Tips for Designing Library Assignments
A well-designed library assignment can help students learn to make effective use of the library resources. Here are a few tips for designing good library assignments:
- Clearly state the purpose
Explain to the students what they are expected to learn. Students need to understand why they are doing the assignment and what purpose it serves. If it involves the use of unfamiliar sources or search strategies, students need instruction in advance of the assignment.
- Schedule an instruction session
Call the library's Reference Desk to set up a time to bring your class to the library. A librarian can give a tour of the library pointing out the location of the materials relevant to the assignment. He/she will make a presentation in the library's electronic classroom highlighting the online resources available and demonstrating the search strategies of numerous databases. If you can provide a copy of the assignment in advance the librarian can tailor the session for the students' specific needs.
- Make sure the assignment is feasible
Try doing the assignment yourself to make sure the necessary materials are available and are adequate for the assignment. If need be, ask a librarian to help determine the feasibility of a research topic.
- Alert the library staff
Call the library's Reference Desk or the Reserve Collection to alert the staff to an upcoming assignment that requires heavy use of certain materials so that they may be set aside or acquired.
- Give students a list of sources
Students may not be familiar with sources that seem obvious to you. If they do not receive a formal library instruction section, provide them with a list of sources that will help them complete the assignments. This kind of guided search helps them see the search process and the value of certain library resources. It saves them a lot of frustration from picking materials at random while lacking the skills to locate the most relevant ones.
- Add variety
Enable students to choose from a wide range of topics so that everybody in the class is not looking for the same material in the library. For a class of 25 let them choose from 15-20 books to critique instead of 1-5 books.
- Ask students to think critically
Choose assignments that require integration of knowledge rather than "scavenger hunt" assignments. In general, assignments based on using a certain type of tool (online catalog, indexes, etc.) and involving critical analysis are more successful than scavenger hunts. For example, an assignment that requires the students to compare the results retrieved from popular sources with those found in scholarly sources reinforces their understanding of the differences.
- Update, update
An assignment that works this semester may not work well next semester because library resources are changing so rapidly. For example, the library has replaced the PsycLIT database with PsycINFO. Making sure all the titles of sources and their time coverage in the assignment are current will keep students from searching frantically for something that no longer exists.
- Teach library jargon
When referring students to the library, distinguish between reference and reserve, print and online, indexes and citations and full-text articles, microfilm and microfiche, etc. Note that information about current topics is not often available immediately in print and that the index to such information may take several months to produce. Also be aware of turnaround time in interlibrary loan requests.
- Distinguish between types of sources
When listing types of information, distinguish between scholarly and popular sources; primary sources and secondary sources; information found in books and information found in periodicals; information in printed material and information in online, or audiovisual sources.
- Assistance in Designing Library Assignments
Librarians will collaborate with the teaching faculty in designing, developing and updating their library-related assignments upon request. Call the Reference Desk to discuss your planned assignment.