Creating Research Assignments That “Stick” With Students

Why would the author of a paper start off by relating a story about a lab exercise involving the autopsy of a pig that she experienced as a college student? While it’s not particularly attractive imagery, it certainly does send a powerful message about the tremendous value that authentic learning has for college students. That new paper from EDUCAUSE is titled “Why Today’s Students Value Authentic Learning”.

The author readily admits that authentic learning methods have existed for decades, but with new technologies that can allow it to happen in virtual environments there is resurgence in interest. A 10-point list suggests what constitutes authentic learning:

“has real-world relevance;is ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and subtasks needed to complete the activity;

comprises complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time;

provides the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources;

provides the opportunity to collaborate;

provides the opportunity to reflect;

can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes;

is seamlessly integrated with assessment;

creates polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else; and

allows competing solutions and a diversity of outcomes.” (3)


While creating a course or instruction program that offers opportunities for authentic learning is more time consuming for both the instructor and student, research supports that students cite relevance as the key value to authentic learning in the classroom. It creates the linkage between course content and how a student envisions and experiences a possible future career. As the report states, “students say they are more likely to engage with the material because they do not regard it as busy work.”

Two skills that all educators know students will need in the 21st century workplace are cross-disciplinary problem solving and critical thinking. Achieving success at both involves gaining proficiency as a researcher. You can’t solve problems or think critically about them if you don’t have high quality information with which to work. Temple University librarians are skilled in helping faculty to develop authentic research assignments that integrate real problem solving into coursework. Working collaboratively, faculty and librarians can develop research assignments that are far more than “busy work” for students. Great research assignments, like the research memories of the author, should be “sticky” so that they stay with students throughout their years at Temple and beyond. Talk to a librarian about constructing a research assignment that is made to stick.

-Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian

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