Gateway Services

Students as Scholars: A Faculty/Instructor Guide for English Composition

Q: How does information literacy relate to the Students as Scholars QEP?

George Mason University's Students as Scholars Initiative seeks "to foster a culture of student scholarship through increased participation in and celebration of scholarly inquiry"

As experts in teaching information literacy, librarians are available to assist you in incorporating the goals of all levels of the Students as Scholars Initiative into your course. Information literacy, the ability to recognize what information you need, where to find it, how to evaluate it, and how to use that information effectively, is essential to the learning outcomes of the Initiative.qep

Like writing, information literacy is a lifelong skill. Better information literacy skills lead to better student scholarship.

If our students are to engage in scholarship at the undergraduate level, we must take deliberate and system-wide steps to integrate the development of information literacy competencies into the fabric of the undergraduate curriculum.

Five Components of Information Literacy
  • Need: The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
  • Access: The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
  • Evaluate: The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system
  • Use: The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Issues: The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses information ethically and legally

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at

Q: What information literacy skills should my students have to meet Mason's Students as Scholars standards?

Discovery of Scholarship level

Students will understand how knowledge is generated and disseminated through scholarship, and the importance of scholarship to society. In order to achieve this, students should have the ability to do the following:

  • Articulate where information comes from and how it is disseminated (Information Cycle)
  • Develop and execute basic searches in a library catalog, and in general databases, to find information in books, journals, and newspapers
  • Distinguish between different types of sources including popular and scholarly sources
  • Evaluate the credibility of a source based on criteria such as bias, authorship, and purpose

Students should have familiarity with the following library information:

  • The library website as a gateway to both digital and print materials
  • Locations of campus libraries and the ability to locate in them resources relevant to course-related information needs
  • The variety of ways in which library assistance is available
Scholarly Inquiry/Creation level

Students will articulate a scholarly question; engage in key elements of the scholarly process; and situate the concepts, practices, or results of scholarship within a broader context. In order to achieve this, students should have the ability to do the following:

  • Narrow/broaden the information needed to achieve a manageable topic/subject focus
  • Identify and use basic library tools to analyze resources relevant to course-related needs
  • Identify core resources in their major area of study including multidisciplinary and subject databases
  • Select the most appropriate resource (e.g., library catalog, database, website, etc.) to search for information
  • Develop a basic search strategy for including identifying multiple search terms
  • Evaluate sources for relevancy to his or her own research
  • Retrieve the full-text of chosen sources

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at

Q: How can I request a course related library orientation for my students?

Request instruction through our online form. This link includes a list of specific topics and activities that you can request for your library instruction session.

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at

Q: How can my students and I get the most out of library instruction?

Here are some tips:

  • Be there. Library instruction works best as a team effort between librarians and instructor. It also shows your students that you think it's important.
  • Request your instruction session at least two weeks in advance.
  • Wait until your students have a topic to research. Not only will the instruction seem more relevant to them, but they'll remember it better if they use it right away. Further, if students have refined their chosen topics and completed some preliminary background research, they will be able to spend more time in class searching databases with librarian assistance.
  • Think about what you want your students to get from the instruction. Our online instruction request form has a number of options that you can choose from. The more specific you are, the better the session will go. You can also ask the librarians what has worked well in other classes.
  • Send us a copy of relevant assignment(s) and your syllabus.

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at

Q: What kinds of library assignments work best?

Library assignments work best when they have a direct connection to other assignments from your course, such as research papers or presentations. In other words, they tend to pay less attention to library assignments that they perceive to be "busy work."

Here are some general tips for creating research assignments, as well as things you should avoid.


Work with a librarian to develop and implement library assignments.
Designing research assignments is a labor-intensive activity. Working with a librarian can provide you with extra support and resources to ensure that your assignments are designed to help make your students successful researchers. Librarians can be wonderful "debuggers," making sure that the research component of your assignment is doable and that there aren't any unforeseen roadblocks in the way.

