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Ideas for Research Assignments Incorporating the Use of Information Retrieval Systems
Sample Assignment #1: Database Comparison
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Assign two online catalogs or databases (maybe one multi-disciplinary, the other specialized). In detail, have students describe each database, noting its purpose, the subjects covered, the years indexed, the size of database, its producer, the availability of full-text, etc.
(This assignment aims to familiarize students with the catalogs and databases available to them for locating and retrieving relevant and timely materials.)
Sample Assignment #2: Prepare an Interview
A sample assignment for Communications Courses. Have students prepare an interview - either one to be actually carried out or one that they can't because the subject is long dead or otherwise unavailable. To generate useful questions they will have to become familiar with the person's life and work and understand its significance.
(This assignment encourages gathering information from multiple sources and shows the importance of advance preparation before an interview.)
Sample Assignment #3: Corporate Event
A sample assignment for Econ / Finance Courses. Identify a corporate event (IPO, spin-off, merger, major new product introduction, etc.) and examine the stock price reaction to the published disclosure of the event. Students must provide an accurate assessment of the consequences of the transaction on the company's common stock. Students produce a report which incorporates graphs/charts pertaining to the assigned company, as well as research from five or more firms that undertook the same corporate event and examine the market reaction to the public announcement.
(This assignment requires gathering information for a practical purpose.)
Sample Assignment #4: Historical Figure for a Day
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Everyone becomes an historical figure for a day. Students research specific people, time-periods, cultures, etc. They could then give an oral presentation in class and answer questions or keep in character for debates with fellow classmates. They could also write papers or journal entries from this perspective.
(This assignment requires students to use various search systems to retrieve information in a variety of formats and to show integration of knowledge through role-playing.)
Sample Assignment #5: Important People in a Discipline
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Part I. Identify important people in a discipline. Have students consult a variety of biographical sources and subject encyclopedias to gain a broader appreciation for the context in which important accomplishments were achieved. Part II. Assign an individual identified in Part I to each student. Have students write a paper discussing the essence of the individual's life. Student will compile a short bibliography of works consulted for the paper.
(Students learn the personalities and history of the field.)
Sample Assignment #6: Forecasting
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Assign an article or numerous articles that were written a number of years ago making predictions for the future. Students need to reflect on the evolution of that particular topic and the scholarly communication surrounding it. (Students analyze the historical perspective on issues, synthesizing and integrating the ideas they find.)
Sample Assignment #7: What If?
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. What if you could change one aspect of an event or book? How would this one change affect the big picture? What if the Pilgrims met more hostile Native Americans? What if Richard III were the protagonist in Macbeth and Macbeth were the protagonist in Richard III? Would religion survive on earth if we found evidence of intelligent life on another planet? Students imagine alternatives and ponder possible outcomes based on research. Writing assignments are evaluated on whether opinions, assertions, and conclusions are supported by evidence or sound reasoning.
(This assignment emphasizes critical thinking skills, constructive analysis and understanding of a topic, and insight and originality.)
Sample Assignment #8: Diagnosis
A sample assignment for Biology or Exercise Science Courses.'Diagnose' each student with a disease, ranging in severity from jock itch to Parkinson's Disease. Have them act as responsible patients by investigating both the diagnosis and the prescribed treatment. Results presented in a paper should cover a description of the condition and its symptoms; its etiology; its prognosis; the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment; the treatment's side effects and contradictions; and a comparison of the relative effectiveness of alternate treatments. This can also be accompanied by oral or visual presentations, a slideshow, posters, etc.
(This assignment requires that students locate and select relevant information using a variety of sources.)
Sample Assignment #9: Evolution
A sample assignment for Biology-related FYS Courses. Compare arguments against the theory of evolution from before 1950 with those after 1995. Use both print and electronic resources and include at least two articles from scholarly periodicals, one book, and a web page. As you discuss the arguments, briefly categorize the authors of each of your sources (scientist reporting experimental results, historian, individual expressing opinion, etc.) even if the exact name of the author is unknown.
(This assignment promotes awareness of issues to construct informed, critical positions.)
Sample Assignment #10: Staging an In-Class Debate
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Students need to locate relevant info to argue an issue. Encourage students to support their opinions with analyses and data from the field and to back their assertions with scholarly articles, and statistics. Information can be gathered from anywhere (popular press, scholarly articles, organizations, personal interviews, and internet) but students must keep a record of where they found their information. Require students to submit a bibliography of the sources they used, paying particular attention to the range of resources consulted.
(This assignment challenges students to find relevant sources of information and justify their selections.)
