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Creating Effective Assignments


Through the assignments you create and design, faculty can influence how students learn to seek and use information. When they arrive at college, most students are not information literate, and they often don’t know how or where to begin when they need to research a new topic or subject. Often times, they don’t understand how to locate relevant information, or how to critically evaluate materials they find. Their coursework is often the only opportunity for them to learn the difference between casual internet surfing and substantive research.

A well-designed assignment can teach students valuable research skills and improve the quality of their papers. Unfortunately, assignments also have the potential to confuse and frustrate students, leading to a poorly-written product. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when developing assignments that require library or internet research.

Assume minimal library knowledge
Although many students may be familiar with using some library tools (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias), few really understand the intricacies of databases or keyword searching, and many have never used research journals.

Explain the assignment clearly, preferably in writing
Give students a clear idea of what the assignment involves, suggesting types of sources to be used (e.g., books, scholarly and non-scholarly materials, websites, etc.) . Provide complete, accurate citations for specific works that you want them to find in the library.

Always be sure the library holds the needed information
Students become frustrated when the materials they’re instructed to use aren’t owned by the library or are checked out. Plan ahead to ensure that materials are readily available in the library or are purchased to support the assignment. Be sure to place items on reserve if many students need to use them.

Be clear about what style you want students to use for citing sources
Often students don’t understand the purpose of various style guides or which one to use, so it’s a good idea to explain what one is and to clarify the style that is required for a paper or project.

Establish Sequential Steps in the Research Process
Help the students understand the process of research. Have specific assignments due at brief intervals. Such requirements help to combat plagiarism. Consider the following four steps for assignments:

  • Statement of Topic with questions to be explored
  • A working bibliography formatted in APA or MLA or other style: a first glance at possible sources  found through the library’s catalog and/or databases
  • A final bibliography of the sources which will be used
  • A first draft

Most students don’t understand the concept of reserves. It is a good idea to provide a clear explanation of why supplementary course material may be placed on the reserve in the library and the process for accessing it.

Library Instruction
Librarians offer a wide range of classes and tours, from basic orientation through more specialized research guidance.  Scheduling a library instruction class is easy! Follow these steps to schedule an instruction class:

  • Go to the library’s homepage at http://hoover.mcdaniel.edu/
  • Click on For Faculty
  • Click on Instruction Resources
  • Click on Instruction Request Form