Compare and Contrast Information
Look at the treatment of a topic over time
This can build students’ awareness of the process of scholarship on a topic — what do researchers now know that they didn’t know before, how might the social context of research have had impact on a topic, etc. It can work for time spans as limited as two years and as wide as a century. It may also heighten awareness that it is not enough to search the last six months in a database.
Review a major journal in the field over time.
Students develop a sense of a discipline as an evolving entity by tracing shifts in who is published, what topics are considered of interest, and what methodology is used.
Compare items retrieved by searches using two different search engines or databases
Students learn that indexes, databases and even search engines may have different focus and functions. This helps them learn to make deliberate choices about which finding tool to use to locate information in various fields, at differing levels, or in differing formats. Searching a general database such as Academic Search Complete and the standard database within your discipline might yield some interesting results. (Is the general database useful for an interdisciplinary approach? Are its articles more accessible? Does the specialized database do better for narrow searches?)
Compare the treatment of the same topic in two different disciplines.
This helps students to practice locating material and it teaches them to learn to identify the perspectives and approaches of different disciplines.
Locate two scholarly articles on a topic, and compare and evaluate their bibliographies.
Students observe both common and unique sources in the articles and think about the impact the quality of sources can have on the authority of the article.
Locate and compare two contemporary accounts of an event.
An assignment like this heightens awareness of difference in perspective between the immediacy and detail of the contemporary account and the treatment of the event by later scholars. It also helps students to become familiar with old newspapers, magazines, and indexes.
Locate and evaluate the “best” and the “worst” web site on a topic, describing the criteria used and recommending improvements for the “worst” site.
Students use search engines to locate web sites, and must develop criteria for judging the pertinence and reliability of the information found.
Create a profile of a species, or of a chemical compound found in a household product.
Familiarizes students with the common scientific reference tools, and can introduce them to scientific literature.
Write a newspaper article on an event.
The entire class can research an event, with each individual writing a news story on it. In addition to encouraging students to identify important elements and to summarize, the differences among the stories may alert students to the impact a writer’s perspective has on writing.