searching and mastering a bibliographic style.

Internet Search

Assignment: Provide a precise statement of the search topic and an outline of the search logic. Run the search on two different search engines. Compare the results from the two searches - was one better than the other, why, how.

Purpose: Teaches the mechanics of searching and teaches students that Internet access is not just one thing. Rather each search engine is different both in what part of the Internet it searches and in how you present your search strategy.

Database Search

Assignment: Provide a precise statement of the search topic, a list of keywords or thesaurus terms (as appropriate), and an outline of search logic. Justify the choice of databases. Carry out the search.

Purpose: Shows the background research necessary for a successful search, and teaches the mechanics of searching.

Compare Internet and Database Searches

Assignment: Provide a precise statement of the search topic. Run the search on the Internet and also on a database. Present some representation of the search results and compare the findings.

Purpose: Demonstrates the differences between these search tools in respect to content and search strategy.

Literature Review

Assignment: Review the literature on a specific topic for a given time period.

Purpose: Reveals the purpose of a literature review, and provides experience doing one.

Review Update

Assignment: Select (or assign) a topic on which a review article was written a number of years ago and update that review.

Purpose: Introduces students to literature reviews, subject indexes and reference sources. Demonstrates the evolution of a particular topic and the scholarly communication surrounding it. Also requires students to analyse, synthesize and integrate the ideas they find.

Poster Session

Assignment: Research a topic and present it as a poster which other students will use to learn about the topic.

Purpose: Gives the opportunity to conduct a search and forces the students to express the important points succinctly.

Learning to Use Access Tools

Reference Sources

Assignment: What is a reference source? When might you use one? Identify the major types (with examples of each type) of reference sources in the discipline.

Purpose: Shows how and why to use reference material.

Periodical Indexes

Assignment: Locate articles on a particular topic using a specified periodical index.

Purpose: Tackles one of the most difficult aspects of research for students: accessing the wealth of periodical literature. Students learn how to search by subject, interpret citations, evaluate the relevance of citations, and locate the articles in the library's collection.

Understanding the Structure of "the Literature"

Understanding "The Literature" of a Discipline

Assignment: What does "the literature" of a discipline look like? What comprises it? Investigate the production and dissemination of information in a given discipline. How is the knowledge produced? By whom? In which media is it presented/communicated? What is the publishing cycle? How important is informal communication in the field?

Purpose: Demystifies the elusive term "the literature"

Examining a Classical Work

Assignment: Explore through book reviews, biographical information, and citation indexes how and why a work becomes a "classic." What effect does a classical work have on a discipline?

Purpose: Demonstrates the evolution of ideas, and identifies factors which make a work "important".

Following Research Trends

Assignment: Look at a periodical index [or yearbook, handbook, etc.] at 10 year intervals.

Purpose: Illustrates the explosion of research, and how its issues, content and methods change.

Tracking an Author or a "Classic" Paper through a Citation Index

Assignment: Trace an important paper through a citation index. What does it mean to be "cited"? How important is it that a scholar be cited?

Purpose: Teaches the mechanics of using a citation index, and introduces students to the interconnectedness of the scholarly network. Shows how ideas percolate, disseminate, accumulate, and are refined.

Tracing a Scholar's Career

Assignment: Students choose (or are assigned) a scholar/researcher. Explore that person's career and ideas by locating biographical information, preparing a bibliography of his/her writings, analysing the reaction of the scholarly community to the researcher's work, and examining the scholarly network in which s/he works.

Purpose: Introduces students to the use of biographical and bibliographical tools, and exposes them to examples of scholarly dialogue.

Identifying Major Journals

Assignment: How many journals are published in a given field? Identify [with professor's help] journals "basic" to the discipline. Compare and contrast them. Analyse their content, tone, audience and impact.

Purpose: Emphasizes the importance of journal literature. Makes the point that journals differ in approach and perspective.

Understanding Primary Sources

Assignment: Compare primary and secondary sources on the same topic.

Purpose: Teaches students to differentiate between primary/secondary sources in a discipline. Shows when and why to use each.

