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Information Literacy at Loras College

Information about the information literacy program at Loras College, including Library instruction services

Subject Guide

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Kristen Smith
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MARC 223

Designing Research Assignments That Support Information Literacy

At the first-year level, students’ prior knowledge of information literacy concepts may vary greatly. While some students may have had access to research databases and online catalogs in high school, others may have had limited to no exposure to these tools. Similarly, students may have varying degrees of familiarity with the scholarly communication process, evaluating sources, and issues related to academic integrity, including information ethics and citing sources. Even students who have had prior exposure to information literacy concepts may be unable to transfer their knowledge and skills to Loras resources and college-level research.

While many of the information literacy standards are addressed during library instruction sessions, two class periods during the first year of a Loras student’s career cannot sufficiently address or reinforce all of the learning objectives. However, many of these concepts can be integrated into the curriculum and supported through library instruction. In addition, research assignments in Cultural Traditions (AC), Cluster courses, and other upper-level coursework can reinforce the information literacy skills developed during the first year and prepare students to apply these life-long learning skills to a variety of contexts.

Finally, as noted in the ACRL Information Literacy Standards curriculum map, there are several elements of the Standards and of the Loras Information Literacy Rubric which fall outside the scope of library instruction. These elements need to be addressed through faculty instruction and general coursework at Loras College.

Advanced Gen Ed & Upper-level Courses

In Advanced General Education and upper-level coursework, it is important to have realistic expectations of what students should already have learned, and to address information literacy within the context of specific disciplines.  Information literacy within Literature has different practical applications than information literacy in Biology.

  • What does scholarly communication look like within your discpline?
  • What ethical considerations should students be aware of when consuming, creating, and disseminating information in your discipline?
  • What are the best sources of information within your discipline?  How should students evaluate sources?
IL Skills for Upper-level Courses: Suggested Assignment(s):
How to define a research topic/form a research question Require students to submit research topics in advance of assignment due date for feedback
How to oragnize/plan research Structure assignment with suggested due dates for determining topic, conducting preliminary searches, revising topic, reading, evaluating, writing drafts, etc.
Discussion of how research differs by discipline within the context of course subject area Design an assignment that asks students to compare research on a topic through the lens of two different disciplines.  Ask students to map out a scholarly conversation to see how research progresses within your discipline.
How to find controlled vocabulary for discipline/topic (database thesaurus, Wikipedia, reference sources)

Show how to find—and provide opportunities for students to practice using—discipline-specific reference sources, and database thesauri to find controlled vocabulary and subject headings.

Revising searches based on results—analyzing and actively responding to results (e.g. sorting search results, relevancy ranking) Demonstrate to students how you search for sources, and provide activities that require them to navigate beyond the first page of results and to revise their initial searches.  Provide activities that require students to sort and use search facets to retrieve specific results.
Revising research topic based on information/ materials found and own developing understanding, acknowledging the evolving nature of the research process Design research projects that require students to revise their topics after turning in an initial annotated bibliography.  Require students to write summaries of sources (not just paraphrasing or quoting) to encourage comprehension-level engagement with sources.
How to find different kinds of information (e.g. data, statistics, maps, primary documents, government documents) in a particular discipline Expose students to the best sources for data and statistics within your discipline.  Design assignments that require students to find original sources of data cited in secondary sources within your discipline.
Difference between primary and secondary sources, and how to find primary sources within discipline Collaborate with librarians to integrate data sources and primary sources into student research projects.
How to evaluate sources based on audience, accuracy, bias, credibility, date of creation in relation to subject addressed, and relevance Require students to evaluate their sources based on criteria, and to determine whether or not sources should be used for college-level research.
Citation by discipline (briefly), and available citation tools, including related Research Guides Show students citation tools within library databases and Google Scholar.  Collaborate with a librarian to show students how to use citation management software such as Zotero.

Common Research Assignment Issues and Recommendations:

Issue: Recommendation:
An entire class needs access to a single or limited print resource at the same time. Consider putting the item on reserve or expanding the source/topic requirements.
Students are required to use print resources on a very specific topic that may exist in a very limited form in our collection (or not at all). Meet with a librarian to ensure that available resources can support students’ research, allow for broader interpretations of the topic, or don’t require print resources for this assignment.
Students are asked to find scholarly or peer-reviewed research on a very recent topic. It’s entirely possible that this research may not exist yet—consider having students examine the historical context of a recent event or topic.  Or, choose not-so-recent topics.
Students are required to use resources that are beyond their comprehension levels (e.g., many peer-reviewed articles in the sciences). Consider what your objectives are in assigning the research assignment—if your objective is to have students search for and engage with scholarly research in a particular discipline, it’s probably more important that students are able to read, understand, evaluate and synthesize the research they use, as opposed to quoting the two sentences from the article abstract they could understand.
Students are forbidden or discouraged from using online sources. Most of the Library’s scholarly journals are available online (in some cases, this is the only form in which they are available), and there are many online indexes and resources that are valuable for research (for example, statistics from government agencies).  Instead, emphasize the need to evaluate sources, regardless of the format, and provide criteria for evaluation (this is addressed in library instruction sessions).
Students use Wikipedia as a source for their papers (whether cited or not). Wikipedia can be a valuable resource, as long as students know how to use it.  For example, Wikipedia (and other similar resources) can be a great place to find specialized vocabulary and terminology for searching in databases.  Also, the references section in many Wikipedia articles often cite both scholarly and popular print and electronic articles.  While the information in the articles themselves may not be reliable or appropriate for college-level writing, it can be a helpful first step in the research process. Be sure to explain your policy and expectations for Wikipedia to your students.  In addition, students often are unfamiliar with encyclopedias.  The Loras College Library has many print and online subject encyclopedias—encourage your students to contact a librarian to find reliable background information.

Recommendations When Designing Research Assignments

Keep in mind that many students may not know what an annotated bibliography is or what a college-level research paper looks like, and even if they have received these types of assignments previously, their instructor may have had very different expectations. As much as possible, try to make your expectations for research assignments explicit.


  • Where should students look for background information on their topic (e.g. key reference sources)?
  • What library resources should students start with? (E.g. is there a database that would be especially relevant to this assignment?)
  • How many sources are required?
  • What type of sources should students use (e.g. scholarly books, scholarly articles, popular articles, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, statistics, websites)? Are students encouraged to use a variety of sources?
    • If you require the use of print sources, keep in mind we have not purchased many print sources in recent years—be sure the Library has the resources to support student research topics
  • What do you mean by scholarly articles?
    • Scholarly articles do not necessarily need to be peer-reviewed journals, though they can be
    • Depending on the discipline, certain types of scholarly articles may be overwhelming/inaccessible (e.g. peer-reviewed articles in many of the sciences)
    • Although Loras students have probably had an assignment that required scholarly sources in the past, each faculty member tends to have slightly different expectations; be sure to clearly express yours
  • Where can students find help if they have trouble with their research?
    • Encourage students to talk with a librarian, and consider noting this in your syllabus. We’re available in-person, by phone, by email, or by chat/instant message.