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Subject Librarian Community: Assignment Design

Tips for Faculty Assignment Design

Identify Learning Goals Related to the Research Process.
What research skills would you like students to develop through the assignment? How will the learning goals and their importance be communicated in the assignment?

Be Clear about Your Expectations.
Your students may not have prior experience with academic research and resources, so clear and explicit assignment guidelines are essential. State (in writing) the assignment's purpose and the role of research in it. Also provide details such as assignment length, acceptable types of sources, specific resources for locating appropriate sources, and citation format. Define terminology which may be unclear to students, such as "database" or "peer reviewed." It may also be valuable to discuss how research is produced and disseminated in your discipline and how you expect your students to participate in academic discourse in the context of your class.

Scaffold the Assignment.
Breaking a complex research assignment down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable parts has a number of benefits: it models how to approach a research question and how to manage time effectively, it gives students the opportunity to focus on and master key research skills, it provides opportunities for feedback, and it can be an effective deterrent to plagiarism.

Devote Class Time to Discussion of the Assignment in Progress.
Periodic discussions in class can help students reflect on the research process and its importance, encourage questions, and help students develop a sense that what they are doing is a transferable process that they can use for other assignments.

Provide Clear Criteria for Assessment.
Make explicit how the assignment will be evaluated. This criteria should align with your expectations for the assignment.

Rubrics can be effective for communicating assessment criteria to students. (The AAC&U Information Literacy VALUE Rubric offers one framework for evaluating research assignments.)

Test Your Assignment.
In testing an assignment yourself, you may uncover practical roadblocks to conducting the research (e.g., too few copies of a book for too many students, a source is no longer available online). Librarians can help with this process (e.g., suggest strategies for mitigating roadblocks, place books on reserve, suggest other resources, design customized supporting materials like handouts or web pages).

Collaborate with Librarians.
Librarians can help you design an effective research assignment. We also offer library instruction that is tailored to your students and their assignments. Email your subject librarian to learn more.

Adapted from the handout "Tips for Designing Library Research Assignments" developed by Sarah McDaniel, of the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries.