This time we have a special guest post republished with permission. We made a few small edits mostly in formatting. Enjoy these assignment suggestions from
Mary Ann Cullen
Library – Director for Alpharetta Center and GPC Online
Perimeter College in Georgia
1. Help Your Students Find Appropriate Topics
Librarian can give suggestions, require or instruct students how to find a good topic. Many times students get discouraged if their topic is too broad, too narrow, or too difficult to research. Our experience can help steer students away from topics impossible to research with the resources available.
2. Come to Your Classroom
Are you sure your students really know how to research? Invite a librarian to your class. Instruction is most effective if the assignment has already been given and the students have started to realize that they don’t know how to complete the task. By providing the librarian with the assignment, the librarian will be able to focus the instruction so it is most relevant and helpful to the students. There is no way we can cover everything there is to know about library research in a single 45 minute session! Feel free to ask us back!
3. Test Your Assignment
Test your assignment yourself, especially if you’ve given the students a fairly focused topic. Kirkwood Libraries have a terrific collection of print and electronic resources, but we do not have the same types of resources as a large research institution. Sometimes needed materials don’t exist – period. You won’t find a research paper over a topic that’s local. Pick a sample topic the students are likely to choose and try using the library resources to complete the assignment. If you can’t do it, neither can they!
4. Be Specific About What Resources They Can Use
Tell the students what kinds of resources are acceptable very specifically. Will you allow documents from the open web? What about if the students limit their web resources to .gov sites – especially if they need statistics? Are you
counting information or article databases as web resources? What do you mean by scholarly article, anything from a scholarly publication or only research studies? Do you only want research studies or would qualitative or summative articles work? Without such guidance, students are likely to do all their research on Wikipedia or go to the opposite extreme and refuse to use electronic resources at all. With more and more scholarly sources and government statistics published in electronic-only format, it is no longer practical to limit students to print resources, but neither is Wikipedia an acceptable source in scholarly research. Depending on the topic and the seriousness of the scholarship required, students need guidance understanding what sources are appropriate and why.
5. Make Plagiarism Hard To Do
Make your assignment plagiarism-resistant by requiring a particular combination of resources or by asking “what if” questions that are not likely to be found written about elsewhere.
6. Stress That Research Comes Before Writing Papers
Make sure students understand that research comes before writing the paper. Many students come to the library reference desk and announce they’re done writing the paper, now they just need some resources. While this may be better than the opposite extreme of just writing a report with no thoughts of their own, it defeats the point of doing research before reaching a
7. Consider Grading the Process
Grading the process and not just the product. Students are more likely to actively engage in the research process (and less likely to plagiarize!) if you require them to turn in intermediate steps, such as their topics, a preliminary list of resources (along with the first page or abstracts of the resources), a rough draft, etc.