Creating Effective Library Assignments
PURPOSE OF A LIBRARY ASSIGNMENT
- It should have a specific, understood purpose.
- It should be related to the subject matter or learning objectives of the course.
- It should increase the students’ understanding of the subject matter.
- It should help students build their research skills.
- It should help students improve their critical thinking skills:
- By making comparisons between two or more sources of information.
- By looking at the potential impact of something.
- By agreeing or disagreeing with a researched viewpoint.
IMPLEMENTATION OF LIBRARY ASSIGNMENTS
- Tell your students why they have to do the assignment and what purpose it serves.
- If an assignment requires specific resources, give students a list of these sources.
- Put specific resources on reserve or at one of the reference desks in the library.
- Orient students personally to complex sources or unfamiliar research strategies, or make an appointment with a librarian for a customized library instruction session.
- View the assignment from your students’ experiences and perspectives.
- Tie the assignment to other assignments or to the students’ personal experiences or their fields of study.
CHARACTERISTICS OF EFFECTIVE ASSIGNMENTS
- Give library assignments in writing (not orally) to reduce confusion.
- Provide students with easy-to-understand instructions.
- Include all the information students will need to complete the assignment.
Use of correct terminology
- Define any and all questionable words.
- Try to use the correct library terminology.
- Explain what you mean by the resources that you expect students to use.
- Magazines vs. scholarly journals?
- “Library computer” = LibCat (TAMU Libraries’ online catalog of materials)? Or what?
- Internet (or World Wide Web) vs. library’s electronic databases?
- Check assignments for outdated methods and sources or ones that no longer exist.
- Be aware that assignments created around current events may raise problems due to the delay when critical analyses and reviews about events are available.
- Contact Learning and Outreach Services (862-1060) for a personal faculty orientation.
Appropriate time frame
- Do the assignment yourself to see how long it takes and to be sure that all the necessary materials are in the library (i.e., not missing, not on Reserve, etc.).
- Allow for students’ inexperience and for movement of materials in the library.
ROLE OF LIBRARIANS
- Librarians are an excellent resource! They are glad to work with you in developing assignments, looking at drafts, and providing comments.
- Please provide the library with a copy of the assignment and recommended sources in advance. This will help the librarians to help your students.
- When an assignment is over, you might want to contact the library for feedback.
- Did any students seem confused or have trouble understanding the assignment?
- Were there any resource or access problems related to the assignment?
PITFALLS TO AVOID
Please don’t make the following assumptions about your students:
- That they have had previous experience in using the library.
- That they have already been oriented to the library.
- That their library orientation was relevant to your assignment.
- That transfer or new graduate students have experience in this library system.
- That their basic library skills are adequate for upper-level, subject-based research assignments.
Please don’t assume what the Library has or doesn't have.
- Resources change dramatically from semester to semester.
- This library may not have exactly what other libraries have.
- Always retest the assignment before giving it out from one semester to the next.
Please don’t give an entire class the same assignment.
- Required resources may be hard to find, or they may have disappeared or been vandalized.
- Offer several possibilities (e.g., ask students to research the history of a major public American corporation of their choosing rather than one particular company).
- Arrange to have materials put on reserve or placed behind the reference service desks if an entire class must use a particular source or set of sources.
Please don’t ask students to copy information from one source.
- One student may check out the resource, and then it won’t be available for others.
- The source may be reshelved incorrectly, and then others can’t find it.
- It’s too tempting to tear those pages from a book, hide it, or copy from someone else.
Please, please don’t assign scavenger hunts.
- The least effective assignments ask students to locate random facts.
- They lack a clear purpose, teach little, and are very frustrating.
- Librarians, not students, frequently end up locating the information.
- Reference desks have written guidelines on handling scavenger hunt assignments.
- Please contact the Head of Learning and Outreach Services, Susan Goodwin at 979-458-0114 (or firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are planning a treasure hunt assignment.
LIBRARY CLASSES, TOURS, AND DEMOS OF COMPUTERIZED RESOURCES
- To obtain information about tours, lectures, and demonstrations or to schedule a session at Evans Library, contact Learning and Outreach Services at email@example.com or 979-862-1060.
- All library sessions need to be scheduled with us by WEDNESDAY NOON THE WEEK PRIOR TO YOUR PROPOSED SESSION DATE.
- Schedule early! The first weeks in a semester are busy times for library instruction!
- We invite you to discuss library resources and assignments with our Subject Specialist Librarians.
- Ask for help in placing materials in a controlled access environment (i.e., in the Reserves Department or at one of the Reference desks). This will allow every student to have an equal opportunity to use the item.