Create Effective Assignments

There are many different types of assignments that can elicit evidence of student learning of the six Information Literacy frames. The elements that you emphasize in the design of the assignment and the grading rubric teach students different skills that are essential to developing Information Literacy concepts.

Your subject librarian is happy to collaborate with you to craft an assignment as well as develop assessments such as rubrics.

Tips for Creating Effective Research Assignments:

  • Provide written assignment prompts for your students.

  • Explicitly link the assignment to a course learning outcome or one of the six Information Literacy frames; this helps students understand why they are completing the assignment.

  • Avoid expert language or jargon; students may not understand exactly what you mean if you ask them to find “scholarly” sources or write a paper of “publishable quality.”

  • Research can be a lengthy process; encourage students to begin their research as early as possible and consult their subject librarian throughout the process as needed.

  • Consider scaffolding the assignment by breaking it into smaller assignments that build to the final product; for example, submit a topic/research question, then submit an annotated bibliography, then a first draft of a paper, then a final draft. This keeps students on track and also allows you to correct mis-steps before the final product.

  • If you limit the use of the web for research, make sure you clarify what you mean by web sources. Since many scholarly sources are available online, it can be confusing for students when “Internet” or “Web” sources are forbidden. Describe why certain sources (such as Wikipedia) may not be allowed.

  • Use a rubric for grading.

  • Add your subject librarian’s contact information to the assignment and let students know they can contact them for personalized help.


Here are some assignments on the six frames that develop students’ Critical Thinking and IL skills. Check out CORA (Community of Online Research Assignments) for more.


Authority is Constructed and Contextual

  • Provide students with two different information types (with two different goals) on the same topic by the same unnamed authoritative crreator/author (for example, scholarly article and blog post or op-ed piece). Use as discussion starter with students about context in relationship to authority. Reveal authorship later in discussion.

  • Ask students in professional or career-focused programs to consider who has authority within their areas of study and the origins of that authority.

  • Ask students to find several scholarly sources on the same topic that take very different stands. How was it that the authors came to different conclusions? Does it have to do with authority?

  • Ask students to brainstorm situations when traditional peer review might not accomplish its purpose.

  • Have students look at a blog, a video on YouTube, a collection of tweets, or some other type of social media regarding a contemporary event (Tahrir Square, Arab Spring, etc). Ask them to describe how they would analyze and evaluate the authority of the author(s) of the information. Are there ways to determine whether the individual was an actual witness or participant in the events? Are there ways to identify whether the individual or group that developed a collection of information has a particular political bias? Can they determine whether the author(s) has a particular status within the group he/she represents or is the individual reporting as an "average citizen"?

  • Ask students to create a citation "web" using a citation analysis database, and conduct a content analysis of the linked authors by affiliation (workplace, academic preparation, geography, subject expertise). Do authors cite each other? Are there some authors who are outliers in the web? How do such connections impact information generation?

Information Creation is a Process

  • Assign students to identify several different applicable information sources that arise from different creation processes, and to communicate the unique values of each. (In collaboration with instructor and course assignment.)

  • Student will identify the format of the sources they find for a given research project and articulate why the chosen formats are appropriate for the information need.

  • Student will find sources about the same topic in two divergent formats (newspaper movie review and literary journal movie review or scholarly article and a researcher's blog. Students will compare and contrast the type of information found in each format, as well as articulate the processes underlying the creation of each format.

  • Have students research the impact of digital formats in scholarly publication, including Open Source initatives.

  • Ask students to transform information they have created in one format to another format, and to write a reflection on what they needed to consider as they went through the process.

Information has Value

  • Time is money. Ask students to blog for a week about their life of information, noting their information needs and the associated costs of getting that information. What are the associated costs if they cannot find the information, and what are the cost benefits of getting the information? For example, if a student cannot find a FAFSA form in time, or how to complete it, or the details to provide within the form, they lose out on scholarships.

  • Ask students to find several images that would enhance the project or paper on which they are working. Then ask them to determine which can be used without asking permission. What would they need to do to use this material?

  • Assign students to read a timely article connected to information ethics in the field of study as a discussion starter.

  • Ask students in professional or career-focused programs to consider what individuals or organizations make money distributing information relating to that profession or career. Have students discuss the usefulness and potential risks behind this information.

  • Discern between the economic processes behind different types of information (e.g., newspaper articles v. 24-hour news, edited academic volume v. popular title on top-10 list).

  • Ask students to determine what information they can find about themselves or a relative online, and to assess whether steps should be taken to control this personal information.

Research is Inquiry

  • Students in a first-year course reflect upon the steps they went through when researching a major purchase or event in their lives (buying a car, selecting a college, etc.). They identify the steps involved in the research behind such a decision, and confront the importance of employing a similar strategy in the academic setting.

  • In an upper-level course, students trace the development of a scholar's research agenda following a sequence of presentations, publications (perhaps starting with a dissertation topic), social media presence, etc. The students reflect upon the inquiry underlying these information packages in an e-portfolio assignment.

  • A researcher/guest speaker/course professor attends the class and describes a research project from conception to conclusion. Students attempt to diagram the steps reflected in the description, and then work with the speaker to develop a robust conception of the process (recognizing that the process varies from project to project and researcher to researcher.) Students then journal about how their research process relates to that of the researcher, and what changes they might make in order to attempt more authentic, knowledge-generated research experiences.

  • Assign students to keep research logs in which they note changes in particular research directions as they identify resources, read, and incorporate new learning.
    Ask students in professional or career-focused programs to evaluate the role of evidence-based research that may move toward changing practice.


Scholarship is a Conversation

  • Give students in professional or career-focused programs assignments that examine how practice and/or procedures evolve over time. Ask them to consider how the profession shares information.

  • Give students a two-part assignment: one having them trace the development of scholarship on a particular topic using the traditional "information cycle" model with the "invisible college" and print publication outlets; then have them expand/refine that model by tracing changes based on social media forums or online communities.

  • Have an entire class conduct an investigation of a particular topic from its treatment in the popular media, and then trace its origin in conversations among scholars and researchers.

  • Have students select a seminal work on a topic, and then identify sources that preceded and continued the conversation, analyzing the impact of the seminal work on the field.
    Create a timeline to track the evolving threads of a continuing scholarly conversation.

  • Select a topic on which students have some knowledge or experience. Identify a venue (blog, discussion forum, social media site) in which a scholarly conversation is taking place. Ask students to: Identify key players and their perspectives; Compare a related scholarly article by one of the players to the online conversation; Consider how to involve themselves in the conversation.


Searching is a Strategic Exploration

  • Ask students to brainstorm possible sources that might have relevant information. What tools will they need to locate those resources?

  • Assign students to identify and use subject headings after conducting a keyword search; after which they write a paragraph on the differences between subject and keyword searching.

  • Students must identify one or two important databases for the projects they are working on and analyze why they consider them to be an effective resource for their research.

  • Ask students to choose a topic, develop key search terms, and use two different search engines to locate information on their topic. Have them compare the results in terms of quantity, type of sources (e.g., government, educational, scholarly, commercial), order/sequence of results, and relevance. Pair students who used the same search engine with different topics to compare results.

  • Ask students to write an I-Search paper, whereby they journal their searching processes, including key terms, tools used, and resources/results at each step. They should note how they evaluated their resources, and what information was extracted. Their journal should also reflect their feelings: success, concern, frustration, pride, etc. Pair up students, and ask them to read and comment on each other's journal, and then draw up conclusions and recommendations for their peers.