• This workspace has been inactive for over 11 months, and is scheduled to be reclaimed. Make an edit or click here to mark it as active.
  • If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Rational and planning for information Seeking Investigation

Page history last edited by bradyx 12 years, 1 month ago




Information Seeking Behaviour and Information Literacy Skills: An in depth observational study

October - January 2011

Background overview

Students today have been categorised as the net savvy generation with terms such as ‘net generation’ (Tapscott, 1998), Millennials’ (Howe & Strauss, 2000), Google Generation (CIBER/UCL, 2008) and ‘digital natives’ (Prensky 2001a) to describe them. Oblinger (2003) explains that these terms are mainly used to describe or categorise those born in or after 1982.


Although deemed net savvy due to ‘growing up digital’ (Tapscott, 2008) issues have been raised by teaching staff about students’ application of technology to an educational context. Most of the concerns regularly raised are those related to the processes of finding, making judgements and using information for an educational purpose and how they felt these skills were very poor throughout FE. The issue of information seeking skills and abilities to use information effectively in education is often referred to in terms such as ‘information literacy’ or ‘learning literacy’ and has been raised as a weakness in previous studies (JISC LLiDA, 2009; CIBER/UCL, 2008; Bartlett and Miller, 2011) as an area of concern that needed to be addressed or investigated further. Our overall project aim is to investigate these weaknesses within our college student community and then develop a framework of OCN qualifications to underpin and enhance such core skills in the FE sector.


To formally recognise the extent of teachers concerns regarding information literacy skills a selection of key college staff were brought together to identify the core issues. They were asked to share their observations and experiences to discuss, identify and agree what they felt were the principal causes for concern and where they felt these weaknesses were rooted. This meeting comprised of three teachers, two study centre assistants, two members of the ILT team and the quality manager.


This meeting offered several overlapping instances of concern where students were asked to find specific information by a tutor or in some cases for an assignment but did not either read questions properly or relied on the quickest answers possible on Google regardless of accuracy or checking. They felt students lacked judgement and evaluation skills for the questions they entered onto Google; for sources they found or lacked looking at a range of sources before they decided to choose an answer. They all strongly agreed that students too heavily relied on the technology to do the thinking processes for them; they also felt that they relied on the technology so much they didn’t even read questions; they also felt the copy and paste syndrome meant students no longer read or dissected questions. Their general consensus agreed with the study conducted by CIBER/UCL (2008, P.20) that found that the ‘Google Generation’ were far from expert searchers, in fact CIBER/UCL go as far to say that to believe they were expert searchers is a dangerous myth. Further CIBER/UCL findings that were corroborated by our college staff team can be found in Appendix 1.


To examine the depth of these weaknesses within our college community it was felt that this needed to be investigated using a more detailed observational approach to see first hand the information seeking habits of our students as they happened in real-life scenarios. Many methods were discussed at length to do this but all agreed that a form of task based study be conducted that could both offer both observational and process data but also useful quantitative data regarding the key processes and tools chosen by our ‘information seekers’. Discussions were also held about the types of tasks that would offer an interesting insight into information seeking habits. A range of ideas were presented and a range of the types of information sources relevant to those that students may encounter or be asked to find or reference within their learning context or as part of assignment requirements. These were identified as general web searches, key historical dates and facts, newspapers and media articles, newspaper archives, books, videos, specific or official data (such as met office data; census data; official government figures and records) and formal credible published sources of information such as journals, books and research articles.


It was then agreed that each of the tasks had to be designed to cater for the whole college student community so not necessarily specific to a certain level or stage in learning and after consideration of many options a generic set of questions were agreed:


  • In what year was the daily play lottery started?
  • In the book Business L2 BTEC First (Pearson 2010) there is a quote on a yellow background in the chapter of financial forecasting asking “What is so special about the cash flows of seasonal businesses” on which page is it on and what is the image it is linked to?
  • Find a video demonstration advising on first aid at a car accident scene
  • What was the front page headline in the Guardian Newspaper on Sept 25th 2003?
  • What was the average rainfall in Wales in August 2010? 


