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Incorporating Information Literacy Into Oberlin First Year Seminars

This guide is intended to help Oberlin faculty teaching first year seminars incorporate information literacy.

Defining Research and Inquiry Assignments

Research and Inquiry Assignments ask students to find and use information beyond that assigned in a course to:

  • Answer a question
  • Explore a topic or issue
  • Solve a problem
  • Create new knowledge

Explicitly State Expectations

Some first year students may be accustomed to a high school research process that asks them to:

  • Look for neutral sources that present a single, factual, correct answer to a question.
  • Summarize information provided in those sources without applying their own analysis. 
  • Rely entirely on online sources, especially if they were in high school during the pandemic. 

As they adjust to college-level research, it is helpful to be as explicit as possible with your expectations. Ask: 

  • Do you expect students to develop an original argument building on information gathered from other sources? 
  • Are there particular types of sources you are expecting students to use? (E.g. peer reviewed article, book, primary source, reputable news article, etc.) It is helpful to define these terms for students. Remember that there may be disciplinary differences in what some terms mean. 
  • Are there particular functions you expect different types of sources to be used for? (E.g. using a peer reviewed analysis in one way and a primary text in another way.) Remember that there may be disciplinary differences in how it is appropriate to use different types of sources. 
  • Are there particular search tools you expect students to use? 
  • Are there particular citation practices you expect students to use? 

Hint: The Framework for Information Literacy is a description of assumptions about college-level research and the scholarly research process. 

Identify Bottlenecks

Learning bottlenecks are, "Those places where students tend to get stuck, unable to perform specific tasks or move forward in their learning."


  • Which specific parts of the research process have caused problems for past students? (Finding sources? Evaluating sources? Scoping? Developing an argument?) 
  • What specific steps do students need to take to get past these bottlenecks? 
  • Are any bottlenecks emotional? (E.g. shame over poor time management, imposter syndrome, fear of repeating past negative experiences?)

As you scaffold your research assignments and build them into smaller chunks, consider structuring your scaffold around common bottlenecks. Including a process reflection paper in the scaffold can help you identify bottlenecks for future versions of the assignment. 

Consider Your Disciplinary Knowledge

As an experienced researcher in your field, you have developed a deep and intuitive understanding of your own research process and the threshold concepts for research in your discipline. This deep understanding can make it hard to see where novices coming to a new topic benefit from explicit instruction. 


  • Who are the experts in your field? 
  • What types of sources are considered reputable? How do you expect those sources to be used? 
  • What are the expectations for attribution in your field? 

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest reflecting on disciplinary expectations in the context of the often-interdisciplinary first year seminar. However, sometimes faculty working in an interdisciplinary context end up having expectations for student work that are rooted in their discipline but not stated explicitly to the students. The more you think critically about those expectations and clearly communicate them to students, the better able the students will be to complete assignments successfully. 

Use the Library

Your First Year Library Advisor will be able to: 

  • Work with you on developing a Course Guide highlighting resources relevant to the assignment. 
  • Teach evaluating or retrieving information to your students. 
  • Meet with students who are running into bottlenecks in one-on-one research appointments.