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Collaborating on Assignment Design
by Kathy Clarke

Information Literacy Workshop participantsTake 18 teaching faculty members, mix in 18 librarians, sprinkle in an expert facilitator, keep everyone busy and well-fed and you have a recipe for a successful workshop to create effective information literacy assignments.  On May 9-11, 2006, JMU Libraries and the Center for Faculty Innovation co-hosted a workshop where teams consisting of teaching faculty member and librarians created a new assignment or improved an existing one to incorporate an information literacy components assignment into a course. 

The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Terry Mech, Library Director at King’s College Library in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and a noted author and presenter on information literacy. 

Terry Mech, workshop facilitator
Dr. Terry Mech

An information literate populace is one of the ultimate goals of librarians around the world.  Information literacy is a set of skills we work to instill in all of our JMU users.  The Association of College and Research Libraries has defined information literacy and created standards.  In layman’s terms, information literacy can be summed up as this set of skills:

  1. know when information is needed
  2. be able efficiently find information that addresses the need
  3. be able to apply and use the acquired information to the information need
  4. use the materials found legally and ethically

For years, librarians have worked to support the needs of our users when they came in the building and asked for help.  What most librarians haven’t done is gone out to help our faculty create the information need (see, step one above) that sets the student on a path towards the other three components of information literacy.  That is what this workshop set out to do. 


In many cases, faculty members came to the workshop with an assignment in hand that wasn’t getting them the resulting student work they were seeking with the assignment; others were interesting in creating a new assignment designed to get their students working with research materials and information. Through a combination of lectures, discussion, and team work the librarian-faculty pairs worked to create new research-rich assignments or improve existing ones.

Patricia Hardesty and Melinda Adams
Collaborating:  Librarian Patricia Hardesty and Melinda Adams, Political Science

An example of a newly created assignment: Bob Eliason, (Management) worked up a new assignment for the Management section of COB300.  Groups of students were assigned a management core theory and an article that demonstrated that theory in real world practice from the accessible world of business press (ie., BusinessWeek).  From here the students were guided (via handouts) to sources that led them to the genesis of the “theory.”  They traced the theory’s development and annotated the sources they found.  Ultimately the student groups posted their work to a wiki that served as a study guide for the students on the theories assigned. 

The Center for Faculty Innovation will be hosting several events highlighting information literacy and effective assignment design:

  • On September 21 and 22, Lynn Cameron and Michael Stoloff (Psychology) will offer Integrating Information Literacy to Improve Assignments.
  • In the Spring, Kathy Clarke and Claire Clemens will work with faculty who attended the May 2006 workshop to offer a follow-up workshop, Exciting New Strategies to Integrate Information Literacy into Your Courses (February 1 and 2, 2007). 

Please see the CFI web page for more information about these events and to register.

If you have questions concerning your research assignments and how to to improve them, contact your liaison librarian

E-mail comments and questions to:

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