Library Research Tasks for the History Major


Nancy Quam-Wickham

Department of History

California State University Long Beach

Sharlene Sayegh

Department of History

California State University Long Beach


Quam-Wickham, N., & Sayegh, S. (2014). Library Research Tasks for the History Major. California State University Long Beach.


This is the first of a five-part competency-based learning program for the CSULB history methods class that serves as a gateway to upper-division coursework. The five modules (lessons) were developed to introduce students to the terms, concepts, and research methods of historians.

Background and Context

This is the initial module (lesson) in a five-part online competency-based learning program for our History 301: Methodology class that serves as a gateway course to the upper-division major coursework. History 301 provides students with an introduction to research, analysis, writing, and historical thinking skills they will need to be successful in the major. These modules were developed to introduce students to the terms, concepts, and research methods of historians.

This module aligns with the following learning outcomes:

DQP2.0 Specialized Knowledge: Constructs a summative project, paper, performance or application that draws on current research, scholarship and techniques in the field of study, of which one critical step is demonstrating fluency in research tools of the field at the bachelor’s level, novice researcher

DQP2.0 Use of Information Resources: Locates, evaluates, incorporates, and properly cites multiple information resources in different media or different languages in projects, papers or performances; describes characteristics of essential information resources, including their limitations, and explains strategies for identifying and finding such resources; generates information through independent or collaborative inquiry and uses that information in a project, paper or performance.

DQP2.0 Analytic Inquiry: Differentiates and evaluates theories and approaches to selected complex problems within the chosen field of study and at least one other field.

  • Draft History DQP “American Historical Association (revised)”
  • Devise Research Strategies: Develop a methodological practice of gathering evidence
  • CSULB History Programmatic Outcomes
  • Research Skills: Demonstrate the ability to conduct research, using library tools
  • History 301 Course-Level Learning Outcomes

Mechanical Skills: Students will

  • Demonstrate an organized system of research
  • Locate and retrieve appropriate sources relative to a historical topic
  • Master computer skills appropriate to the discipline


Most students enrolled in History 301 are transfer students who come to our major from a range of community colleges and four-year institutions. Our students tend to work at least 25 hours per week while attempting a full-load of university classes. A significant percentage of History majors perform poorly in this essential class (our fail rate in History 301 during Fall 2013 exceeded 35%). Nearly all students report difficulty in mastering relevant library research skills. Difficulty in meeting this learning goal poses a significant barrier to success, as students who cannot master the specialized research skills at a novice level cannot proceed with other tasks required in the course, and, in fact, are thus unable to complete a research paper.

This assignment thus attempts to resolve several problems: it provides a competency-based exercise that students may repeat as many times as necessary to demonstrate mastery in an online environment that will allow students to complete the assignment at any time convenient for their busy schedules.

We have little data on how this assignment works as it just became operational in our system this semester (fall, 2014). However, reports from instructors are trickling in: Instructors like the assignment. But students are discovering three things that they did not anticipate: Effective research in a library takes time; to work with databases, even with the Library’s online catalog, takes practice; it’s essential to read the assignment carefully — the “certificate of completion” may be printed only after a student scores 100% on all components. One student even complained that it took her three hours to do the first module!

While our data is entirely anecdotal at this time, these are among our most important goals for student learning: Research is not easy, it takes time, and it’s a skill that is learned only through practice. It certainly enhances student learning by focusing quite specifically on competence-based learning and developing student skills within the DQP proficiencies. It is individual (and individually) assessed: much like the game culture on which these exercises are based, we are focusing on students mastering one particular skill and demonstrating competence of that skill before s/he can move on to the next level. Program-level assessment will, we imagine, focus on juxtaposing our fail rates from previous terms to this term.

Finally, we have reconfigured the lesson — broken it into two components because tests with our focus group (3 undergrads) left us feeling that the lesson was too big and attempted to accomplish too much.

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