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Designing Effective Assignments That Incorporate Information Literacy Skills

UAS Faculty have defined six competencies in which baccalaureate degree students will be assessed periodically during their studies at UAS. One of these skills is Competency in Information Literacy, defined in the UAS Academic Catalog as:

Competency in information literacy combines the skills of being able to 1) identify needed information; 2) locate and access the information; 3) analyze and evaluate the content; 4) integrate and communicate the information; and 5) evaluate the product and the process. Reading and writing literacies plus traditional library skills provide the foundation to access the vast availability of electronic information.

As a professor, you are charged with providing your students with opportunities to improve their skills as seekers and users of information. Many UAS Ketchikan students are not information literate when they arrive on campus and do not how to locate relevant information or how to think critically about the information they find. A well-designed assignment can teach students valuable research skills and improve the quality of their papers. Naturally, these skills will apply not only to a specific assignment but also can be applied to other information-seeking experiences throughout the students’ academic careers and will encourage lifelong information literacy and research skills.

It is crucial that students understand the difference between using a search engine on the Internet to conduct their research and using the article databases paid for by the university, and many do not.

Students need to learn when it is best to use which resources, such as reference materials, periodical articles, books, the Internet, etc., when conducting research and how to evaluate their findings. They need to learn that they need to be much more selective when using a search engine on the Internet. In addition, giving students a positive initial introduction to the library will affect their willingness to use the library in the future.


  • Be sure to explain the objectives of the assignment to the students. Create a sense of its importance, emphasizing the relevance of library work to course and college education.
  • Match the assignment to the level of your students. 
  • Make the assignment relevant and directly applicable to course content.
  • Involve a librarian in the planning and/or presentation of the library instruction assignment. Librarians can provide useful insights into potential problems areas, as well as make suggestions about what types of sources might best suit the students’ needs. Also, check to see if librarians have already created a research aid for your subject area. These aids include commonly used reference materials, websites, and research databases.
  • Schedule a course-related instructional session with the librarian when there is a specific assignment due that will benefit from research skills. Give the librarian a copy of your syllabus and the assignment to help her better prepare for the class.
  • Leave a copy of the assignment at the circulation desk of the library so that library staff knows what to expect and will be prepared to help your students.
  • Make it fun. If possible, relate the assignment to the students’ own interests.
  • Encourage students to use the Campus Library and to ask the librarians for help.
  • Make sure that the Campus Library owns the resources that you require your students to use.
  • If you want students to use the same book or journal article, make sure that it’s on reserve in the Campus Library or on electronic reserve, in the case of an article available through the periodical databases.
  • Give students a particular citation style to use, such as APA or MLA.


Quote and cite sources in a way that gives proper credit and avoids plagiarism.

Create a research strategy by:

1. Defining a topic by using an encyclopedia for background information.
2. Developing a list of relevant keywords and phrases to use in searching.
3. Using the library catalog to find books on their topic.
4. Using article databases to find most recent information in magazines and journals.
5. Using Internet search engines selectively to locate authoritative, high-quality websites.

Prepare an annotated bibliography on a topic of their choice.

Write an abstract of a journal article.

Find and compare a popular magazine article with a scholarly article on the same topic.

Research specific issues and participate in a panel discussion or debate.

Find and compare book reviews on a book relevant to the subject of the course. (You may want to provide the students with a list of appropriate books, which the librarians will help you create).

Locate primary sources about the date of their birth. Direct them to use one type of material only once, such as a newspaper headline, one quotation, one biography, one census figure, etc. Use a minimum of six different sources and write a short annotation of each source and include the complete bibliographic citation.

Read an editorial and find facts to support it.

Evaluate a website based on specific criteria, including the ability to detect bias.

Describe a career they envision themselves in and then research the career choice. What are the leading companies in that area? Why? What is the outlook for the occupation? Expected starting salary? (The Occupational Outlook Handbook is the best resource for this type of assignment.

Write a biographical sketch of a famous person. Use biographical dictionaries, popular press and scholarly sources, as well as books to find information about the person.

Find contemporary reviews of books or plays using multiple databases.

Contrast journal articles or editorials from recent publications reflecting conservative and liberal tendencies.

Assemble background information on a company or organization in preparation for a hypothetical interview.

Find and compare primary and secondary sources on the same topic.

Write a newspaper story describing an event – political, social, cultural,whatever suits the objectives, based on student research. The assignment can be limited to one or two articles, or it can be more extensive. This is a good exercise in critical reading and in summarizing. The assignment can get even more interesting if several people research the same event in different sources and compare the newspaper stories that result.

Select a topic and compare how that topic is treated in two to five different sources, including a popular and a scholarly journal, an encyclopedia, and current books.

Some of the text is adapted from:

  • "Fishing for Success: Faculty/Librarian Collaboration Nets Effective Library Assignments” by Caroline Gilson and Stephanie Michel. In Making the Grade: Academic Libraries and Student Success, edited by Maurie Caitlin Kelly and Andrea Kross. Chicago: ACRL, 2002

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