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Milne Library SUNY Geneseo Subject Guides


Resources for new faculty

Tips for Designing Effective Research Assignments

Here are some suggestions for instructors that will help make your library research assignment a successful learning experience for your students.

Students often overestimate their research abilities.
No two students have the same definition of what constitutes a research paper. They often have difficulty locating relevant scholarly materials, or may rely on websites for information. Library faculty members (also called liaison librarians) will collaborate with you to plan a subject-specifc library session that will improve the quality of the work they submit to you . Please see the Library Instruction Program webpage for scheduling library instruction.

Check to see whether the library has the resources your students will need.
It is frustrating for students to discover that they have to arrange to go to another library to get the source that you want them to use—and even more frustrating to learn that they went to another library to use a source that is readily available at SUNY Geneseo! To check if the Library has a specific resource, please consult the contact your liaison librarian or submit a question.

Explain the assignment clearly—preferably in writing. 
Specify what students are to do, define terms, and give complete citations with call numbers for specific works. This will also help the librarians understand what you want if the students come with questions about the assignment.

Teach research techniques.
Provide a written outline of steps involved in the research assignment and a list of suggested sources. If you prefer not to, you may wish to invite a Library faculty member to meet with your students during your regular class time to teach research techniques and to discuss appropriate sources for the assignment. For information about library instruction, please see the Library Instruction Program webpage.

Encourage students to ask for help. 
Libraries are complex institutions, each one a bit different from the next. It is expected that students will need assistance, and library staff are trained to provide that assistance. Students may stop by Milne 105 for librarian research assistance Monday–Thursday between 10:00am–6:00pm. They may also schedule a research consultation.

Avoid the “mob scene”. 
Dozens of students trying to use one book or article or trying to locate the same piece of information usually leads to misplacement, loss, or mutilation of library materials. Use the course reserves when appropriate or tell your liaison librarian ahead of time about an assignment in a specific source.

Avoid scavenger hunts. 
Searching for obscure facts without any guidance is frustrating for students and teaches them nothing about doing research. Instead, scavenger hunts become an exercise for Library faculty to perform.

Avoid arbitrary restrictions on sources students can use. 
For example, telling students to consult newspapers—but not to use the Internet—might discourage a student from using the full-text online newspapers to which the library subscribes; or, telling students to find periodical articles—but not to use computers—would prohibit the use of some of the most important periodical indexes, many of which are only available online. If you are concerned about your students’ ability to evaluate the quality of information found on the Internet (a legitimate concern!), please consider scheduling an instruction session with a librarian. 

Provide guidelines for referencing information.

Contrary to popular belief, students are unlikely to have a strong grasp on citation rules. Provide them guidelines for how you want them to cite information (e.g., APA, MLA, & Chicago Notes-Bibliography). Your liaison librarian will be able to provide you with citation resources to give to your students. 

Consult with a librarian before making the assignment.
A librarian can advise you of the availability of library resources, suggest appropriate library resources, point out potential problems with the assignment, and in some cases order appropriate materials. If you anticipate a number of your students coming to the Library and asking questions, as a courtesy, please send a copy of your assignment to your liaison librarian so that we will be familiar with it by the time your students come in.

Complete the assignment yourself before you assign it to your students. 
There’s nothing like a run-through to discover what problems your students might encounter while working on your assignment. Does the library still have the resource that you had students use last year? Sometimes subscriptions are canceled, titles change, old sources are replaced by new ones. Can you find the needed materials on the shelf or on the library’s Web site? While libraries rely on logical systems to arrange their resources, every library is unique. Sometimes a specific item is more difficult to find in one library than in another. Do your students need any additional “clues” about where and how to access the sources they will need? By completing your own assignment, step-by-step, you will discover anything that needs to be clarified or changed.

Contact information
If you have any questions about this page, or would like further information, please contact Head of Research Instruction Services, Brandon West at westb@geneseo.edu. You may also contact the liaison librarian for your department. They can answer questions about...

  • Your assignment.
  • Print and electronic resources that are available to the SUNY Geneseo community.
  • Using library course reserves.
  • Accommodating an entire class using specific sources.
  • Arranging for library instruction (a librarian meeting with your class in a library classroom or your classroom during your regularly scheduled class time).
  • Arranging special office hours for your students to receive out-of-class support.

 

This page was adapted from a similar page created by librarians at E.H. Butler Library at Buffalo State: State University of New York.