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Creating Effective Library Assignments

Purpose of Library Assignments

An effective library assignment has a specific, understood purpose. It relates to some aspect of the course subject matter or learning objectives. It will lead to increased understanding of the subject or the process of locating information related to the subject. A library assignment that meets these criteria is an excellent teaching tool that can enhance and enrich the student's learning experience. 

Implementation of Library Assignments

If the assignment requires the use of specific sources, students should be given a list of them and arrangements made with the library to assure availability and access. If it involves the use of complex sources or unfamiliar research strategies, students should be oriented to these by the faculty member or by a librarian in a customized, scheduled library instruction session. Consider integrating the library, or the librarian, into your canvas course.

Characteristics of Effective Assignments

Clarity: If students have trouble understanding what they are supposed to do, they will have trouble doing it. Give library assignments in writing (not orally) to reduce confusion. Placing artificial constraints on the format of resources to be found, e.g. printed journal articles versus online or microfilm articles, confuses students and detracts from the content and quality of the sources found.  Nevertheless, differentiating between the potential use and value of monographs versus articles, between scholarly versus popular works, and between open Internet websites versus published, refereed online sources teaches students to be critical learners.  Provision of the full titles and authors of the resources you recommend will demonstrate appropriate scholarly citation, as well as avoid time-consuming frustrations for students.

Use of Correct Terminology: Students tend to interpret library assignments literally, and are easily confused by terms they, and the librarian, cannot interpret definitively. Define any questionable words. For example, some instructors differentiate between magazines and journals, while others use the terms interchangeably. Others may require peer-reviewed, also called refereed, journals. Does "library computer" mean the library catalog or a research database?  Does "don't find an article on the Internet" really mean they can't use Google Scholar? Or electroinc articles in general - even if found in an FGCU LIbrary research database?

Currency: The library is continually changing, and these changes will affect library assignments. New sources and ways of accessing information replace old ones every day. Check your assignments regularly so your students are not asked to use outdated or no-longer-existing methods and sources. If you need help identifying library resources, contact your liaison librarian who will be happy to help you.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Assuming the Students Know the Basics: Don't assume that your students have had prior experience in using the library. Transfer or new graduate students may have no experience in this library system. Students who have had a general library orientation may not have been exposed to sources relevant to your assignment. Also, basic introductory skills may be inadequate for an upper level subject-based research assignment.

Enture Class with One Assignment: If an entire class has the same topic for the assignment, needed resources will be difficult to find at best, or may disappear or be vandalized at worst. Telling students to "put it back" just does not work. Even the most honorable of students may reshelve items in the wrong place. If it is necessary for a whole class to use a particular source or set of sources, please ask the Library to put it on Reserve. To request items be placed on Reserve, please see the Faculty Support page.

The Scavenger Hunt: Among the least effective assignments are those that ask students to locate random facts. They lack a clear purpose, teach little, and are very frustrating, as they often result in competition for the same library resource. Frequently librarians, not students, end up locating the information. We recommend assignments that require integration of knowledge, taking students through the real-world steps of locating literature and information they need, rather than finding obscure facts. Please contact your subject librarian, if you are planning to give a treasure hunt style of assignment.

Role of the Librarian

When it comes to research assignments, librarians are excellent resources. While a librarian will not create an assignment for you, one will be glad to work with you in developing the assignment, look at a draft, and recommend new resources. Since students will be coming to the Reference staff for help, it would aid the librarians to have a copy of the assignment and recommended sources in advance. When an assignment is over, librarians may be able to provide feedback. Did any students seem confused or have trouble understanding the assignment? Were there any problems with resources or access problems related to the assignment? Faculty and librarians working together can make library assignments successful learning experiences for students. 

FGCU Library Resources

The Library faculty have created some handouts and tutorials for students such as:  "Identifying Peer-reviewed Articles," "Evaluating Sources of Print Information," "Evaluating Web Information," etc.  For additional guides and handouts, please see Tutorials & Handouts.

Your librarians have created many Research Guides (LibGuides) to electronic and print resources at FGCU.  Consult a relevant guide, and direct your students to them as well. 

FGCU librarians routinely work with instructors to design custom instructional materials and in-class sessions for particular course needs.  Our instructional programs are designed in accordance with FGCU's Student Learning Outcomes, the Association for College & Research Libraries' Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, and our own Information Literacy Plan.

To schedule a subject-specific session, use the Library Instruction Appointment Request Form or contact your Librarian Liaison.

Other Resources

The MERLOT project (MERLOT, Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Training) is a free web collection of thousands of learning objects, tutorials, online lessons, etc. for faculty and higher education students.  Faculty have placed peer-reviewed course modules and other learning materials covering the gamut of disciplines for sharing by the academic community. Materials can be browsed by broad subjects or searched through a subject category index. Some examples are:

Adapted from guides prepared by Texas A & M University and Mississippi State University Libraries, and the University of North Florida Library.