Big6 Task Definition Tools in Higher Education

Author:Ru Story-Huffman


Task Definition is one of the major steps in the research process, and often times may be a stumbling block for our students. Often, a student will approach the academic reference librarian with only a vague notion of a topic and through careful and critical questioning, the reference librarian can help the student narrow or clarify his or her information needs. To aid our students in the Task Definition stage we need to help them identify the essential questions that require answers, review the assignment as posted in a syllabus, and brainstorm ideas.

Things have changed in our world and in higher education. Students still need information, but now students start to look for information before they truly understand their task. Too often our students believe when they find information on the Internet, no more research is necessary. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and is why I place an emphasis on Task Identification in my interaction with all students, whether one-on-one or in the classroom.

There are many ways to address Task Definition, but the main method is to ask questions to clarify and gain understanding. As indicated in my June 2005 article [“Critical Thinking, Task Definition, and the Reference Interview” ], sometimes students will approach me with an indistinct idea of what they need. To add to the “hellbender” story, I’ve had students ask me for information on history, when what they really needed was information on the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. Or one time a student needed information for a research paper on the Supreme Court of the United States. Now, that topic was a bit more workable, yet there were multiple avenues for research. Did the student want to research the history of the Supreme Court, the Justices, policy, or Court rulings? Each time a student is faced with Task Identification, the activity can become daunting if not handled carefully.

To help students focus on the Task at hand, I started to use LiveBinders,  a great Web2.0 tool to disseminate information. I developed aLiveBinder for Task Definition, which I use with students as a step-by-step process to Task Definition. Each tab on the LiveBinder gives further opportunity to clarify the Task and provides resources a student can print by following the provided URL.

The tabs included on the LiveBinder give students an opportunity to work on answering essential questions identified in Big6 Stage One: Task Definition.  The LiveBinder content offers specific questions to help clarify the scope of the assignment or information need. Students in my Fundamentals of Information Literacy class brainstorm the main idea and related topics by using a printable graphic organizer. Another tab, Task Definition Chart, leads students through a series of questions to help guide realization, and then the final tab assists students to identify key words and related synonyms.

Working through the LiveBinder on Task Definition is an interactive way for our students to work independently or as a group to identify a Task and begin the first step toward completion of the stated assignment, research paper, speech, or presentation. The student may have questions with the assignment itself, the direction their research should take, or just deciding on a topic of interest. Once an idea is composed, using the Task Definition LiveBinder, we are able to present the information in a Web2.0 visual sense that also incorporates technology as means to meet student learning outcomes. Five years after my initial article on Task Definition, the idea is the same, but our methods to guide our students through the process can now include interesting technology and methods to help meet the educational needs of our learners. Who knows that the next five years will bring?