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Mulford Library Services & Resources for Health Science Faculty

Information on specialized library services and resources to meet the research and instruction needs of faculty

Assessing Information Skills

The term paper is a traditional way to facilitate students' acquisition of information management skills (specifically, can they identify, obtain, evaluate, and use published information sources?). There are methods that can be used in conjunction with or independent of term papers.

In Conjunction with Term Papers

Research Journals. Research journals are diaries that students keep about their research process. They note their thoughts and ideas about their topic, how the topic has been refined over the course of the project, sources selected, keywords used in searching, questions that arose about the search processes, answers to those questions, reflections on the efficiency and effectiveness of the search processes, etc. The research journal can be submitted for review at various times during the semester or at the same time the paper is submitted. (Using research journals is also a great way to prevent plagarism.)

Minute Papers. Occasionally throughout the semester, have the students take a blank sheet of paper, put their names on them then jot down brief answers to two questions: (1) What are you currently working on for your paper? (what are they searching for? what are they reading about?, etc.) and (2) Where are they stuck? (can't find any good articles, trying to deal with conflicting information, don't understand the assignment, etc.). Answers to question 1 can help you see where the students are; answers to question 2 can show you where there is need for your assistance and where referrals to a librarian might be warrented.

Independent of Term Papers

Research Portfolios. A portfolio consists of a collection of key resources for a particular topic (articles, book chapters, web sites, etc.), accompanied by a brief paper describing the information found in each, comparing and contrasting them, and why the student found each to be helpful. For an example see Information Literacy Research Portfolio Guidelines (Minneapolis Community and Technical College) and Using portfolio assessment in a module in research information skills, published in the December 1999 issue (volume 17, issue 4) of Education for Information.

Annotated Bibliographies. Annotated bibliographies are similar to research portfolios except copies of materials are not included with a bibliography. Annotations can address a variety of issues about the type of information found in each source: who is the audience of the source, how might that information be useful for clinical practice, how credible is the information, etc. Usually annotated bibliographies are more beneficial to the students if the annotations are critical rather than just descriptive. For more information, see How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography from the Cornell University Library and Annotated Bibliographies from the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.

Pathfinders. A variation on the annotated bibliography is the pathfinder, which is a guide to searching the literature on a particular subject. It tends to be more structured than an annotated bibliography, including sections such as a general overview of the topic, reference resources, key books, journals, and databases (including important search terms), web sites, etc. Template for Creating Pathfinders (Springfield Township High School; Erdenheim, PA) has a comprehensive list of resource types that might be included in a pathfinder. There are many online pathfinders, such as Medicine @ the Libraries from Wright State University and Researching health law and bioethics: A guide to selected resources available at the University of Minnesota 

Protocols and Practice Guidelines. Students can use the literature to create or revise clinical practice guidelines. At the University, undergraduate nursing students have worked with hospital personnel to revise practice guidelines and protocols as part of their research class. This is an especially useful assignment because it has obvious clinical relevance, something that term papers sometimes lack.

Research worksheets. Worksheets can be a useful form of guided exploration of a subject or discipline, can being the operative word because it is easy to create worksheets that turn in to scavenger hunts or become easy for students to share answers. Successful worksheets require critical thinking and reflection upon the part of the student.

For More Information

For more information on assessment of students' information management (information literacy) skills:

For more information about designing effective library assignments or to discuss the needs of your students,
please contact Mulford Reference Assistance, 419.383.4218 or