Tips for Giving Library Assignments and Sample Research Assignments
Vicki S. Miller
Lizzie A. Reeder
Take advantage of a librarian.
Before giving an assignment, contact librarians in O'Kelly Library to let them know what the assignment is and what students are expected to do to fulfill it.
Also, give librarians a copy of the assignment to give them a head start
on identifying the resources your students will need.
Check us out.
It is also a good idea to search the O'Kelly Library's catalog and online databases to see what materials are available on the research topic and to consult with a librarian on other possible sources of information. If you need assistance using the library's resources, schedule an individual session with a librarian.
If the assignment is planned well in advance of the submission deadline, you will
have time to order additional materials that the library may not have or request
them through interlibrary loan.
Get it right.
Many times students get off to a wrong start because they don't understand the assignment. It is not uncommon for students to ask a librarian to interpret an assignment they don't understand. We tell the students to ask the professor because we do not want to give wrong information: we may not be familiar with the subject area or know the context of the assignment.
To help prevent such confusion, it is a good idea to ask students to say or write in
their own words the requirements of the assignment.
See what's going on.
You and your students might look at hot topics lists for current and controversial issues to get ideas for research topics. Campus speakers and events are also good topics.
O'Kelly Library databases with hot topics lists are CQ Researcher, America's Newspapers and LexisNexis (click on the Congressional link at the left of the
LexisNexis home page, then Political News/Hot Topics at the left of the next screen).
To access O'Kelly Library's online databases:
Don't make a mistake and leave out the good stuff.
Materials in the library's online databases are not the same as search engine results on the Internet. Because students are not always discriminating when it comes to choosing reliable sources, professors ask them not to use materials they find on the Internet as sources in their research papers. As a result, students think they can't use material in the library's online databases because it is on the Internet. They don't realize that this material is different from much of what they find through a Google search, for example. Make sure they know the difference.
Materials in the online databases O'Kelly Library subscribes to are selected for their scholarly content and recognized by academic institutions. The chart below compares free web (Internet) sources and the library's databases:
Source: Morningstar Library Services, Your Online Databases Vs. the Free Web: How to Win the Battle
Have some class.
Schedule a library instruction class. The library offers library orientation and instruction classes on research strategies and citing sources. The library also offers subject -specific classes made to order. The library's instruction classroom is equipped with computers for guided and independent practice exercises. Sessions usually run for one hour or one hour and twenty minutes. Professors can schedule more than one session for a class if more time is needed.
Contact the library instruction coordinator, Julie Dornberger, at 2453 to schedule a class.
Back it up.
To test what students learned in a library instruction class, give them a follow-up quiz or an exercise. If they need additional instruction, schedule another library instruction class, or ask a librarian to suggest material or exercises that will help them to acquire the library research skills to fulfill their assignments.
Criteria for evaluating websites and other sources:
Distinguishing Between Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Periodicals
Online vs. Internet Sources
Evaluating Information Resources Databases vs. Web Sites -- What's the difference? http://rohrbachlibrary.blogspot.com/2005/09/databases-vs-web-sites-whats.html
Sample Research Assignments
Ask each student to describe a career they envision themselves in and then research the career choice. What are the leading companies in that area? Why? (If they choose something generic like secret or sales, what is the best company in their county or residence to work for? Why?) Choose a company and find out what its employment policies are-flex time, family leave, stock options. If the company is traded publicly, what is its net worth? What is the outlook for this occupation? Expected starting salary? How do the outlook and salaries vary by geography?
Experts comparison: Identify three experts on a contemporary issue, and compare and contrast their viewpoints. What are their qualifications as experts on this issue? What is your opinion?
Examine the treatment of a controversial issue in several sources (newspaper editorial, scholarly journal, journals from different disciplines, etc.)
In biology or health classes, assign each student a "diagnosis.' Have them act as responsible patients by investigating both the diagnosis and the prescribed treatment. Results presented in a two-page paper should cover a description of the condition and its symptoms; its etiology; its prognosis; the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment, its side effects and contradictions, along with the evidence; and finally, a comparison of the relative effectiveness of alternate treatments. This can also be accompanied by oral or visual presentation, slideshow, poster session, etc.
Begin with a famous novel at least fifty years old. Identify what critics said about that work 10, 20, 30, 40, 50…years ago.
Compare book reviews: Locate and read (three, four, etc.) reviews of a work.
Write a newspaper story describing an event-political, social, cultural, whatever suits the objectives-based research. This assignment can be limited to one or two articles, or it can be more extensive. This is a good exercise in critical reading and in summarizing. The assignment gains interest if several people research the same event in different sources and compare the newspaper stories that result.
By drawing the name of an element from a box, you are to identify a chemical species that contains that element and that has at least 8 symmetry operations associated with it. Sources for locating suitable species include comprehensive inorganic chemistry texts and the web. You should identify your species and its point group. Your essay should also include at least one paragraph on some interesting feature(s) of your species, such as its synthesis, properties, and reactivity.
Bacteria have been created that can break down oil, including oil spilled in the natural environment. Assume that you live in a community located on a bay that has been inundated with oil spilled from a tanker. Should these bacteria be used? Should the application of the genetically engineered bacteria or bacteria enhanced by a recombinant DNA technology product be allowed? Why? Why not? What do you consider to be the benefits? Are there any risks or problems?
(To prevent students from using solely their textbooks and information from the Worldwide Web for the assignment above, indicate the types of resources students should us and require a variety.)
Have students follow a piece of legislation through Congress. This exercise is designed primarily to help them understand the process of government. However, it could also be used in something like a "critical issues' course to follow the politics of a particular issue. (What groups are lobbying for or against a piece of legislation? How does campaign financing affect the final outcome? etc.)
History Source Criticism: Given a well-known primary historical source, follow it use in other sources. Who actually wrote it and why? How and why has it been compromised or reevaluated over time?
Understanding primary sources: Compare primary and secondary source on the same topic.
Locate a popular magazine article, and then find a scholarly article on the same subject. Compare the two articles for content, style, bias, audience, etc.
Prepare an annotated bibliography of books, journal articles, and other sources on a topic. Include evaluative annotations.
Select a topic and compare how that topic is treated in two to five different sources, including a popular and a scholarly journal, an encyclopedia, and current books.
Select a scholar/researcher in a field of study and explore that person's career and ideas. Besides locating biographical information, students prepare a bibliography of writings and analyze the reaction of the scholarly community to the researcher's work.
Each student in the class is given responsibility for dealing with a part of the subject of the course. He or she is then asked to find 1) find out what the major reference sources on the subject are; 2) find out "who's doing what where" in the field;3) list three major unresolved questions about the subject; 4) prepare a 15-minute oral presentation to introduce this aspect of the subject to the class.
Assemble background information on a company or organization in preparation for a hypothetical interview. For those continuing in academia, research prospective colleagues' and professors' backgrounds, publications, current research, etc.
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, analyzing the reaction of the scholarly community to the researcher's work, and examining the scholarly network in which she or he works.
Compare the literature on a topic from different eras. How has the treatment of this topic changed over time? How have assumptions in this field changed? How has the audience changed? What questions are still unanswered? Write an imaginary citation list on this topic from ten years in the future.
Identify and analyze key issues in a discipline, or compare the way two different disciplines handle the same topic.
More Library Assignment Ideas: