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The Research Assignment + Critical Thinking Connection

This guide provides tips for designing library research assignments that emphasize critical thinking and promote effective research skills. This presentation was developed for the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching's 2015 Teaching at Vanderbilt Orientation:

Tips & Strategies

Librarians are available to collaborate with you to develop assignments that strengthen information seeking skills and encourage critical thinking. Below are a few tips and suggestions to keep in mind when planning your next research assignment.

  • Librarians are here to help! Liaison librarians are available to assist faculty in reviewing current library assignments or in developing new activities and assignments that require students to critically analyze, evaluate, and apply information. Encourage students to schedule one-on-one appointments with their librarian for targeted assistance.
  • Set the foundation for lifelong learning. Require students to utilize skills they will encounter in their lives beyond college. Examples include analyzing search results for relevant information, synthesizing research results, or creating data visualizations.  
  •  Vary the types of assignments. Assigning an assortment of projects lets students work on different information skills. Instead of the traditional research paper, consider assigning case studies, annotated bibliographies, or reflective research journals. Have students utilize education technologies to produce podcasts, infographics, or digital portfolios. Librarians can help faculty identify library resources for adapting these types of assignments to fit your course content or disciplinary goals.
  •  Check the currency of your assignments. Information sources are constantly evolving and it’s important to make sure assignments require students to use only up-to-date resources. By providing the library with a current copy of your assignment or syllabus, we can help identify any potential problems or comment on availability of resources.
  •  Consider re-wording assignment instructions. Let’s face it, some students need very detailed instructions when approaching an assignment. For example, telling students they cannot use the Internet can cause stress and frustration. Many students believe that the content found in the library's electronic resources, including online academic journals and electronic books, is off limits because it’s on the “Internet."
  • Integrate librarians into the project. A great way to do this is by scheduling a hands-on library instruction session to help students put the project in a frame of reference. Not only will we help with creating assignments, we can design custom research guides for the project. You can also add these research guides and the liaison librarian’s contact information to Brightspace for easy access. And here’s the clincher: if you'd like, we can even help grade the assignments!

It may be time to re-think the traditional library research project. Instead of focusing on having students gather a set number of sources for a standard term paper, look at assignments that teach students how to think critically, how to ask questions and solve problems, and how to use different strategies to gather information to answer those questions. Take the first step by contacting your liaison librarian or Melissa Mallon, Director of Liaison & Instruction Services, at melissa.mallon@vanderbilt.edu or 322-3147 to discuss your interest in creating assignments/exercises that reinforce critical thinking skills.

Director of Liaison & Instruction Services

Melissa Mallon's picture
Melissa Mallon
Contact:
014 Peabody Library
322-3147
Subjects:Education