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QEP First-Year Seminar Faculty Toolkit

Staging Assignments

Break big assignments into small steps so students aren't overwhelmed. (Proposal, source list, outline, draft, etc.) Here are links to 2 short readings about staging learning:

Scaffolding (or Staging) Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started

Primary Scientific Literature and the First-Year Student

Primary scientific literature can be intimidating to 1st-year students (not to mention upper-level students). This article discusses a variety of ways to have your students engage with the literature:

First-Year Students Benefit from Reading Primary Research Articles

Creating Effective Research Assignments

Oregon State University Libraries has an entire blog devoted to effective research assignments that's worth checking out. Many of them are tied to the ACRL Information Literacy Framework.

Keep in mind the tips below when designing a research assignment. Librarians are also happy to work with you on assignment design. And there are many alternatives to the research paper -- see box to the left!

Clarity/Unambiguous Terminology

  • If you expect students to use primary source material, be sure they understand what you mean by primary.
  • Be clear about differences between popular and scholarly resources; state differences between types of sources when there is a specific requirement to use (or not use) them.
  • If you discourage the use of “websites", be sure to clarify that web-based research databases subscribed to by the library are acceptable.

Library Resources for Assignment

  • Check with your subject librarian to be sure that the library has the resources your students need to complete the assignment.>
  • Use Course Reserves when necessary to avoid having many students trying to access the same piece of information.

Research Process & Skills

  • Make the assignment part of a real inquiry that is linked to course content. Teach research techniques, or ask your subject librarian to do it.
  • Most students will need guidance to complete library research assignments. Encourage your students to consult with their subject librarian or to get help at the Library Service Desk throughout the research process.
  • Practice shaping topics into research questions and show your students what to look for when you research the literature on an unfamiliar subject.
  • Provide opportunities for feedback and reflection. Include a method for evaluating strategies (such as research logs). Require students to exercise critical thinking in the research process.
  • Design assignments that require your students to evaluate, analyze, and synthesize the information they find.
  • Have them develop criteria for judging the quality of sources (or present your own and discuss in class).

Ethical Use of Information

  • Discuss the role of documentation in a community of scholars.
  • Require that the students submit work in drafts to avoid plagiarism.
  • Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers: a site by Robert Harris with strategies to combat plagiarism on research papers.

Example Assignment Ideas

  • Ask students to read and summarize an article from a scholarly journal.
  • Have the students find and submit an article on a topic relevant to the class along with a written summary of the main points.
More Challenging:
  • Give the class an editorial or opinion piece and ask them to try to verify the facts.
  • Select a controversial issue, or have students select, and ask students to find information on both sides of the controversy.
  • Ask students to find the original study, or at least the complete reference for the original study mentioned in a popular magazine article or on the news.  [Advanced:  Have the students compare the popular report of the study to the original research.]
  • Ask students to keep a research journal which includes databases consulted, keywords used, and an analysis of websites examined along their research process.
  • Require students to include an evaluation of the credibility of the information producer (author, organization responsible for a web page, etc.) for any source they use in a paper or assignment.
  • Ask students working on a paper or project to compile an annotated bibliography to include more sources than they actually need for the assignment.  Require students to rate the sources and explain why some might not be as useful or credible as others. Or have the students explain how they might use this source in their projects.
  • Ask students to locate and annotate what they consider the very best resources on a particular, narrow topic.
  • Researching the research used by Wikipedia authors and articles can be fun (and frustrating).  Have students locate and evaluate references or further readings listed at the end of a Wikipedia article. (The instructor may want to choose appropriate and relevant articles.) 
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