Designing Successful Information Literacy Assignments

The following are general suggestions for designing successful library resource use assignments that will produce desired learning outcomes AND avoid frustrating your students.

1. Browse the library collection in advance for coverage and holdings.
As with any library collection, our subject holdings are stronger in some areas than in others.  The collections at Appalachian State and Western Carolina Universities, easily accessible to our students via ABC Express Service borrowing, can help fill in gaps.

2. Check for availability of specific resources.
If you plan to use a specific resource, it's best to make sure there haven't been changes in its format or location, and that you are providing students with the most current, correct bibliographic data.  Online resources are particularly fluid and can change from one day to the next.  If many students will be using one source, it's a good idea to put the material on reserve.

3. Be clear about the purpose and format of your assignment.
Specific information about the format, length, style (MLA, APA, other), acceptable resources, and purpose can help clarify the assignment.  If possible, provide examples showing what you expect.

4. Don't assume your students already know the basics.
Most entering freshman have never had experience with the wide range of resources a university library has to offer.  Library tools that faculty are accustomed to using, such as a periodical index, are a new concept to first year students.  Think back to your own student days for perspective, and keep in mind that good research skills take time and practice to develop.

5. Select appropriate, searchable topics.
Even if you plan to let students choose their own topics, it's helpful to give them guidelines.  A large, general topic can seem unmanageable for students.  Topics that are too narrow can prove frustrating due to the lack of coverage in the literature and limited library holdings.  We strongly advise caution when assigning local topics (frequently only covered in the local newspaper), or very current topics (which haven't yet made it into scholarly research journals) -- such information is often very difficult to find, and ultimately frustrates both students and instructors.

6. Define what you mean by "the Internet."
There's an important, obvious difference between scholarly journals and academic databases, paid for through a library subscription, and freely available consumer-information web sites.  If you plan to restrict student use of the latter, articulate your assignment parameters clearly and carefully.  Otherwise students may get the impression that ALL online resources (including valuable scholarly journals and academic database resources) are strictly off-limits.  Many useful academic materials are increasingly available via electronic online access.

7. Provide opportunities for students to evaluate their materials.
The frequently overlooked, but most important component of good research, is the reflection and evaluation that take place while gathering information.

8. Break down a large assignment into smaller, incremental parts.
Think of it as a plan of action for students new to the research process.  For example, a large research paper can be divided into the following parts: selecting a topic, submitting an initial bibliography, submitting a revised bibliography and rough draft, and submitting the final paper.  This can also help cut down on procrastination and plagiarism.

9. Test the assignment yourself.
You might encounter unforeseen pitfalls during a trial run.

10. Consult with a librarian, and/or schedule library instruction sessions.
Whether you want specific advice on how to create your own effective library resource use assignment, or just someone to glance at your finished product, our librarians would be glad to collaborate with you.  Contact your subject library liaison to schedule a formal consultation, or contact the Research Services Desk (251-6111) for further suggestions.

Formal library instruction sessions are most helpful when geared towards a specific assignment and scheduled close to the time students will begin their work.

NOTE: We strongly suggest that you contact your subject library liaison no later than two weeks prior to any desired instruction session date to ensure adequate preparation time and classroom availability.  Please have a range of possible dates in mind to ensure library instructor availability and classroom scheduling.


For specific assignment ideas, see Sample Information Literacy Assignments on the InfoLit @ Ramsey website.


Adapted from Suggestions for Planning and Creating Effective Library Assignments Pollak Library, California State University, Fullerton (c)2001.


Page updated 8/13/2013. 
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