Fingerprints and Breadcrumbs

As a follow-up to Amanda’s post about information illiteracy:

This fall I am teaching a thesis seminar course for the first time. I have no idea what kind of research skills these students possess, and I’m a big advocate of undergraduates finding and using peer-reviewed journal literature, so I designed an at-home exercise to test their abilities. The exercise’s questions are of the “In the third paragraph on page 37 of their 2007 article in Eurasia Quarterly, Strunk and White state that natural gas production in Central Asia . . .” variety. Each successive question contains less bibliographic information that points to the correct answer. Eventually only an author’s last name and a few key words are presented.  Students get three tries on the exercise, but only the high score is recorded.

I’m hoping the exercise introduces students to certain search techniques that they don’t already know. I also want them to understand how important it is that their sources be cited by complete bibliographic information.