I want my students to complete a research project at the end of the semester, but I’m concerned that they don’t have all of the information literacy skills necessary to find good information to support their arguments. What can I do, and what can your staff do, that will help them be successful in this?

-Reaching for Research

Dear Reaching for Research,

UD’s librarians are here to help! UD’s Librarians support students’ successful completion of these high-stakes assignments through both one-on-one consultations and by providing instruction and coaching in the form of a single session tailored to the needs of the class.

However, combining library support with low stakes assignments can substantially help you and the librarian supporting your class reduce student anxiety related to using unfamiliar information tools and to provide more targeted support. These smaller assignments also provide valuable opportunities for students to practice key skills.

Here are a few examples of low-stakes research assignments tied to information literacy-related outcomes that we frequently see when consulting with faculty:

Learning Outcome Low-Stakes Activity
Students will be able to use the essential databases of their discipline to locate peer-reviewed resources.

-Students review the sources contained in an article that is read in class and identify the sources they believe are peer-reviewed.

-Students are asked to locate one peer-reviewed article per week from a different database or journal.  Students articulate the process used to locate that item, and what kinds of information is contained within the database or journal selected.

Students will synthesize a variety of sources (popular, scholarly) to make a compelling written argument -Student groups review the sources used in a published paper (or blog), locate the source, and critique the way the author is using the source in class discussion, commenting on criteria such as the source’s timeliness, relevance, and authority.
Students will develop an original research question -Students watch a news clip in class related to course content and individually identify gaps in their knowledge following the viewing and propose 2-3 possible research topics.
Students will be able to search effectively in online search engines and discipline-specific databases Students are asked to write out a search query and make predictions about what results will be returned in either a search engine or in a database.  Students try their searches and, after some sample searching, reevaluate their predictions in light of new information learned through the experimentation process.
Students will identify markers of authoritative content when given a mixture of traditional and emerging source formats. Students are provided with a series of tweets, online comments, news sources, and books on a given event in recent history, and are asked to select which they feel are most authoritative within each format type.  Students defend their choices and collaboratively generate a list of guidelines for determining authoritative content.

Adapted from: Stewart-Mailhiot, Amy. 2014. “DEVELOPING RESEARCH SKILLS WITH LOW STAKES ASSIGNMENTS.” Communications in Information Literacy 8 (1): 32-42.


Many students in your classes will have received some basic research skills training in prior classes or in high school. Thanks to the UDLIB/SEARCH program, many Delaware students have access to excellent databases prior to their enrollment at UD. However, some students may never have engaged in the research process prior to your class.

Conducting low-stakes assignments such as these can help you to ascertain students’ level of prior knowledge about information types, sources, and evaluation criteria. Sharing your students’ reflections or work product with your librarian prior to the library instruction session can help librarians target areas of specific need in your class during the library instruction session.  This semester, the Library is partnering with the Department of English to offer a workshop series for instructors called Teaching Research in Undergraduate Education (TRUE). Members of the TRUE cohort will workshop low stakes in-class activities related to all stages of the research process and discuss how to integrate instruction about steps of the research process into the arc of a course. Look for announcements about future opportunities like the TRUE workshop series in the Faculty Commons Newsletter.

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