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Research Instruction

Information for faculty on research instruction, including classroom activity ideas and assignment design suggestions.

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Amanda Walch
Raugust Library, Reference & Instruction Office
701-252-3467 ext. 5441

An Evolving Resource

These lists will be constantly in flux as I come across new ideas and/or links break. If you have activities and assignments related to research and information literacy and are willing to share them, please let me know! I'd love to add them to this list.

Assignment Design Ideas

Think twice about source type/search tool requirements

Often, these requirements ("Only use scholarly articles," "Don't use Google," "You must have 1 print book") seem arbitrary to students. Absent context, these requirements can cause students undue stress and anxiety--especially if they have trouble identifying source types in the first place.

  • Ask yourself, "What am I actually trying to get students to learn about research by requiring the use of [specific types of sources]?"
  • If at all possible, discuss the context of different source types with your students (or have the library come in and do this)
    • Discuss how and why different kinds of information are produced
    • Discuss what kinds of sources are considered authoritative in your field, and why
    • Take it a step further and consider what voices might be left out if students were only allowed to use one type of source (such as scholarly articles)
  • Require that students use library search tools more generally, rather than specific types of sources
    • Library search tools (the catalog, databases) contain many different types of sources
    • Include discussion about the differences between library search tools and search engines like Google


Annotated bibliography assignments

Annotated bibliographies are great for scaffolding research projects. They help students practice source evaluation and summary.


Provide an initial set of sources

This can help students get a sense of what kinds of information (what types of sources, what perspectives) exist for a topic.

  • Use these sources to help students choose or focus topics and come up with search terms
    • For sources with bibliographies, discuss how to use a source to find more like it
  • Use these sources to help students practice synthesis/evaluating resources
    • When everyone's looked at the same set of sources, it's easier to have students work in groups or practice synthesizing/evaluating as a whole class--before they have to do it on their own in a research assignment


Require an initial bibliography of more sources than they'll actually use

Scaffold the process of choosing and using sources by having students initially gather more resources than they're required to cite in the final version of their project. Then have them choose the sources they'll actually use from this larger list.

  • This helps with "satisficing" -- when students use the first few sources they encounter that they consider "good enough" and stop there
  • This also gives you the opportunity to provide feedback on sources and citations, and gives students one more opportunity to practice citations
  • After the initial bibliography, assign an annotated bibliography for the sources that students will actually use. For example
    • Due first: working bibliography of 10 sources
    • Due next: annotated bibliography of 5-7 sources that will actually be cited in the final project
  • Your students will use better sources, and you'll get better projects


Alternative research assignments

Students often appreciate more creative format options for research projects. If you're sick of grading research papers, imagine how sick your students are of writing them... Try:

  • Curation assignments--assignments that focus on storytelling, creating personal learning environments, or designing exhibits
  • Search process assignments--have students write (and/or present) a reflection on the process of searching for and evaluating information on a topic
  • Multimodal or audiovisual assignments--have students create podcasts, documentaries, websites, or something that combines mediums
  • Non-disposable assignments--assignments with a lifespan beyond the due date (community partnerships, materials that are shared/used campus-wide, public writing like Wikipedia editing assignments)
  • Research study proposals--have students design and propose a study (including literature reviews, methods, expected results, etc.)
    • Grant proposals are also a fun option
  • History of scholarship assignments--students trace the scholarly conversation on a particular topic back to a certain date or as far back as they can get, then write or present on how scholarship on the topic has changed over time

More Links & Inspiration