Critical Reading

Look Behind the Book

Assignment: Examine the credibility of the course textbook (or a major monograph in the field). Who wrote it? What are the author's credentials? What is the point of view of the book? Find three reviews of it. Suggest alternative works (with reasons).

Purpose: Emphasizes that ideas and people have contexts.

Analyse the Argument

Assignment 1: Identify and examine the assumptions implicit in an article. Identify the author's thesis. Outline the theoretical framework used to account for the results. [Professor may want to hand out specific questions, in order to focus on different aspects of the article].

Purpose: Provides practice in reading what is implicit, rather than explicit, in a paper.

Assignment 2: Examine the experimental design, data, and interpretation of the data in a research paper for adequacy and consistency. [Professor may want to hand out questions, to pinpoint specific aspects of the article].

Purpose: Focuses on the critical evaluation of research.

Compare Book Reviews

Assignment: Locate and read [three, four, etc.] reviews of a work.

Purpose: Explores the importance of critical reception.

Contrast Journal Articles

Assignment 1: Use an index to locate two articles which present differing viewpoints (scholarly/popular; conservative/liberal).

Purpose: Reveals that most journals appeal to a defined constituency and that their reporting and editorial policies reflect the attitudes of that constituency.

Assignment 2: Read several articles which appear to address the same question but reach different conclusions. Account for the differences by examining the methods used, the experimental design, and the interpretation of the results. [Professor would select the articles].

Purpose: Encourages students to approach research with a healthy scepticism. Develops evaluative skills.

Write Book/Film Review

Assignment: Review a book/film (either of the students' choice or one assigned to them). Discuss the author's credentials. Compare the book/film to similar works in the field. A film can also be compared to its source - book, play.

Purpose: To place a book/film in its intellectual context.

Read the References

Assignment: Read the articles cited in a research paper. Explain how each is related to the paper. In what circumstances is it appropriate to cite other papers? What different purposes do the citations serve?

Purpose: Shows when it is appropriate to recognize the contributions of previous authors in the development of new work.

Examine Coverage of a Controversial Issue

Assignment: Examine the treatment of a controversial issue in several sources [newspaper editorial, scholarly journal, journals from different disciplines, etc.].

Purpose: Emphasizes that there are multiple perspectives on any issue.

Using the Web

Finding Additional Information

Assignment: Give the students an article to critique. Have them locate two Internet sources which support their response to the topic. Have them cite the URLs and highlight the points that show support of their response.

Purpose: Give the students an opportunity to appreciate that information can come from a variety of sources.

Finding Suitable Information

Assignment: Give the students a set of Web pages to look at. Have them note any reasons why these pages are, or are not appropriate for university level student research or for in-class use.

Purpose: A source that is useful in one instance, may not be useful in all instances. Either scholarly or popular sites might be appropriate depending on the requirements of the class assignment.

Locating and Evaluating Internet Sites

Assignment: Have the students find a Web page or site of interest to them, or one that is appropriate to a project they are working on. Have them cite this page using a style manual and write 2-3 paragraphs evaluating the site they have chosen. Be sure that they use criteria suggested on the Evaluate the Results of Your Search page. You might have them include a print copy of the first page of the Web site. As an additional part of the assignment, you might have them present a log of the search strategy that they used to locate the site.

Purpose: Students should learn to use the appropriate criteria when evaluating Web sites.

Comparing print and Web resources

Assignment: In groups of 3-5, have students examine pairs of items (books, articles, web sites) to determine: indicators of quality in each item; where exactly they found those indicators; the appropriate use for each item. Have them report their findings to the class after the class has had a chance to also evaluate the sites.

Purpose: Students will learn that the Web has not replaced print resources, rather it should be used as a complement to them.

Book a Class/Contact Us

QEII Library Instruction
Janet Goosney
or Jeannie Bail

FHL Library Instruction
Louise McGillis

HSL Library Instruction
Lindsay Glynn

MI Library Instruction
Katie Lawton