Ideas for Research Assignments Requiring the Evaluation of Information
Sample Assignment #11: Tracking Cases, Writing Briefs A sample assignment for Criminal Justice Courses. Have students search a periodical database for a topic of interest to them. Have them identify a legal issue associated with the topic (noting names of parties, case numbers, etc.) and locate the actual text of the case. Students will then write mini-opinions as if they were justices of the US Supreme Court. What is essential in the opinions is to give the background of the case, lower court decisions, their ruling - either reversing or upholding the lower courts - and the all-important rationale for their decision. Opinions by justices in cases or citations by courts from other cases will be helpful to back their arguments.
(This assignment requires use of primary documents. It also requires students to think critically about sources, issues, and arguments.)
Sample Assignment #12: Letter to the Editor
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Students compose a 750-word letter to the editor using statistics & information to support their stance on an issue. Have students trade letters and critique each others' arguments.
(This assignment teaches students to develop and support an argument that is convincing to a particular audience.)
Sample Assignment #13: Historical Video Assignment
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Compare and contrast the film version of an event to the actual event in history. Students will write a short paper on the historical accuracy of the film and the accurate portrayal of plot, main characters, settings, events, etc. They will differentiate elements based on facts and those based on interpretation. Movie ideas include Amistad, Gettysburg, Glory, Last of the Mohicans, The Crossing, The Patriot, Andersonville, 1776, Saving Private Ryan, Patton, Paths of Glory, English Patient, Pearl Harbor. Note: This assignment can be adapted for non-historical videos also, such as movies about persons, works of literature, etc. Possible add-on: Locate at least two lengthy reviews of the film. Compare the two reviews and discuss any biases displayed by the reviewers, as well as any misrepresentations or inaccuracies you find in the review.
(Students assess the accuracy of films to become more conscious consumers of culture.)
Sample Assignment #14: Viewpoint of a Culture/Country
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Students find newspaper/periodical articles representing views on an event or topic from different cultures/countries.
(Students analyze differing cultural perspectives on issues, which encourage students to understand that multiple perspectives of an issue are in operation at the same time. This analysis will help students to broaden and enhance their own perspectives on these issues.)
Sample Assignment #15: Collection Building
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Have the students build a book collection on a particular topic for a fictional library with a budget of $X.00. Provide an annotated bibliography with justification, availability, and costs.
(This assignment incorporates use of print and/or electronic research tools. Students demonstrate the ability to make critical judgments about the appropriateness, accuracy, and authoritativeness of the information resources they have found and select the most appropriate for their assigned topic.)
Sample Assignment #16: Trace a Concept through Time
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Trace a concept in the field through several decades. Example: How was the professional literature in anthropology treating the topic of evolution in the 20's, 40's, 60's, and today?
(This assignment introduces new majors to the information resources and research tools in their discipline.)
Sample Assignment #17: How Conditions Have Changed
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. How have conditions changed? Compare an economic or social condition from 20 years ago with the current situation. Use reports, statistics, and articles to construct a response.
(This assignment emphasizes students' ability to compare and critically evaluate research material.)
Sample Assignment #18: Changing Views of a Classic
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Students are assigned a "classic" work from the particular field being studied - preferably one which has gone through several editions or has been reprinted a number of times. Students will locate scholarly reviews of the work (or in the case of a classic work of literature, scholarly criticism) from at least three different time periods. Students will compare and contrast views to the same piece of literature over time.
(Students become acquainted with the sort of questions, issues, and methodologies that are central to the discipline.)
Sample Assignment #19: Update a Literature Review
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Ask students to update a literature review done a number of years ago on a topic in the discipline. Students could be given significant or controversial articles. Students may work in pairs.
(Students identify and critically appraise current articles in the field.)
Ideas for Research Assignments Distinguishing Between Scholarly and Popular Publications
Sample Assignment #20: Tabloid Claims A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Students find an article in the National Inquirer or similar publication (get faculty approval). Research the issue in an attempt to support or refute the claims made. Search online databases, the web, etc., indicating what evidence you uncovered, and from what source. Document your research - both what you were able to find and not able to find.
(Students learn to critically analyze claims and question the credibility of sources.)
Sample Assignment #21: Research a News Item
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Find a reference to a study in a popular magazine, such as Time, Newsweek, Psychology Today, Life: ("According to a study.") Then have students locate the original research or the actual study in a scholarly journal. Compare the authorship, content, format, and conclusions of the two articles.
(This highlights the distinction between popular and scholarly sources, and helps students understand the differences in audience and level of authority.)
Sample Assignment #22: Dissecting a Scholarly Article
A sample assignment for a Social Science/Education Course. Select an article from a scholarly journal (pertaining to a specific discipline). Get instructor's approval. Prepare a 4 to 6 page article review, providing your reader with an introduction to the topic of the article, the issue being discussed, the hypothesis being studied, the sample (random/non-random, size), the methods used, major findings, and conclusions (adding opinions, views, clarifications, or claims regarding the research). Attach the article to your critique.
