CTL Guide to the Research & Information Literacy Hub Area

Guidance for faculty designing or teaching Research & Information Literacy courses (including assignment resources and examples) in the BU Hub, the university’s general education program.

From the BU Hub Curriculum Guide

“Scholarly research—the process of posing problems, designing effective investigative strategies, collecting and evaluating information, drawing conclusions, and presenting findings—drives the creation and dissemination of new knowledge in and across all academic disciplines, professions, and walks of life. Today’s information explosion places a particular requirement on anyone doing research to develop the abilities associated with information literacy—knowing how to locate needed information, assess the accuracy of sources, and use them to good effect. BU’s mission as a research university embraces the conviction that research and information literacy should be central to an undergraduate university education. By learning from BU faculty how new knowledge is created and disseminated, and by conducting or participating in research, BU students join a community of inquiry with a commitment to the pursuit of knowledge” (for more context, see the Hub Curriculum Guide).

Learning Outcomes for RIL 

Courses and co-curricular activities in this area must have all outcomes.

  1. Students will be able to critically assess both scholarly and public-facing sources, recognizing a variety of ways that sources can be credible; use sources ethically in domains such as attribution of ideas and treatment of human subjects; and interpret and analyze information.
  2. Students will demonstrate understanding of the overall research process and its component parts. As a result, they will be able to formulate good research questions or hypotheses, use disciplinary methods of inquiry, select and deploy sources strategically to address research questions or hypotheses, and contribute to knowledge production.

Learn more about the proposal process for RIL. For guidance on how to think about ethical use of sources, see this interpretive document from the General Education Committee.

Hallmarks of an RIL course

RIL is part of the Hub’s Intellectual Toolkit and contains two related goals. Broadly, learning outcome one is about assessing sources and the ethical use and attribution of sources. Learning outcome two is about the academic research process. In both cases, students should develop skills that they can bring with them (and use) outside the immediate disciplinary context of a course.

BU’s General Education Committee sets out the following criteria for RIL courses in its Interpretive Document:

  • Accessing Information: “The syllabus and/or proposal show that students will have opportunities to search for and locate information sources that can be accessed in a range of ways [. . .]” (GEC Interpretive Document).
  • Assessing Information: “The syllabus and/or proposal show that students have opportunity to explore, assess, and debate the authority of various sources in relation to specific contexts in which they might be used [. . .]” 
  • Using Information Ethically: “The syllabus and/or proposal describe instruction in how information sources are created and how the formal conventions of citation are related to the ways in which information is used and valued in a particular discipline and/or other context [. . .]” 
  • Producing Information through Inquiry: “The syllabus and/or proposal describe a purposeful sequence of low-stakes (ungraded) and high-stakes (graded) assignments that give students the opportunity to participate in a research process [. . .]”

Teaching Students to Assess Sources

A first step in addressing learning outcome one might be to provide tools students can use to identify and assess sources. The tools below should be adapted for a course’s specific context.

SIFT (Stop, Investigate, Find, Trace)

SIFT’s four “moves” can help students quickly assess sources: Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, and Trace claims. The moves have been adopted widely. SIFT was developed by Mike Caulfield of Washington State University Vancouver. 

The CRAAP Test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose)

The CRAAP test is a more comprehensive tool for students to assess sources: Currency/timeliness of info, Relevance of source, Authority/source, Accuracy, and Purpose of info. It was developed by Sarah Blakeslee of California State University, Chico.

BEAM/T (Background, Exhibit, Argument, Method/Theory)

While CRAAP and SIFT are about assessing sources, BEAM/T helps students think about how to use sources as part of academic arguments and the kinds of sources appropriate for a specific genre of academic research. This tool is used widely in BU’s Writing Program. It was developed by Joseph Bizup from Boston University and helps students think about how to use sources as part of academic arguments.

Teaching the Research Process

There are multiple approaches to learning outcome two. The tools below provide a handful of jumping-off points to help faculty teach the research process.

Scaffolded assignments combining research instruction from BU librarians with searching activities and reflections on the research process can be particularly useful. Students learn about research techniques and sources appropriate to the topic of their course and the genre of their assignment (e.g. research paper, report, oral presentation, multimodal composition). Students conduct increasingly complex searches through library sources, report on the results of those searches, and reflect on their changing understanding of the research process and of the scholarly conversation around their topic.

RIL courses often take advantage of BU Library resources

Library Classes & Instruction: librarians present to students on topics such as information literacy and the research process.
Research Guide: strategies for assessing sources as part of the larger research process.
Ask a Librarian: librarians available via text, chat, in-person meetings, and more.

Research as forming a new question

In many disciplines, the research process involves asking questions about a topic or a phenomenon. BU’s Writing Program provides a useful set of resources for students to learn about this aspect of the research process, including videos and small assignments for students on RIL and lesson plans for teaching the research process.

Create a Research Space (CARS) Template for Introductions

As students learn to develop research questions, they will at some point need to articulate why their questions matter to themselves and their audiences. John Swales’s CARS tool is a research-based template to help students communicate the importance of their questions and arguments, in traditional academic genres (e.g., research papers) or newer genres (e.g., podcasts).  

Research Diary Assignment

Students maintain a structured log of their steps and thought processes as they conduct their research. Keeping a log gives them the opportunity to reflect on the research process as they discover more information about a topic. A research diary also allows faculty to trace how students are learning to perform the research process. 

Further Resources

  • D’Angelo, Barbara J., Sandra Jamieson, Barry Maid, & Janice R. Walker (Eds.). (2016). Information Literacy: Research and Collaboration across Disciplines. The WAC Clearinghouse; University Press of Colorado. https://doi.org/10.37514/PER-B.2016.0834
  • Caulfield, M. (2017). Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/textbooks/454
  • On CRAAP
  • Project CORA: An open educational resource for faculty and librarians intended to be “a collaborative space for adapting and experimenting with research assignments and sharing the success or lessons learned so that others may benefit.” Includes a large collection of assignments, sorted by discipline and learning goal.