INTRODUCTION: As an English instructor, I realize that sooner or later my students will all be faced with doing research in the college library. Additionally, by reading my students’ journals, I know many of them prefer to work independently, even if this approach is not always the most successful strategy. So I decided to combine an exercise that would introduce them to the college library and provide an opportunity for them to learn the value of interdependence.

This activity is adaptable to any subject or campus resource simply by revising the questions on the handout. The key is to keep the tasks simple but somewhat time-consuming so that working in teams becomes a real benefit to the students. The tasks should involve going to a specific place on or off campus, for example a computer lab, the Student Services Center, a local museum or, as in my case, the library.


  • Show writers how to work steadily on an extended project.
  • Encourage broad (many types of sources) and deep (sources with intense focus) research strategies.
  • Reinforce critical thinking and writing.


  • For homework, assign Chapter 5 in the On Course text on “Employing Interdependence” (or another reading on the value of interdependence).
  • Handout: Discovery Tasks (appended below)


1. In class, discuss the homework reading regarding the value of interdependence. Emphasize the importance of working in teams and seeking help in coursework.

2. At the end of class, hand out the “Discovery Tasks” homework assignment. Tell students they have one week (or whatever time you choose) to complete the assignment. Without specifically telling them to work together, remind students that the only instructions are to answer the questions on the assignment sheet. How they choose to do this work is up to them. You want to hint that interdependence is the way to go, but you do not want to tell them this. That is the life lesson you hope they will discover.

3. On the day the assignment is due, have the students write their answers on the board. Review the answers together for correctness.

4. Ask students to write a paragraph on, “How did you find the answers to the homework questions? Describe what you actually did.”

5. Have students share their paragraphs with the class, finding out how many students worked as teams.

6. Discuss how employing interdependence on this assignment might have been the best approach. The life lesson to draw out is, “Interdependence can often lead to better results in less time.”


The first outcome of the Discovery Tasks Project is that students who have never been in the college library before actually go inside and find their way around. Everyone is usually able to correctly answer the questions, and each student typically checks out one book pertaining to their current choice of major or career. As a practical assignment for learning how to find one’s way around the library, this one is excellent.

In a recent semester, the most interesting results came with the paragraphs on the process the students used. Only three pairs of students realized they could (and should) work together. However, of those three pairs, one student failed to show up, and one student got angry with a reference librarian and stormed off to “do it her way!” Phuong, a shy young woman who sat in the back of the room by herself and is very self-conscious about her English skills, turned out to be the most interdependent of the class. She not only met with another student, but when one librarian couldn’t answer a question, she sought out a staff member in another area at the college for help. When that didn’t work out, she stopped someone from the Registration office and randomly asked him some of the questions. She ended her paragraph with “I recognized that working with other people is more fun than doing something alone.”

On the other end of the spectrum was Iveth who started out by asking for help and receiving a map of the library. When she had further questions, she went to the reference librarian who “didn’t answer any of my questions.” So, in a huff, Iveth went and studied for her math test instead. Another student from the class, Luis, asked to work with her on the library project, but Iveth said she wanted to work alone. Eventually, Iveth cooled off and finished the project by herself. In class, Luis accused Iveth of being rude to him and unwilling to be interdependent. Iveth said she was so angry at the librarian’s rudeness that she didn’t have time to deal with Luis! This led to a wonderful discussion of communication skills and other ways Iveth could have handled the situation. [Editor’s Note: Here’s another example of the importance of Emotional Intelligence! sd]

Lucia, who worked on the project on her own when her partner failed to show up at the library, decided to email the Dean of the Library for some answers and was delighted to get a quick response. I was impressed with her creative approach.


I think this was a worthwhile exercise for several reasons. First, the students used varying approaches to get answers, from asking the librarians and other college staff, to using the college computers and email, to just wandering around with a map and looking for answers on the walls (such as who is the library named after). But more importantly, the project was a lesson in what happens when students choose to be interdependent. Sometimes their partner doesn’t follow through. Sometimes the person they ask for help isn’t helpful. And then they have to use their own wiles and resources. But sometimes, interdependence makes their task so much easier.

On a practical note, I learned that when I give my students a library assignment “about” the library, I should notify the librarians so they know what to expect. The Dean of the Library told me that the librarians are trained to guide students to find answers themselves, but my assignment basically required them to get some of the answers from the library staff. The librarian did not mean to be rude to the student; she just didn’t understand the assignment and the student wasn’t able to communicate clearly with her.

Personally, I realized that as I have matured, I have become more interdependent, although often times I think I can do it best by myself. I have no qualms about asking for help or insisting that others pull their weight in a collaborative project. But I think for a young student, it is hard to do this. It can be scary to ask a librarian for help. As an adult, I don’t have the time to be intimidated; I just ask for help when necessary. As an instructor, I rely on my colleagues when I tackle a new course or new work. As a dean, I rely on faculty and administrators; we all work together towards the success of students and the college. I try to convey this to my students. If I am a good role model for them, perhaps they will understand that interdependence is a good thing.


The idea for this project came from a discussion I had with Writing Faculty at the University of California, Irvine. They give their students a similar project to get them in the university libraries. I decided to adapt it to a discussion on interdependence.


Downing, Skip. On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life. Cengage Learning.

HANDOUT: Discovery Tasks Project

Directions: Answer the following Discovery Task questions. Answers are to be typed on a separate sheet of paper. Project is due Monday, November 4, at the beginning of class.

How many floors are in the Shatford Library?
Where is the computer lab in the Shatford Library?
Where is the library’s orientation room located?
What is the purpose of the Terrace Room?
What are the names of the different study rooms?
Where is the Contemporary Literary Criticism series located?
What is the name and correct title of the head librarian at PCC?
Where is the college catalogue located?
Who or what is “Shatford?”
Write down the title, author, and call number of one book in the library that pertains to your current choice of career or major. You might even consider checking it out and bringing it to class (optional).

SUGGESTIONS FOR ALTERNATIVE QUESTIONS (for alternative campus resources)

**Student Computer Center:
Where do student get their computer i.d. number?
How do students get a password for the student network?
How many stations are in the computer center?
When is it not open?
What format do the campus computers use?

**Student Services Center:
In what building can you find Admissions and Records and Financial Aid?
How does a student get psychological counseling?
Who is the Vice President of Student Services?
What does a copy of a transcript cost?
When is walk-in counseling available?

**Local Library:
What bus can students take from the college to the library?
Can students use their college library card at the public library?
What on-line periodical services does the library subscribe to?
What does it cost to print out articles from the network?
Who is the head librarian?
What hours is the library open?

–Amy Ulmer, Dean and Faculty, English, Pasadena City College, CA

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