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Teaching WRITL Courses: Assignment Ideas

Overview

We've compiled a number of ideas for information literacy assignments and approaches. If you're looking for ready-made prompts, we link to some resources in the Assignment Prompt tab.The assignment ideas on this page have been developed by various faculty members, both within the library and beyond. Special thanks goes to Professor Emerita Barbara Fister, whose innovative approach to teaching information literacy continues to inspire and inform us. 

Please reach out to any member of the library faculty to discuss your course further, including ways in which the library can support you and your WRITL students. Be sure to look at the Assignments & Rubrics page from the WRITL pilot program for more ideas, too, as well the assignment suggestions on our first year and upper class guides; many of those assignments can be adapted to focus on WRITL learning outcomes. If you have any ideas or assignment prompts you'd like to share on this page, let Julie Gilbert know!

If you are teaching to the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, we have tagged each assignment with its corresponding frame(s).

Explore Conversations

Trace the conversations: Start with an in-depth news story and have students track down sources that are mentioned in the text. Ask students to report or write a quick analysis of how (and how effectively) the original news story incorporated its sources. Frame(s): Information Creation as a Process; Research as Inquiry


Lateral reading: Collaboratively map responses to a timely and relevant news event by reading laterally (quickly seeing how an event or topic is covered by multiple sources to see the range of approaches). Construct a map or chart of various ways news organizations and/or social media posts interpret the event. Select examples to discuss how the language used in headlines, ledes, and associated imagery shape readers’ experiences. Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process


Complicating beliefs: Agree on a common topic for the class to investigate. Have students in groups state a claim about that topic and ask them to quickly find evidence to back it up. As they search, have a group member jot down the moves they make as they search, then discuss. Did they filter for sources that would affirm their belief, discarding ones that didn't? Discuss how to avoid a premature conclusion and why it's important to approach issues with integrity and an open mind rather than cherry-picking supporting evidence. Repeat the process, asking students to include in their search sources that contradict or complicate their claim. Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process; Research as Inquiry


March of Time: Have students examine an issue across time by looking at how it is treated currently, then have them research how it was discussed 25, 50 or 75 (or longer) years ago. Analyze the different approaches to the issue, including how specific information sources shaped understandings of the topic, and the ways in which the issue was framed in ways that reflect the values and assumptions of the time. Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process

Format and Audience

Explore variety: Gather a number of various sources that discuss the same topic, such as a news article, academic article, press release, newsletter, meme, youtube video, etc. Ask students to identify how the various types of formats address different audiences. Or have students gather the sources to start. Frame(s): Information Creation as a Process; Research as Inquiry


Consider audience: Have students take a piece of research and, in groups, write a press release about it. Ask them to identify the main point, explain what the researchers found, explaining why the finding matters, and compose a pitch – tell a story about the research so compelling that it might interest a reporter. Check to ensure the pitch avoids overstating or misleading the pubic about the conclusions one can draw; make sure students use language non-specialists can understand. You could also have them develop a briefing or grant proposal instead of a press release. Frame(s): Information Creation as a Process; Information Has Value

Useful Links for Students

The Library's website has a number of useful links about our services and spaces. We encourage you to share these with students.

Reflect

Research Path Self-Reflection: Ask students to free write about how they typically look for information. What kinds of questions or inquiry are they trying to answer on a given day? Are there certain resources (Google, Siri, TikTok, news sites, etc.) they usually consult? Who do they tend to ask for help, if anyone? How do they feel about their typical approach? What motivates them while searching for information? Questions like this get students thinking critically about their information seeking behavior and encourages them to be more intentional in seeking out appropriate sources and methods. Bonus: Ask them to repeat this reflection at the end of the semester, including ways in which their approaches and understandings have changed. Frame(s): Information Creation as a Process; Information Has Value; Research as Inquiry

Investigate Sources

Research a source: Have students pick any kind of information source (news organization, nonprofit, advocacy group, etc.) and have them dig deep into the source. What's the source's stated mission? Business model? Board members? Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Has Value


Research a social platform: Have students seek out articles in major news publications and discuss what has been in the news. Discuss the implications for public knowledge and civic engagement, including any differences in reporting they note between the sources. Ask them to reflect on implications. This activity also encourages students to be reflective and intentional about how and from where they get their news. Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process


Analyze a meme: Have students choose a political or social meme and write an interpretation that contextualizes, interprets, and analyzes the rhetorical aspect of the meme. Frame(s): Research as Inquiry


Sift: Introduce the SIFT approach for quickly assessing questionable sources encountered in daily life: Stop (ask yourself if you know the claim is true or not), Investigate the source (who wrote it? what is their expertise or possible agenda?) Find trusted coverage (look to see what others are saying about the claim) and Trace (follow claims back to their original source, evaluate). The Four Moves blog has more examples you can use in class. Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process


Questionable Information: Give students a quotation with dubious "facts" taken from the Web. Ask them to find the source, critique it, and check the facts for accuracy. Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process


Web Literacy on the Fly: Introduce Mike Caulfield’s “four moves and a habit” heuristic for quickly assessing sources encountered in daily life: see chapters 1 and 2 of Clickbait, Bias, and Propaganda in Information NetworksFrame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual

Authority

Context and Authority: Have students take several sources and investigate the authors. What is the author's training? Background? Affiliations? What kind of experiences gives them authority in a particular context? Students could start by investigating academic sources and then move onto various other kinds of sources, seeing how authority and expertise change from context to context. Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual


Missing Voices: Have students consider a topic, either for the class or something in the news. Have them explore some of the most prominent voices by having them gather sources and compare what they've found. Then ask students to reflect on whose voices aren't represented in the conversation and why this might be the case. Frame(s) Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Has Value

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