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Information Literacy Assignments in the Seminars in Scholarly Inquiry: SSI 1

This guide for faculty provides examples of the types of information literacy assignments that are especially appropriate for first-year students in the Seminars in Scholarly Inquiry.

SSI 1 Assignments

     These assignments help students develop sensitivity to different types of sources and how we evaluate them in different contexts.  The assignments typically invite students to juxtapose, dissect, and grapple with specific types of sources.  Many students will begin the process wanting to set up binary oppositions between “good” sources and “bad” sources, and these assignments will help them move beyond that stage.  Please note that “source” is defined very broadly to include texts, images, data sets, sound recordings, films, objects of material culture, and objects, conditions, and aspects of the natural world.

 

  • Provide students with clusters of resources covering a range of source types, and ask students to provide an annotation for each source, summarizing it, assessing issues of bias and reliability, and assessing the context in which it best would be used.  For example, a cluster for a course discussing the vaccine controversy might include: an anti-vaccine web site, Wakefield’s original article, the Lancet’s retraction of Wakefield’s article, a popular article reporting on the anti-vaccine movement, a scholarly article reviewing adverse effects of vaccines.
  • If the class is reading a book that was reviewed in both the popular and scholarly presses, have students compare and contrast reviews from both types of publications.  What are the differences and similarities between academic and popular book reviews?  What does this say about the concerns or preoccupations of the authors of each?  What does this say about the audiences for each?  An alternate version of this assignment asks students to compare book reviews published in scholarly journals from more than one discipline, in order to see how the disciplinary lens shapes the conversation.
  • Ask students to analyze not just the content of sources, but the packaging of those readings and the process by which the readings came to them.  (Prof. Susan Owen asks six questions:  Who produces and distributes the information?  Who is the intended audience?  Who profits from the information and how might that affect what the message is?  Who does not profit from the information?  What voices are not represented?)
  • Choose a current controversy and evaluate several different types of popular sources for bias, reliability, and appropriateness.  Examples might include newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites and radio or TV news and reporting.
  • Provide selected scholarly resources to students and ask them to produce a document for popular use such as: a newspaper article alerting the public to a recent breakthrough, a pamphlet for patients or families; an interpretive sign for a museum or natural site; a policy memo advising a particular course of action.  Ask students to reflect on how they engaged with the scholarly sources.  What did they have to leave out, modify or retell in order to write for a popular audience?
  • Ask students to compare the treatment of a specific topic in two or more types of tertiary sources (general encyclopedias, subject or discipline-specific encyclopedias, textbooks).  When was each source written and published?  What do the sources have in common?  Are there differences?  Compare bibliographies.  What does this say about how “background” knowledge is constructed?
  • Deconstruct or dissect a scholarly article.  What primary sources did the author use?  What secondary sources?  How can you tell which sources are used as primary and which as secondary?  How did the author use each type of source?
  • Ask students to read a formative or groundbreaking article that was published several years (or decades) in the past.  Ask students to find (or provide them) with a more recent article that cites this article.  Analyze how the more recent article uses, argues with, or agrees with the earlier article.
  • Provide students with a primary source and a secondary source that describes what was happening at the time the primary source was created.  Do the primary and secondary sources support or contradict each other?
  • Share with students a popular press article on a general topic that reports on a research study, and then give them the original research study published in a scholarly journal.  Compare the popular press reporting to the original research report.  Did the popular press article correctly summarize the research findings?  What are the implications of how the information was presented in both of the sources?  Who is the audience and what authority do the authors have?