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Information Literacy: Assignment Design

CCBC Assignment Ideas


Assignment Design


Effective Information Literacy Assignments


One aim of education is to have students become critical thinkers with excellent information retrieval and evaluation skills. Most students can use the internet, yet most are not able to discern valuable, credible information from “misinformation” that may be biased or irrelevant.

Class assignments are one way to introduce students to and reinforce information seeking skills.

Here are some information literate assignment design standards:

Purpose--an effective research assignment...

  • has a specific, understood purpose.
  • relates to some aspect of course subject matter or learning objectives.
  • leads to increased understanding of a subject or the process of locating information related to a subject.
  • requires the use of a variety of information sources and formats  (e.g., print, electronic, video). 
  • teaches students to select and evaluate quality information sources appropriate to their topics.
  • reinforces habits of ethical scholarship.

Preparation—for student success….

  • Tell your students why they are doing this assignment and what purpose it serves.
  • Give your students a written copy of the assignment. Be explicit about acceptable types of and number of sources required.
  • Discuss the assignment with a librarian; ensure that the library owns all of the necessary sources.
  • If the assignment requires the use of specific sources, give the students a list of them. You may wish to place them on Reserve to assure availability and access for your entire class.
  • Complete the assignment yourself; this will give a sense of the kinds of problems students may encounter (terminology, clear instructions, etc.)and how long it will take to complete. Students new to research are often unaware as to how long an assignment may take. Share the assignment calculator with students to help them determine a timeline.
  • Don’t assume students have research skills
  • Schedule a library instruction session for your class.
  • Divide the assignment into small steps with incremental due dates; this will keep students on track for completion and helps to reduce plagiarism.
  • Include sample citations or a guide to a citation format (MLA, APA)

Homework—for successful assignments, check...

  • ·         Currency-- Information sources are constantly changing. New sources appear as do methods of accessing the information. Check your assignments each semester to verify the accuracy of your sources.
  • ·         Evaluation—build in a method of evaluating  research skills; for example, grade the bibliographic  sources,  require an annotated bibliography of the sources ,or require students keep  a research journal.
  • ·         Clarity— if students have difficulty understanding what they are supposed to do, they will have trouble doing it. Students are easily confused by new terms and often interpret assignments quite literally. Common problems include:

o   Some instructors differentiate between magazines and journals, while others use the terms interchangeably.

o   Does "library computer" mean the online library catalog or some other online database, or something else?

o   Use full and current titles of journals and databases; avoid abbreviations and superseded titles.

o   What do you mean by "the web"? Many high quality, expensive electronic research tools are made available by the library on the web. These resources are not to be confused with what is freely retrieved by searching the web.

Obstacles to avoid

  • Assuming most students know the basics
    Do not assume that your students have had prior research experience or experience using a campus library.
  • Requiring resources not available
    The materials that the Library owns may change from semester to semester. Test an assignment each semester before giving it out.
  • Giving an entire class the exact same assignment
    Necessary resources will be difficult to find at best, disappear, or be vandalized at worst. Put required resources on reserve or better yet, instead of asking the whole class to research the history of IBM, ask them to research a major public American corporation of their choosing.
  • Assigning a scavenger hunt
    The least effective assignment possible asks students to locate random facts. It lacks a clear purpose, does not teach students to do meaningful library research, and may be frustrating. Librarians rather than students frequently end up locating the answers. In general, these assignments result in a high level of student frustration with regard to using the library—something that no one wants!


Adapted from Creating Effective Research Assignments University of Maryland

Information Cycle

The Information Cycle (from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is the progression of media coverage of a particular newsworthy event.  Knowing about the information cycle will help students to know what information is available on their topic and better evaluate information sources covering that topic.