Thursday, November 18, 2010

How Students Use of Information in the Digital Age

New report from the University of Washington using a grant from the Macarthur Foundation on how college students evaluate and use information in the digital age. The summary of the findings are as follows:
All in all, the findings suggest students in both large universities and small colleges use a risk averse strategy based on efficiency and predictability in order to manage and control the information available to them on campuses. Still, most students struggle with the same frustrating open-endedness when trying to find information and conduct research for college courses and to a far lesser extent, for solving an information problem in their personal lives.

Major findings are as follows:
1. Students in the sample took little at face value and reported they were frequent
evaluators of information culled from the Web and to a lesser extent, the campus library.

More often than anything else, respondents considered whether information was up-to date and current when evaluating Web content (77%) and library materials (67%) for course work.

2. Evaluating information was often a collaborative process—almost two-thirds of the
respondents (61%) reportedly turned to friends and/or family members when they
needed help and advice with sorting through and evaluating information for personal use. Nearly half of the students in the sample (49%) frequently asked instructors for assistance with assessing the quality of sources for course work—far fewer
asked librarians (11%) for assistance.

3. The majority of the sample used routines for completing one research assignment to the next, including writing a thesis statement (58%), adding personal perspective to papers (55%), and developing a working outline (51%). Many techniques were
learned in high school and ported to college, according to students we interviewed.

4. Despite their reputation of being avid computer users who are fluent with new
technologies, few students in our sample had used a growing number of Web 2.0
applications within the past six months for collaborating on course research assignments and/or managing research tasks.

5. For over three-fourths (84%) of the students surveyed, the most difficult step of the course-related research process was getting started. Defining a topic (66%), narrowing it down (62%), and filtering through irrelevant results (61%) frequently hampered students in the sample, too. Follow-up interviews suggest students lacked the research acumen for framing an inquiry in the digital age where information abounds and intellectual discovery was paradoxically overwhelming for them.

6. Comparatively, students reported having far fewer problems finding information for personal use, though sorting through results for solving an information problem in their daily lives hamstrung more than a third of the students in the sample (41%).

7. Unsurprisingly, what mattered most to students while they were working on course related research assignments was passing the course (99%), finishing the assignment (97%), and getting a good grade (97%). Yet, three-quarters of the sample also reported they considered carrying out comprehensive research of a topic (78%) and learning something new (78%) of importance to them, too.

Our analysis shows robust relationships and similarities among variables from our sample of students at 25 educational institutions in the U.S. However, these findings should not be viewed as comprehensive, but as another part of our ongoing research.
While additional research is warranted in order to confirm whether or not our conclusions may be generalized to the nationwide college and university population, the size of our sample and consistent patterns of responses do lend credibility to our findings.

In the following pages, we present detailed findings from our analysis in three parts:

Part One: A comparative analysis of how students find information and prioritize their use of information sources, based on survey data from last year (2009) and this yearʼs survey (2010).

Part Two: Findings about how students evaluate information they find on the Web and through the library for course work and personal use. In addition, findings about how students use routine techniques for completing for course-related research assignments, including their use of Web 2.0 applications.

Part Three: Findings about the difficulties, challenges, and obstacles students frequently encounter during the entire research process—from start to finish—for course work and for personal use.

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