Clarify and state your objectives, to yourself and your students.
What do you expect students to learn as a result of this assignment, and how do these objectives fit with your course objectives? The National Information Literacy Competency Standards can help by articulating measurable outcomes for building information literacy skills.

Be careful not to make assumptions about common experience or skill levels using the University Libraries.
For example, are you assuming that your students will know to look for scholarly articles for your annotated bibliography assignment? Will they know how to identify a scholarly journal? Do they know what an index or database is and why it is useful to use them?

Use InfoGuides and other course support tools to supplement your teaching.
The more specific you can be about where to go in the library system or online, and what to do there, the more effective your assignments will be. It may be possible for a librarian to create a specific research guide, such as an InfoGuide for your class/assignment.

Make sure that the library can support the assignment requirements.
Avoid assigning or signing off on topics that are so current, specialized or "localized" that little or no information is available. If you have questions about the "fit" of a particular topic to the library collection, please contact the Libraries at or Ask Us!

Consider a scaffolded approach to creating library assignments.
Many large research papers are overwhelming to students because they involve many new steps. By creating a scaffolded approach, you can provide help and direction to students at each stage in the project. There are many ways to do this. For example, ask students to hand in an annotated bibliography prior to the paper's due date to ensure that the students are finding quality sources for their topic. You might also give them a worksheet asking them to identify several resources and search strategies that they might use.

Check your assignment before re-using it to see if the web page, database, guide, etc. is still current. The University Libraries web site and most other web pages are "living" spaces in the sense that materials are constantly changing. Stay on top of your assignment by periodically checking in with the University Libraries Educational Services office to ensure that any directions you've given within the assignment are still valid.


Do not assume your students have a uniform level of research skills.
A few direct questions in class about experience with online catalogs and periodical databases will give you some sense of the general level of experience. Asking these questions will also help you to determine your objectives for the library aspect of the research assignment. If you find your students have overestimated their research skills, you may contact the University Libraries Educational Services office to discuss options for increasing your students research proficiency.

Do not refer students to specific journals or magazines for browsing unless it will serve a particular purpose.
Browsing is not the best approach to most undergraduate research. Students will have more success if you recommend a particular database, identify its online location, and describe the database's scope. Browsing may work at the graduate level, where the researcher is aware of the core journals in his or her field, but not for students working on general topics.

Do not send an entire class to the library in search of the same items.
"Scavenger Hunts" can work under tightly controlled conditions, but more often students perceive such assignments as busywork. Unless the scavenger hunts are focused, brief, and require the student to explore the specific resource and reflect on its use, they tend to sour students on additional library use.

Do not give students an incomplete or faulty reference to an item and expect the student or the library staff to figure it out.
If you must give an erroneous citation for the purpose of illustrating that many researchers perform sloppy research, tell them specifically what you are doing and what their specific assignment is.

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at

Q: Are there sample research assignment ideas that you could give me?

Use the Scaffolding Research Process

Conduct the research for a term paper. Do everything except write it. At various stages, students submit a clearly defined topic, annotated bibliography of useful sources, outline of paper, thesis statement, and an opening paragraph with summary.

Purpose: Focuses on stages of research and parts of a paper, rather than on writing it.

Use Google and Other General Resources as a Starting Place for Research

Ask students to compare a specific research topic using Google and a library database, such as ProQuest Research Library or Academic Search Complete. This type of assignment allows students to compare the type of results in the different "search engines."

Purpose: While Google may be easier to use will it provide adequate resources to perform the specific research required for your class. This assignment can highlight when it is useful to use Google and when it is not. The University Libraries Educational Services office will have worksheets available or will be able to customize a worksheet for this type of assignment.

Create a Pathfinder

Summary: The student goes through the research process, determining his or her information need, researching, evaluating materials, and then creating a resource list (called a pathfinder). Typical pathfinders include: 1. A short description of the topic, research problem, or a thesis statement 2. A list of keywords that were useful. Explaining and identifying the words that created better searches helps the students in refining their research. 3. A list of resources, both print and online where information could be found. Acceptable resources could include books, videos, journal article, blogs, web sites, etc. 4. A description of the research process, i.e. which databases were helpful (or not), which organizations published "good" information, why certain search terms were better than others, successes, pitfalls, etc. 5. A short annotated bibliography of the "best" sources. Usually three to five pages in length.
Purpose: Shows evidence that the student has mastered a balanced, thoughtful approach to research.

