Resources for Faculty

Effective Research-Based Assignments: Information for Instructors

The following list suggests ways to create effective library assignments. Research-based assignments, especially complex ones, work best when instructors and librarians work together.

  • Design the assignment so that students are asked to find information and use it in a meaningful way:  applying information, not just retrieving facts; constructing meaning, not just regurgitating it.
  • Define the task clearly, and identify any sources students should or should not use.
  • Work through the assignment, even if it's a revision of an old assignment, to make sure that the assignment does what it's intended to do and that the library has the resources required to complete it.
  • Give students a copy of the assignment, which, if it contains very specific requirements, includes a list of resources they should consult.
  • Place materials on reserve if students have to use the same resource. Note: This is not necessary for reference books, since they do not circulate.
  • Schedule a course-related instruction session or discuss the assignment with the information literacy instruction coordinator if the assignment is particularly complex.
  • Give students enough time to complete the assignment successfully. Remind students that even under the best circumstances, research takes time.
  • Encourage students to consult a librarian at the reference desk or use the Ask a Librarian service if they need assistance.
  • Contact the information literacy instruction coordinator if, in the course of the assignment, something needs to be clarified or students are experiencing a problem that librarians can solve.

Common Problems in Library Assignments

Avoiding these typical problems in library assignments will make students' library experience less frustrating and more enjoyable.

  • Don't give a large class the same exact assignment. Students may have trouble accessing the materials.
  • Don't use an incomplete or inaccurate name when referring to a source. For example, don't tell students to use Standard and Poor's, since that publisher issues many well-known reference books. Be more specific by asking them to use Standard and Poor's Industry Surveys.
  • Don't require a source that the library doesn't own.
  • Don't give students hard-to-answer trivia questions, because librarians usually have to give students the answers.
  • Don't give students a generic assignment out of a handbook or textbook, unless you check to make sure it works ahead of time.

About those Internet and World Wide Web Sources

At the reference desk, librarians often hear students say that they aren't allowed to use Internet or Web sources. Many users don't realize that many very reputable sources are available full-text via the Web. In fact, many highly regarded scholarly journals are available only on the Web and not in print. The UCLA Library subscribes not only to certain full-text databases like Science Direct and Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe but also to scholarly e-journals. Instructors may need to stress the difference between the resources the UCLA Library subscribes to and free Web and Internet Sources. Visit the UCLA Library e-resources page for access to subscription resources.