Identify Learning Goals
- What abilities would you like students to develop through the assignment?
- How will the learning goals and their importance be communicated in the assignment?
(The LEAP Initiatives' Essential Learning Outcomes may spark ideas about learning goals and outcomes.)
LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes
Research assignments can address many of the LEAP Initiatives' Essential Learning Outcomes:
- Inquiry and analysis
- Critical and creative thinking
- Written and oral communication
- Quantitative literacy
- Information literacy
- Teamwork and problem solving
Clarify Your Expectations
Your students may not have prior experience with academic research and resources. State (in writing) details like:
- the assignment's purpose,
- the purpose of research and sources for the assignment,
- suggested resources for locating relevant sources,
- expected citation practices,
- terminology that may be unclear (e.g. Define terms like "database," "peer reviewed"),
- assignment length and other parameters, and
- grading/evaluation criteria (Rubrics are one way to communicate assessment criteria to students. The LEAP Initiative has this VALUE rubric for information literacy.)
Also consider discussing how research is produced and disseminated in your discipline, and how you expect your students to participate in academic discourse in the context of your class.
Breaking a complex research assignment down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable parts:
- models how to approach a research question and how to manage time effectively,
- empowers students to focus on and to master key research and critical thinking skills,
- provides opportunities for feedback, and
- deters plagiarism.
Periodic class discussions about the assignment can also help students
- reflect on the research process and its importance
- encourage questions, and
- help students develop a sense that what they are doing is a transferable process that they can use for other assignments.
Take it for a test run
By testing an assignment, you may identify practical roadblocks (e.g., too few copies of a book for too many students, a source is no longer available online).
Librarians can help with this process (e.g., suggest research strategies or resources, design customized supporting materials like handouts or course research guides).
Subject librarians can explore with you ways to support students in their research.
These best practices are adapted from the handout "Tips for Designing Library Research Assignments" developed by Sarah McDaniel, of the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries. Many thanks to her for permission to reuse this resource.
Many instructors experience frustrations with standard research papers.
This page offers some alternatives.
These resources give examples of research assignments that take many forms.
- Community of Online Research Assignments (CORA)
- Sample Assignments (Oregon State University Libraries)
- Term Paper Alternatives (King's College)
Please let us know if you have additional assignments to share!
Through a class blog, students might reflect on and dialogue about specific aspects of their research process.
Potential blog topics might include:
- describing one's chosen research topic, why it interests her/him, and why others should care about it,
- identifying a source that has expanded or challenged thinking about the research topic, or
- describing how one's research question has evolved over the course of their research.
Students doing collaborative research might develop and revise their ideas through a wiki (like those available through CourseDen or platforms like Wikispaces).
Wiki pages can be organized based on different areas of the student's research topic, or on different aspects of the research process. Potential sections within a wiki could include:
- emerging research questions,
- background information (such as differing perspectives on the research question),
- the working thesis, and
- key sources and how they inform the research.
Online platforms like Twitter, blogs, and other online networks can be good springboards for exploring how a topic has been discussed in a certain discipline or community.
Possible activities include:
- Students examine how different communities (including academic and non-academic ones)
converse, share, or create information through social media and other online forums
(e.g. blogs, online networks).
- Students use platforms like Twitter to gain perspective on how a given community or discipline discusses a certain topic or issue. Students compare how the "conversation" is represented differently in other mediums with which that community engages (e.g. publications, blogs, conferences).
- Students compare how discussions in specific online communities compare to those that occur through other modes of communication (e.g. in-person discussions, conferences, academic journals, the popular press, magazines). Students might then reflect on how these various communication channels may inform their own approaches to researching a specific issue.
- Students examine how different communities (including academic and non-academic ones) converse, share, or create information through social media and other online forums (e.g. blogs, online networks).