(This assignment teaches students to appreciate research activity and scholarship in a given discipline. It also introduces students to the process of analyzing and evaluating a scholarly journal article)
Sample Assignment #23: Fleshing-Out a Newspaper Article
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Assign a newspaper article on a topic related to the course. Have students do research on the topic and convert the newspaper article into a scholarly article complete with a bibliography.
(This assignment gives students a critical and practical understanding of the methods employed in research.)
Sample Assignment #24: Writing a Newspaper Article
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Have students write a newspaper story describing an event (political, social, cultural, etc.) based on their 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 gains interest if several people research the same event in different sources and compare the newspaper stories that result.
(Students learn to read critically for the essential information.)
Sample Assignment #25: Scholarly Analysis of an Event in History
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. What was the popular press saying about a political event/ scientific study/ societal change at the time it was occurring? How is it now discussed in the scholarly literature? Contrast 2-3 popular articles written during the event and contrast them with contemporary scholarly analysis.
(Students develop the capacity to relate the past to the present and the ability to place current events within a historical context.)
Sample Assignment #26: Popular vs. Scholarly Articles
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Students are divided into groups of two or three. Each group is given a popular and a scholarly article on the same (or similar) topic. They compare the 2 articles for content, style, bias, audience, authority, etc. The class then formulates a list of differences between the two types of articles.
(Students learn to identify characteristics of scholarly, as opposed to more popular, journal articles.)
Sample Assignment #27: Comparing Print & Web Resources
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. In groups of 3-5, have students examine pairs of items (books, articles, web sites) to determine: indicators of quality in each item; where exactly they found those indicators; the appropriate use for each item. Have them report their findings to the class after the class has also had a chance to evaluate the sites.
(Students engage in collaborative work, learning to evaluate and compare information from books, magazines, journals, Internet, etc.)
Ideas for Research Assignments Incorporating Appropriate Internet Use
Sample Assignment #28: Suitability of Internet Information
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Give the students a set of web pages to look at. Have them note any reasons why these pages are, or are not appropriate for university level student research or for in-class use. A source that is useful in one instance may not be useful in all instances. Either scholarly or popular sites might be appropriate depending on the requirements of the class assignment.
(Students learn the importance of evaluating all information retrieved from the Internet and will learn danger of over-reliance on web sources alone.)
Sample Assignment #29: Internet Search
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Provide a precise statement of the search topic and an outline of the search logic. Run the search on two different search engines. Compare the results from the two searches - was one better than the other, why and how?
(This assignment emphasizes the mechanics of searching and the differences between search engines.)
Sample Assignment #30: Evaluating a Web Site
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Evaluate a web site based on specific criteria: Is it clear who has written the information? Are the aims of the site clear? Does the site achieve its aims? Is the site relevant and does it fit your needs? Can the information be checked? When was the site produced? Is the information biased in any way? Does the site tell you about choices open to you?
(Students learn evaluation techniques for web sites.)
Sample Assignment #31: Alternative Viewpoints
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Find alternative/opposing viewpoints on a topic. Identify organizations on either side of an issue. Find evidence of their beliefs or opinions on the organization's website or other publications.
(Students learn to compare and contrast alternative viewpoints.)
Ideas for Research Incorporating Attribution of Information Resources
Sample Assignment #32: Anatomy of a Research Paper
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Have students conduct all the research for a term paper, but not actually write the paper. At various stages, students should submit a clearly defined topic, an annotated bibliography, an outline of the paper, a thesis statement, and an opening paragraph /summary. Possible variation: Have students compose two different opening paragraphs, each designed for a different audience (oral presentation, persuasive argument, informative paper).
(This assignment focuses on the stages of research and the parts of a paper, rather than on the writing of it; students become familiar with a range of traditional and electronic research tools.)
Sample Assignment #33: Classic Research Paper
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. The classic research paper is always okay. If they are writing several papers, maybe they could be designed to draw on different types of research sources with each paper.
(Students identify a topic for research, conduct an effective and comprehensive search that employs appropriate tools for locating information, analyze and critically evaluate information based on standard criteria, and cite following specified method.)
Sample Assignment #34: Write a Grant Proposal
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Write a grant proposal addressed to a specific funding agency; include supporting literature review, budget, etc. Have classmates review the proposals.
(Students gain experience in outlining a research question, in justifying their research to a critical audience, and in writing effectively. They also learn to carefully critique others' works.)
Sample Assignment #35: Prepare an Annotated Bibliography
A sample assignment for a variety of FYS Courses. Students locate a given number of specified types of sources for an approved topic. Include annotations for each source, the reason why this source was selected for inclusion, and how this source was located. Cite correctly using MLA or APA style.
Possible add-on: Describe a book you wish you would have found on this topic. Make up a title and create a "table-of-contents" listing for this imaginary item.
(This assignment familiarizes students with the major research tools available to them and the mechanics of citing.)