Increasing the Authenticity of Group Assignments in an Online Research Course may Lead to Higher Academic Achievement


  • Cari Merkley Mount Royal University



community of inquiry, online instruction, information literacy


A Review of:
Finch, J. L., & Jefferson, R. N. (2013). Designing authentic learning tasks for online library instruction. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 39(2), 181-188.


Objective – To explore what impact assigning authentic tasks to students deliberately grouped by their majors in an online library research course has on student perceptions of teaching quality (teaching presence) and satisfaction.

Design – Empirical comparative study.

Setting – Medium-size (10,500 full-time students) liberal arts college in the United States of America.

Subjects – 33 undergraduate students enrolled in a library research course.

Methods – The study focusses on two sections of a one-credit online library research course taught by library faculty. The 17 students in the Spring “express” section were randomly assigned to groups and asked to complete a group annotated bibliography project using MLA style (Class Random). The 16 students registered in the Summer section of the same course were grouped by their majors, and asked to complete a modified version of the annotated bibliography group project in which they were asked to identify and then utilize the citation style most appropriate for their discipline (Class Deliberate). Students in Class Deliberate also received instruction around the role of subject specific citation styles in scholarly communication. Both sections completed a final assignment in which they developed a portal of resources to support their future studies or careers. All 33 students in both sections were invited to complete a modified online version of the Community of Inquiry (COI) survey consisting of 16 questions relating to student perceptions of the course’s teaching and cognitive presences. Questions relating to social presence were not administered. The final grades awarded to all students in both sections were also analyzed.

Main Results – A total of 59% of the students in Class Random (10/17) and 67% of the students in Class Deliberate (11/16) completed the online survey. There were no statistically significant differences in the survey responses between the two sections with both groups of students rating the instructor’s teaching presence and the course’s cognitive presence highly. Only 40% of the respondents from Class Random and 46% from Class Deliberate agreed that working with peers facilitated their learning. The mean final grade received by students in Class Deliberate was 95.27 versus 86.15 in Class Random, a statistically significant difference (p<0.10).

Conclusion – Assigning authentic tasks has a positive impact on academic achievement, but differences in course timing and the structure and the higher number of seniors enrolled in Class Deliberate may partly account for the differences in the mean grade. The COI theoretical framework is useful for understanding the complex multidisciplinary nature of information literacy instruction, particularly in an online environment. Areas for future research include the role of social presence and its relationship to the age of participants in online library instruction.


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Author Biography

Cari Merkley, Mount Royal University

Associate Professor




How to Cite

Merkley, C. (2015). Increasing the Authenticity of Group Assignments in an Online Research Course may Lead to Higher Academic Achievement. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 10(2), 158–160.



Evidence Summaries