Searching and Evaluating Web Sites |
Goals and Outcomes | Library Instruction
Through assignments, faculty have the power to influence
students' development as seekers and users of information. Students
do not understand how to locate relevant information, or how to think
critically about the information sources they encounter. Coursework is
often the only opportunity for them to learn the difference between recreational
Web browsing and serious research. Instruction librarians here at UHH
would like to work with you to make the following suggestions happen for
you and your students.
A well-designed library assignment can teach students valuable research
skills and improve the quality of their papers. Unfortunately, library
assignments also have the potential to confuse and frustrate students,
leading to a poorly-written product. Here are some suggestions to keep
in mind when developing assignments that require library research.
Set objectives and make them clear to students
A statement of objectives helps students focus on the research-related
skills they should learn as a result of the assignment. The following
example might be appropriate for a term paper in the social sciences or
As a result of this assignment,
students should learn to:
The Information Literacy
Competency Standards for Higher Education provide an extensive and thought-provoking
set of possible objectives.
- Develop a suitable topic for research, using the library reference
collection and other sources of background information.
- Select and use the most appropriate catalogs, indexes, full-text
databases, and Internet search tools to locate relevant and timely materials.
- Distinguish between popular and scholarly sources and detect signs
of bias, whether the material is in printed form or on the Internet.
- Quote and cite sources in a way that gives proper credit and avoids
Teach research strategies
Research strategies may seem obvious to experienced researchers but are
often unknown to students. Breaking down the assignment into research
strategy steps will help them accomplish your stated objectives. The following
research strategy might be appropriate for the term paper described above.
Research, whether in a library or on the Internet, is a complex process
that requires--and teaches--flexibility and adaptability. Students benefit
from opportunities to reflect on their research strategies and think critically
about what they are doing.
- Define your topic using an encyclopedia article or textbook chapter
for background information.
- Develop a list of relevant keywords and phrases to search in the
- Use the library catalogs to find books on your topic.
- Use periodical indexes and full text databases to find more recent
information in magazines and journals.
- Use Internet directories and "search engines" selectively
to locate authoritative, high-quality web sites.
Provide resource lists
Resource lists give students a starting point, directing them to the
most useful information sources for a particular assignment.
Because so many reference sources are moving from printed to electronic
formats, you may want to check the library's listings of Journal
Databases and Research Tools to be sure
you are including the latest versions.
The library provides a series of Research Guides available in the library
lobby that list important reference sources in various subject areas.
Please recommend these to students. We can also make research guides for
your discipline in paper format or on the Web on request.
Consider alternative designs for the assignment
Here are some possible examples:
this link for other alternative assignments that incorporate library
research on a smaller scale than the traditional term paper.
- Students prepare an annotated bibliography of information sources
on their topics.
- Starting with a significant event or publication in your discipline,
students find out more about the people and issues involved.
- Students, working in groups, prepare a guide that introduces others
to information sources in a subject field.
- Students analyze the content, tone, style, and audience of three journals
and/or web sites basic to your discipline.
- Students compare how a given topic is treated in several different
reference sources, both print and electronic.
- Students keep a log of their research process, what they found, and
how it affected their thinking on the topic.
Avoid these common problems
- An entire class looking for one piece of information or researching
the same specific topic; especially difficult when printed materials
- Students required to use printed materials the library does not own
(or does own, but not in sufficient quantity), or online sources they
are not licensed to access.
- Students working from incomplete/incorrect information.
- Students assigned excessively vague or general topics, e.g., "women
in America," without guidance on narrowing a topic.
- Students given obscure trivia questions and told to find the answers.
Resentment toward rather than appreciation of library research is the
likely result of these assignments. Library assignments are more meaningful
if students use the information they find for an authentic task related
to the topics covered in the course.
Consult with librarians and use their services
Librarians are regularly available to meet with faculty who are designing
or revising library-related assignments. This collaboration helps to generate
assignments that refer to the best possible sources, and also lets us
make arrangements within the library to accommodate the needs of the assignment.
For example, in some cases we may be able to obtain needed items or set
materials aside in a special area. Contact Thora Abarca, x47343
Adapted with permission from the University
of Texas at Austin General Libraries, Ball
State University Libraries, and California
State University, Hayward Library.
© 2000 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley.
All rights reserved. Document maintained on
This document was adapted with John Kupersmith's permission
for use on the UH Hilo Library Web site.