Set Clear Research Objectives
What do you want your students to learn and be able to do as a result of the assignment?
Example: Students should be able to discern between scholarly and non-scholarly journals.
Teach Research Strategies
A research strategy is a method for organizing a research project. It needs to take into account the kinds of information sought and the type of sources that should be consulted.
Research strategies often seem obvious to experienced researchers but are generally completely unclear to students.
- Define and focus your topic using an encyclopedia article or other reference book for background information.
- Browse the subject and develop a list of alternation subject terms.
- Look for books using your subject terms in the library catalog and for articles in library databases.
Teach Students How to Evaluate Their Sources
Not all information is created equal. The same information source may work perfectly well for one use, but be wholly inappropriate for another. Teaching students about evaluating information is an important critical thinking that prepares them for lifelong learning. Don't accept sloppy thinking!
Librarians has prepared two short tutorials that address this issue: Types of Information and Criteria for Evaluating Information. These are also available as a video learning object through YouTube called Identify Your Sources.
Faculty have created an Onlline Resource Form (ORE) that may you may require your students to complete. It is used in several LAS classes and it available for use in any Otis course.
Test the Assignment Yourself
Come to the library and do the assignment yourself, or ask a librarian if it's doable. Make sure your students have a reasonable expectation of successfully completing the assignment. If you don't find the materials you expected to find, please talk to a librarian and let them know.
Show the assignment to a fellow teacher in your department or review it with one of the librarians.
Ask your students for feedback on the assignment.
Do You Want Anything Besides Web Materials In A Student's Bibliography?
If not, then require that they use of books and journals!
State in your syllabus and tell students when discussing assignments that all papers must contain a certain number or percentage of books and journals. Depending on the assignment, you can also require that no free-web material be used. Although this is a common academic practice, it might be better to allow certain academic web materials. If you do this, students need clear instructions on how to evaluate materials found on the free/surface web.
If students are doing a lengthy paper, require a working annotated bibliography to be submitted several weeks before the paper is due and make sure books and journals are included. You can probably direct them to good materials they may not have found, or tell them to come ask a librarian for help.
Don't assume because your students are under the age of 30 that they are good Web researchers. While some of them may be, most are not aware of the more scholarly resources (print and online) that you may prefer them to use.
The Otis Library has an excellent selection of databases which contain millions of articles in academic journals as well as a database of more than 30,000 electronic books. Never accept the excuse that "the Library didn't have anything." If that is true, the Librarians want to know so that they can buy it!
Assist The Students
Information Literacy Tutorials are available to assist you and the students.
Consult With The Librarians And Use Their Services.
- Consultation in designing assignments, determining appropriate research strategies, and ensuring that needed materials are available.
- Printed or electronic subject guides, bibliographies for a discipline or a specific assignment and Pathfinders.
- Library or class instruction on specific tools and methods. These can be done in the library or in your classroom. If you schedule such a session tell your students why it is important, and be there during the session to contribute and to encourage student participation. Talk with them afterward to see what they learned, and ask them again at the end of the semester for feedback on the session.
- Use course reserve services to ensure access to required materials for all students.
Consider Alternatives To The Typical Research Paper.
Students keep a research log, analyzing sources and techniques used, what worked and what didn't, and how their research affected their thinking about the topic.
Students prepare an annotated bibliography of information sources on their topics.
Students choose and define their own topics with faculty guidance.
Students write an abstract of a journal article.
Students, working in groups, prepare a bibliographic guide (paper or electronic!) that introduces information sources in the subject field.
Avoid These Common Problems:
The mob scene! An entire class looking for one piece of information or researching one topic. This is seldom a positive library experience for students.
The shot-in-dark assignment: Students working from incomplete/incorrect information; materials assigned that the library does not own; inappropriate methods given in instruction; impossibly vague topics assigned.
The scavenger hunt: Students given obscure factual questions and told to find the answers without any guidance. The librarian does all the work and the student doesn't really learn anything.