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Researching Students' Information Choices: Home

Researching Students’ Information Choices: Determining Identity and Judging Credibility in Digital Spaces

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When assigned a science research project, where do today’s students usually turn for information?  The Internet, of course.  When presented with a mock project and a set of Google search results, how do students select the items they are going to use?  What components of each resource (title, URL, author, date, source, etc.) play a role in that resource's selection?  Our study observes students from grades 4 through graduate school as they choose resources when searching the web.  Building an understanding of this process will help teachers and librarians provide better instruction on these vital stages in the research process.


About the study



Investigators at the University of Florida (UF) George A. Smathers Libraries in partnership with researchers at OCLC and Rutgers University will participate in the three-year research project titled, Researching Students’ Information Choices: Determining Identity and Judging Credibility in Digital Spaces. Our project team is composed of academic librarians, research scientists, an educational technology specialist, a school media researcher, and an advisory panel of practitioners. For this research study, we will consider whether students are format agnostic. First coined by Abram and Luther (2004), the term refers to students who either cannot or do not identify the container (i.e. document type) when making judgments relating to use of digital resources. Several usage studies have reported that students experience trouble distinguishing among different digital resources, such as e-books and e-journals (Croft, 2004; Levine-Clark, 2006; Shelburne, 2009). Soules (2009) goes so far as to say “E-book, e-journal? Users don’t care; in fact they never cared, and many only understood book vs. journal in the print world because of the difference in their physical structures. What they want is relevant content” (pg. S4). But how do students distinguish whether relevant digital content is also credible digital content?  Given the limited published research on how late primary, secondary, community college, and undergraduate STEM students identify and determine credibility, this project will provide new knowledge to librarians and educators. This information will be promulgated with practitioners for incorporation into information literacy courses, and other teaching and learning environments to aid STEM students in effectively determining credibility in the discovery, access, and use of digital resources.

For this research case study, we will study a diverse group of approximately 180 students working in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The students will range in education from primary school to graduate school and be categorized into six groups 1) grades 4-5, 2) grades 6-8, 3) grades 9-12, 4) community college, 5) undergraduate, 6) graduate. Employing a task-based methodology, our case study will observe students’ cognition in action. Working with an advisory panel comprised of librarians and STEM instructors who represent our student groups, immersive, STEM-based simulations containing various digital resources will be created with Articulate’s Storyline software. The project will take place December 2015 – November 2018.  Major activities will include: 1) prescreening STEM student participants using a survey; 2) selecting study participants using survey results to ensure diversity; 3) creating and implementing subject-based simulations using Articulate’s Storyline software to devise a controlled lab environment; 4) utilizing a think-aloud protocol to discern ~180 participants’ choices, behaviors and rationale during video-recorded sessions; 5) coding (using NVivo for videos) and analyzing qualitative and qualitative datasets; 6) disseminating  our findings to the library and educational communities and 7) creating workshops, webinars, and customized exercises to propel information literacy-related instruction for students in K12, community college, and university environments.

We will use webinars, workshops, and conferences to engage with the community and share the study results in venues targeted to public, school, and academic library professionals as well as educators.  We will gather feedback that will help shape the development of student-centered STEM information literacy instruction through the construction of real-world exercises for the library and STEM education community that can accompany information literacy-related instruction.  These customizable exercises will be placed in open educational resources (OER) repositories (e.g. OER Commons) for access and reuse.


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