Information Literacy and Writing Assessment Project:
Tutorial for Developing and Evaluating Assignments

Section 4: Designing Assignments that Contain Writing and Research

Guide for Effective ILWA Assignment Design

One way you may assist students is by expressing expectations in unambiguous terms. Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives can help find these terms. Another way Bloom's taxonomy can be useful is in its classification of mental tasks ranging from simple recall of information to sophisticated construction of knowledge. Ask yourself the following questions about the language, the expectations, the organization, and the rationale of your assignments.

Questions for Syllabus Review:

  1. Do the assignments include any or all of the following terms from Bloom's taxonomy? (The intellectual tasks charted below increase in sophistication moving from left to right.)

    Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation
    List Summarize Solve Analyze Design Evaluate
    Name Explain Illustrate Organize Hypothesize Choose
    Identify Interpret Calculate Deduce Support Estimate
    Show Describe Use Contrast Schematize Judge
    Define Compare Interpret Compare Write Defend
    Recognize Paraphrase Relate Distinguish Report Criticize
    Recall Differentiate Manipulate Discuss Justify  
    State Demonstrate Apply Plan    
    Visualize Classify Modify Devise    
  2. Does your syllabus have a goal and objective that addresses information literacy and effective writing?
  3. Have you outlined the assignment objectives and criteria in the syllabus?
  4. Have you tied the assignment to the goals and objectives of the course and major?

Effective Information Literacy Assignments

When you begin the process of designing an information literacy assignment, it is worthwhile to review the criteria that help ensure your assignment will be effective.

Do:

  • communicate specific learning objectives (Bloom's taxonomy)
  • try the assignment yourself
  • take advantage of library and Internet instruction resources
  • stress tasks/resources as well as the topic
  • teach research strategies rather than simply making an assignment
  • collaborate with the librarians -- "assignment alert"

Don't create frustration:

  • the "Mob Scene" -- sending the entire class to look for the same information, book, or article. Use a variety of resources, give students different assignments
  • the "Shot in the Dark" -- inadvertently giving incomplete or incorrect information
  • the "Scavenger Hunt" -- sending students to search for obscure bits of information
  • the "Old Curiosity Shop" -- assigning use of outdated reference sources
  • the "Elusive Topic" -- assuming students will be able to select a manageable topic without faculty assistance
  • "Lost in Space" -- sending students off to use Internet resources without demonstrating how to approach the assignment and providing some hands-on time to try the assignment when the faculty member is available for consultation.

Characteristics of Effective Library Assignments

Library-related assignments should originate from and be directly related to the course subject matter. If we want students to learn how to effectively choose among, evaluate, and use information sources, they must have a concrete purpose for applying the research and measuring its value. Research projects should arise from course work and the results should be examined, discussed, and incorporated into the course. A library research project should never be added to a class merely to teach library resource use. Research without a purpose surely serves no educational goal.

The students must understand the purpose of the project and how it will benefit them. All too often students think that research projects are assigned so that they might demonstrate their proficiency at paraphrasing sources. Faculty do not improve the situation when they approve topics and lists of resources that the students freely admit are familiar to them. Rather, they should demonstrate that the true value of library research is to learn something new or see an issue from a new perspective.

Analysis should be emphasized over answers. Many poorly executed research papers result from a student's belief that he or she must come up with a solution to a problem through the project. This would certainly be an unfair expectation; many scholars spend a career trying to come up with an answer. Learning to analyze, question, and delve into the scholarly debate surrounding an issue, rather than presenting an easy, immediate answer, are the key skills students should learn through their research.

Students should be encouraged to plan their research before and as they retrieve information. One difference between novice and expert researchers is the amount of time spent in planning and analyzing an issue. Student researchers should be taught that background reading, outlining relevant perspectives, and investigating the amount and type of information available are necessary parts of effective information use. If they plunge directly into the first information sources they find rather than following a plan, serendipity is likely to direct their projects rather than any true information need.

The assignment should be a progressive project, with time and opportunities for concrete feedback from a variety of sources. Students should see that building our personal or societal base of knowledge is a progressive, often collaborative, process. Regular feedback from their instructors, fellow students, outside experts, and others should help them to see questions, requests for more information, and criticisms in a positive light.

Once you are ready to design an assignment, you can examine how others have developed assignments to assist you in developing your own ideas for assignments relevant to your class. Following are a number of different assignments in use by UMUC faculty. In addition, this document also provides links to Web sites that offer additional examples using a variety of information technologies.