To become information literate, students need repeated practice in applying research and critical thinking skills to assignments throughout their college career. While the end-of-the-semester research paper is probably the most common research assignment, there are many other possibilities that allow students to practice these skills.
For assistance designing a research assignment, contact your library instruction liaison. Also, consider scheduling a library instruction session with your liaison to support the research for the assignment.
Citation searching: Determine the impact on the field of specific articles or books from the course readings. How many people have cited the work? Get the articles. Write a review of these articles explaining how the citing scholar used the original work.
Footnote following and critique: Find the original source of a footnote in a course reading. Locate the source and compare it to the arguments made in the course reading.1
Scholarly roots: Do a genealogy tracing of a current faculty member's scholarly roots from his/her mentors and advisors to the historical "big names" in the field.2
Review article: Investigate the "state of the art" on a particular topic by doing a literature review and summary of the most important research.
Popular vs. Scholarly: Find the original article for a research study mentioned in the popular press. Compare the news story to the study. Did it correctly summarize the research findings? Alternatively, have students find a research article and write a summary announcement suitable for the popular press.
Problem sets: Give problem scenario and have students find the needed data, making sure to cite their source of the data.3
Use Wikipedia: Review a Wikipedia article on a topic from the class. Evaluate its accuracy and the sources listed in the further reading. Revise information including citations to sources.4
Read pedagogical journals for your discipline.
For a list, see A Selected List of Journals on Teaching & Learning.
ERIC is a database for education articles and reports. Use search terms such as "information literacy," "information seeking," "student research," "research skills," or "research methodology" combined with your discipline to find articles written by librarians and your colleagues.
Consult other libraries' assignment example pages.
Search assignment and learning object repositories
(Links available to Williams users only. Log in to your library account if off-campus.)
Blakey, George T. "Breathing New Life into Research Papers." College Teaching 45, no. 1 (January 1997): 3-6.
Isbell, Dennis. "What Happens to Your Research Assignment at the Library?" College Teaching 56, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 3-6.
Mahaffy, Mardi. "Encouraging Critical Thinking in Student Library Research: An Application of National Standards." College Teaching 54, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 324-327.
1 Idea from an assignment given by Williams history professors.
2 Idea from C. James Goodwin, Michelle Dingus, and Stephanie Petterson, "The Genealogy Project: Tracing Academic Roots in the History and Systems Course," Teaching of Psychology 29, no. 1 (January 2002): 61-63. Included in Faculty Forum.
3 Idea from problem sets assigned by a Williams chemistry professor.
4 See Andy Guess, "When Wikipedia is the Assignment," Inside Higher Education, October 27,2007, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/29/wikipedia and Andy Guess, "Making Wikis Work for Scholars," Inside Higher Education, April 28, 2008, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/04/28/wiki. See also Wikipedia's Assignments for Student Editors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Assignments_for_student_editors for guidelines.