Create a Reading Packet

Summary: The model for this assignment is the annotated book of readings with which most students are familiar. In this case, however, rather than being given the anthology, they are asked to compile it themselves. The assignment can limit the acceptable content to scholarly articles written within the last ten years, or it can be broadened to include popular articles, chapters or excerpts from monographs, subject encyclopedia articles, blogs, journal articles, websites. Students could be asked to write an introduction to the anthology that displays an overall understanding of the subject. In addition, students could describe each item and explain why it is included. The assignment could also require a bibliography of items also considered for inclusion as well as copies of the items selected.
Purpose: Gives students the opportunity to successfully search for and locate materials and evaluate their relevancy and importance to their subject.

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Summary: Find a reference to a study from a newspaper or popular magazine, such as Time, Psychology Today, Life, etc. Then have students find the actual study in a scholarly journal and write a paragraph or two comparing the popular sources with the original research.
Purpose: Differentiates popular from scholarly resources and helps students evaluate when it is most appropriate to use each resource.

Team Resource Evaluation

Summary: Assign each team a research question and then assign each team member one or more types of resources, i.e. subject encyclopedia, popular periodical article, journal article, web site, monograph, etc. Have each team member report on his or her resource, including how it was found, a summary of the information it contains, and an evaluation of the reliability of the author/editor/source. Purpose: Students will be able to identify which source contains the type information required for their information need.

Analyze the Argument (Assignment 1)

Summary: Identify and examine the assumptions implicit in an article. Identify the author's thesis. Outline the theoretical framework used to account for the results. Instructor may want to hand out specific questions in order to focus on different aspects of the article.
Purpose: Provides practice in reading what is implicit, rather than explicit, in a paper.

Analyze the Argument (Assignment 2)

Summary: Examine the design, data, and interpretation of the data in a research study for adequacy and consistency. Instructor may want to hand out questions, to pinpoint specific aspects of the article. Purpose: Focuses on the critical evaluation of research.

Examine Coverage of a Controversial Issue
Summary: Examine the treatment of a controversial issue in several sources (newspaper editorial, scholarly journal, journals from different disciplines, etc.)
Purpose: Emphasizes the multiple perspectives on any issue

Present a Poster Session
Summary: Research a topic and present it as a poster that other students will use to learn about the topic.
Purpose: Gives the opportunity to conduct a search and requires the students to express the important points succinctly.

Q: What databases should my students use?

We recommend starting with the following:

Proquest Research Library: Provides access to newspapers, magazines, multidisciplinary scholarly journals,

Academic Search Complete: Provides access to multidisciplinary scholarly journals, magazines

JSTOR: Multidisciplinary scholarly journals focusing on humanities and social sicence topic. Contains full-text, but all articles were published at least three years ago Science Direct (include Link to database) Provides full-text access to scholarly journals mainly in the natural and health sciences. Does have a limited collection of social science and humanities journals.

For more subject specific databases, check out our ENGH 302 InfoGuide

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at

Q: Do you offer general library workshops outside of class time for my students?

You can send your students to drop-in workshops as part of your course requirements or for extra-credit.

Zotero Citation management

A list of current workshops

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at

Q: I teach online. What kind of support can you give me?

Contact for more information.

E-Learning for your resources for your students includes:


We'd be happy to work with you to create resource guides for your students.

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at

Additional resources are available from the University Libraries on the Resources for Distance Students and Faculty webpage

Q: Do you offer training for faculty?

One-to-One Consultation & Support
Librarians are happy to work individually with you to create research guides and offer assistance with integrating information literacy into your assignments and curriculum.

More tutorials

For more information contact the University Libraries Educational Services office at