The new first-year seminars rubric asks that students receive sequenced opportunities to develop and hone their information literacy skills. The librarians at Collins Library are eager to work with faculty to create engaging assignments that will help our students acquire these important competencies. On the next several pages you will find listings of ideas for assignments that support the sequenced elements of the rubric. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to be prescriptive; rather, the aim is to show the multiple ways that information literacy instruction can be woven into and throughout a course design.
1. Assignments and Activities Applicable to Both Semesters
These assignment ideas target two underlying themes of information literacy education: the cultivation of the habit of asking questions of and about sources and the thorough understanding of academic integrity concepts. (All incoming students take a tutorial on academic integrity prior to their arrival on campus, but periodic refreshers are advisable.)
- Run through the academic integrity tutorial together with students and use “clickers” to gauge understanding and intervene when necessary
- Explore and debate real-life examples related to integrity issues, i.e, news reporting (Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke), academia (Stephen Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin), sciences (Dr. Andrew Wakefield, creative arts (Kaavya Viswanathan)
- Allow plenty of opportunities for practice summarizing the arguments of others as well as practice synthesizing the arguments of others with one’s own arguments, whether through brief writing assignments, oral presentations, or postings on Moodle.
Asking Questions that Matter:
Help students cultivate a habit of raising and pursuing different types of questions: factual, convergent, divergent, evaluative, combination. Many students will begin the process by emphasizing “facts”—which can be a useful way to introduce methods for accessing background knowledge—but research questions by their very nature explore contested or undefined terrain. By developing this habit of asking open-ended questions, students will be better situated in the second semester to frame research questions.
- Ask students to keep an “inspiration journal,” “idea journal,” or “question log” where they record their questions and thoughts about all types and formats of sources that they encounter in class
- Whenever feasible and appropriate, share your own research or the work of your colleagues. What were the initial questions that gave impetus to your research?
2. Assignment Ideas for the Seminar in Scholarly Inquiry I
These assignments help students develop sensitivity to different types of sources and how we evaluate them in different contexts. The assignments typically invite students to juxtapose, dissect, and grapple with specific types of sources. Many students will begin the process wanting to set up binary oppositions between “good” sources and “bad” sources, and these assignments will help them move beyond that stage. Please note that “source” is defined very broadly to include texts, images, data sets, sound recordings, films, objects of material culture, and objects, conditions, and aspects of the natural world.
- Provide students with clusters of resources covering a range of source types, and ask students to provide an annotation for each source, summarizing it, assessing issues of bias and reliability, and assessing the context in which it best would be used. For example, a cluster for a course discussing the vaccine controversy might include: an anti-vaccine web site, Wakefield’s original article, theLancet’s retraction of Wakefield’s article, a popular article reporting on the anti-vaccine movement, a scholarly article reviewing adverse effects of vaccines.
- If the class is reading a book that was reviewed in both the popular and scholarly presses, have students compare and contrast reviews from both types of publications. What are the differences and similarities between academic and popular book reviews? What does this say about the concerns or preoccupations of the authors of each? What does this say about the audiences for each? An alternate version of this assignment asks students to compare book reviews published in scholarly journals from more than one discipline, in order to see how the disciplinary lens shapes the conversation.
- Ask students to analyze not just the content of sources, but the packaging of those readings and the process by which the readings came to them. (Prof. Susan Owen asks six questions: Who produces and distributes the information? Who is the intended audience? Who profits from the information and how might that affect what the message is? Who does not profit from the information? What voices are not represented?)
- Choose a current controversy and evaluate several different types of popular sources for bias, reliability, and appropriateness. Examples might include newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites and radio or TV news and reporting.
- Provide selected scholarly resources to students and ask them to produce a document for popular use such as: a newspaper article alerting the public to a recent breakthrough, a pamphlet for patients or families; an interpretive sign for a museum or natural site; a policy memo advising a particular course of action. Ask students to reflect on how they engaged with the scholarly sources. What did they have to leave out, modify or retell in order to write for a popular audience?
- Ask students to compare the treatment of a specific topic in two or more types of tertiary sources (general encyclopedias, subject or discipline-specific encyclopedias, textbooks). When was each source written and published? What do the sources have in common? Are there differences? Compare bibliographies. What does this say about how “background” knowledge is constructed?
- Deconstruct or dissect a scholarly article. What primary sources did the author use? What secondary sources? How can you tell which sources are used as primary and which as secondary? How did the author use each type of source?
- Ask students to read a formative or groundbreaking article that was published several years (or decades) in the past. Ask students to find (or provide them) with a more recent article that cites this article. Analyze how the more recent article uses, argues with, or agrees with the earlier article.
- Provide students with a primary source and a secondary source that describes what was happening at the time the primary source was created. Do the primary and secondary sources support or contradict each other?
- Share with students a popular press article on a general topic that reports on a research study, and then give them the original research study published in a scholarly journal. Compare the popular press reporting to the original research report. Did the popular press article correctly summarize the research findings? What are the implications of how the information was presented in both of the sources? Who is the audience and what authority do the authors have?
3. Assignment Ideas for the Seminar in Scholarly Inquiry II
Research as a Process and Crafting Research Questions
- Ask students to begin their research with three possible topics and to conduct preliminary searches for all three. Evaluation could include: printing out the first page of results for each search and turning it in for the professor to respond to, posting permalinks to searches on Moodle for class discussion, or small group discussions in class.
- Invite students to present their research topic as an article pitch for a newspaper or magazine, giving evidence that their topic is of interest to them, feasible to research, and focused.
- Ask students to create and evaluate concept maps (using Mappio, for example) of their chosen research question. Maps that are too thin indicate that the research question needs to be contextualized or enriched, while maps with too many branches indicate that the research question needs to be more focused.
- Ask students to frame research questions for different lengths of papers. This helps students calibrate the scope of their research.
- Encourage students to develop a research strategy and keep a research log, either online via a knowledge management software package like Zotero or RefWorks, or simply in a notebook.
Searching for, Identifying, and Locating Relevant Sources
- Ask students to compare and evaluate search results from different types of search tools (free web, subject-specific scholarly databases, multidisciplinary article collections, online reference collections, Puget Sound WorldCat). What are the strengths and weaknesses of each search tool? When is it helpful to search multidisciplinary databases, and when is it helpful to search a disciplinary database?
- Ask students to search for sources on the same topic, but from more than one discipline-specific database. What are the differences in results, and what does this tell you about the ways that disciplines shape the scholarly conversation?
- Ask students to create a thesaurus or glossary of search terms for their topic, with the option of presenting it as a word cloud. Ask students to turn in a copy of the search strings that they used when searching databases and catalogs.