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Research Assignments and Information Literacy Assumptions


When designing assignments it is important to take into consideration the information literacy skills that will be required by the student to successfully complete that assignment. A common misconception is that students have already learned how to master many of the research skills required. 

Let's take a look at a sample assignment and consider the information literacy assumptions made:

Sample Research Assignment-20000 level 

You may select a topic of personal interest related to the topics covered in this course. You will need to develop a specific research question related to this topic.  Investigate the existing literature available related to your question by locating a variety of library and web resources. Discuss and analyze the existing research and present your own argument for an answer or solution to the original question/problem. Your paper should:

  • Cite a minimum of 8 reliable sources including at least 4 scholarly journal articles.  
  • Follow APA style
  • Be 7-10 pages long, typed, double spaced.

In order for students to successfully complete this assignment what information literacy assumptions must be made?

  • Students understand how to construct a valid research question.
  • Students know what information resources are available to them (beyond free web resources) and the characteristics of them, ex: books, reference books, scholarly articles, popular articles, newspaper articles, multimedia sources, primary materials, etc.
  • Students are able to determine which resources are most appropriate for the task at hand.
  • Students know what tools (such as online catalogs and databases) are available to enable them to locate relevant, reliable resources.
  • Students know how to create a search strategy within those tools and are aware of Boolean logic operators and other techniques.
  • Students know how to evaluate the results of a search. This implies knowing the difference between popular, scholarly and professional periodicals and possessing the ability to recognize the type of material yielded in their search results, as well as the ability to critically analyze search results for relevancy and appropriateness for their research.
  • Students know how to find the full text of an article, whether it is available in print or electronically. This implies the ability to recognize and use the Olinks feature in the research databases and how to retrieve items either in person at the library or via online download.
  • Students understand how to critically read, reference and respond to the resources they have gathered for their paper.
  • Students know how to format their citations and paper using APA style.
  • Students know how to use that information ethically and follow applicable laws and ethical codes of conduct (avoiding plagiarism).

How can we ensure that students are prepared to address all of these needs? Here are some steps you might consider:

  • Analyze your own assignments and rethink assumptions
  • Test your instructions to ensure that students have all the information and tools they need to tackle the assignment
  • Review some recommended tips for assignment design
  • Work with your subject laision librarian to plan for information literacy instruction and/or to secure access to key resources for your students.