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Information Literacy: Designing assignments

What makes an effective assignment?

Effective assignments

  • Incorporate at least one of the major ACRL information literacy standards into your learning outcome(s) of the assignment.

  • Focus on building information literacy skills but keep it relevant to the subject matter of the course.  

  • Make students aware of the variety of sources and formats available.

  • Match the research level of the students, taking into account the level of the students, amount of information literacy instruction they have had, etc

  • Promote academic integrity by discussing plaigiarism and requiring proper source citations.

They avoid

  • Sending a large group of students to the library who are all looking for the same resource or researching the same topic at the same time.

  • Overestimating students’ research skills: Dissect the assignment and analyze the skills needed to complete it. Do your students have these skills? If not, work with a librarian to design needed instruction. Note: Students often overestimate their own research skills.

  • Making an assignment for which the library has no resources. Consult with a librarian in advance to ensure that resources are available and appropriately set up for maximum usage.

When in doubt (or even not in doubt)

  • Consult and work your librarian when designing the assignment.

  • Provide a copy of the assignment to the library.  We will be better prepared to help your students when we know about the assignment.

Need help applying the ACRL Standards?

If the ACRL Standards seem difficult to apply to the specifics of your courses and the needs and interests of your students, take a look at the list of competencies developed by librarians at the Cal State Universities.  They have used the ACRL Standards to create a list of well-defined, very specific competencies that their students need to achieve at the lower and upper division levels.  You might want to use one or two on their list to guide your design of an assignment.

Looking for alternatives to a research paper?

There are many types of assignments that help students learn and practice information skills. Consider assignments that provide practice in a specific information skill rather than the whole gamut that is required by a research paper. Here are a few suggestions, followed by a link to the ACRL Standard fulfilled by each assignment:

  •  Have students prepare an annotated bibliography where they must retrieve a variety of sources - articles, books, personal accounts, web sites - and describe the contribution of each source to an understanding of the topic. Each source should be cited using MLA formatting.

    Meets ACRL Standard 1, Standard 2, Standard 3, Standard 4 and Standard 5
  • Ask students to compare popular and scholarly articles on the same topic in terms of content, bias, style, audience.

    Meets ACRL Standard 1 and Standard 3
  •  Ask students to compare the results of a search on the same topic using a Web search engine such as Google and a library subscription database such as Academic Search Premier.  Was one source better than the other? If so, why and how?

    Meets ACRL Standard 2, Standard 3, Standard 4
  •  Ask students to use a search engine or web directory to locate two web sites on the same topic, with one being an example of a good web site, the other, a bad web site.  Students should develop criteria for judging the relevance and reliability of the information found.

    Meets ACRL Standard 1, Standard 2 and Standard 3
  • Ask students to locate two scholarly articles on the same topic and compare and evaluate their bibliographies.  Comparison should include a discussion as to what is both common and unique and the impact the quality of sources can have on the authority of the article.

    Meets ACRL Standard 1, Standard 2, Standard 3
  • Provide students with a short article from the popular press dealing with results of an original research study.  Ask students to locate the original research findings and critique the accuracy of the popular article.

    Meets ACRL Standard 2, Standard 3
  • Break the class into small groups and give each group a brief article that defines the issues of copyright, censorship, plagiarism, etc. Ask the group to pull out the most important points to share with the class.

    Meets ACRL Standard 5
  • Have students examine a painting or photograph from a time period you are dealing with or which touches on a theme you are discussing in class. Working in groups, students should brainstorm questions about the image, identify and locate information sources that might help address those questions.

    Meets ACRL Standard 1, Standard 2


Ideas from: Drew University Library; Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound