When you are planning a vacation, you start with your destination (where you want to go) and plan backwards...unless of course you are Forrest Gump and you just feel the need to start running, not knowing where you are going. To develop effective courses and assignments, its the same principle; start with your students learning destination in mind, basically your course student learning outcomes and assignment objectives. If you don't know where you are going, how will you know if you have arrived? If you don't know what your students should be doing with the information, how will you know if they've mastered it?
Well-designed course-related library assignments are an effective way to introduce students to library research. The following guidelines are designed to ensure students a positive library experience, and reinforce library use as a means of learning.
1. Consult with a Librarian before the Assignment
A librarian will work with you to design or adapt an appropriate assignment that will achieve your course goals/objectives. Sending a copy of your assignment to the library will insure that the staff is ready to help your students when needed.
2. Assume Minimal Library Knowledge
Although many students are familiar with using some library tools (e.g., dictionaries, thesauri, and the author/title portion of the catalog), few really understand the intricacies of search techniques, subject headings or article abstracts.
3. Explain the Assignment Clearly, Preferably in Writing
Give students a clear idea of what the assignment involves, including types and numbers of required. Give complete citations for specific works, including complete citations for your textbooks.
4. Always Be Sure the Library Holds the Needed Information
There are few experiences more frustrating than looking for what does not exist, has been discarded, or has been checked out. Use the library's Reserves for books that many students need to use. Send an advance copy of the assignment and its due date to the library.
5. Avoid the Mob Scene
Dozens of students using just one book, article, or looking for the same information usually leads to frustration for the students. Give students a variety of sources. Use the Reserve Service as needed, use photocopies of "classic" articles if you can conform to fair-use practice.
6. Avoid Scavenger Hunts
Searching for obscure facts frustrates students, can cause chaos in the stacks, and teaches students nothing useful about research. If planning a library exercise, talk to the librarian about designing one appropriate to the class, and to the library.
7. Teach Research Strategy when Appropriate
Include a list of steps involved in the research assigned. Schedule a library instruction session to review strategies for the assignment with the class and discuss appropriate tools or types of material.
8. Present a Realistic Picture of What Is, and What Is Not, on the Web
In general, refrain from encouraging students to use the general Web, Google, and Wikipedia as the only sources for information. Students need to know that those expensive databases to which libraries subscribe usually provide quality information that is much easier to find than the kind of haphazard Web searching students often do. When the Web is the best or sole source for the kind of information you require, recommend Google Scholar, specific sites, specific expert lists of links, or specific directories to help them find authoritative, timely and useful information.
9. Ask a Librarian!
With sufficient lead-time, librarians can provide library instruction lectures, workshops, and written materials geared specifically to your course and assignment, as well as general orientations for more inexperienced students.
Schedule a library instruction session in advance
Encourage your students to make a one-on-one Research Appointment with a librarian:
Refer your students to the Library Research Guides for research self-help, including discipline-based guides and others
Adapted from Southern California Instruction Librarians (SCIL, CARL). 2000. Guidelines for Effective Assignments. http://www.carl-acrl.org/ig/scil/events/EffectiveAssignments.pdf Last update: 22 Jan 2016 E. Grassian