Each question and the way they were worded for a broad range of students were discussed at length. It was also discussed as to what weaknesses we were ‘assuming’ would happen as learners attempt to seek the information and as such each question would have its own set of hypotheses. Each question therefore was designed to identify the specific depths of any weaknesses (or strengths) when users were seeking for specific resources or information. Each question was set to measure the key weakness assumptions and anecdotal concerns offered by those at the meeting previously mentioned.


On a trial pilot of this activity it takes approximately one hour to complete all of the six tasks



Questions, key concerns and hypotheses


All the tasks were based on a paper sheet, not in electronic format. This was to ensure they had to write what they were doing down and (where applicable in Google) force them to type the questions out for themselves.


In what year was the daily play lottery started?

This task was developed and based upon an experience offered by a teacher. He claimed he had asked the same question yet learners didn't read the question and answered with the national lottery answer instead of the daily play lottery date. His observation was that learners did not necessarily read the question properly due to copy and paste and relied on Google to give them an instant correct answer. On reviewing his example and entering the daily play question, Google does in fact offer within the initial results information that contains the national lottery start date, it is not until you search slightly further down the first few pages of the results that you can actually obtain the correct answer. His opinion was that learners relied heavily on copy and paste and therefore didn’t read the question to know what it actually said. He then felt that they relied on Google to read the question for them and mainly focused on the first few results it offered rather than deeper thinking or analysis of the question or the results. In this research we decided to test his opinion to ascertain as to what extent his example was true and how widespread this practice was if we conducted it across a range of learners and levels within the college.


In the book Business L2 BTEC First (Pearson 2010) there is a quote on a yellow background in the chapter of financial forecasting asking “What is so special about the cash flows of seasonal businesses” on which page is it on and what is the image it is linked to?

Concern was raised by members of the study centre team that learners today rely too heavily on internet sources and there is a decline in book use. The teachers in the meeting also echoed that more internet sources were referenced in assignments than books. The book specifically chosen for this activity was not available as an e-book or available online, it was in fact located approximately 5 metres from the area used for the task. The study centre staff raised concern that although students were inducted into the library systems at the start of their course they did not seem to know how to or want to locate a book in a study centre, use the library systems or take advantage of the staff help available. The staff felt that many students would prefer to remain in their seat and search the web than get up from their seats to physically find a book. It was decided to make the learner participants fully aware that any of the books they needed for the tasks were available and very close at hand. With this in mind we wanted to see how many learners actually turned to the web or how many referred to the library system or staff to find the book and find the correct answer.


Find a video demonstration advising on first aid at a car accident scene

The subject of finding a good and credible video to demonstrate first aid was an interesting idea. There was an assumption that learners would turn only to YouTube or Google to gain a video without searching other first aid related sources such as St Johns ambulance, NHS sites, The Red Cross or other similar public services sites. We were keen to see if any turned to the subject area of ‘first aid’ or just turned to Google and YouTube, including copy and paste of the question.


What was the front page headline in the Guardian Newspaper on Sept 25th 2003?

In the same way that the lottery task aims to test the reliance on copy and paste and Google for immediate answers, this task offers the same type of investigation. Newspaper headlines are certainly accessible through Google. However there are other ways to more accurately find a specific newspaper or headline. In this instance if you were to type this exact question into Google the top answer in the results does in fact take you to a guardian headline. However, the date is not Sept 25th 2003, but September 23rd 2003. We wanted to see if the depth of checking questions and sources of information would pick up on this difference in date or weather they would immediately accept the first answer in Google. Google also offers around four different articles for the date of Sept 25th 2003 and we wanted to see if participants would check or know which one was the front page headline rather than just an article from that day. We additionally wanted to find out if there was a stronger reliance on Google rather than turning to more formal newspaper archives or the guardian website which offer a more focused and reliable means to find front page headlines on a specific date.


What was the average rainfall in Wales in August 2010?

Would learners turn directly to Google or would they think to visit and search within more formal sources such as the met office, the environment agency or similar. We were also interested to see what kinds of sources they would accept their answer from as this information is very specific and usually monitored directly by the likes of the Met Office. Would they check in any other sources or just find the first answer on any website or source. We were very keen in this task to see if the use of Google has changed the way they would look for data. Prior to Google, agencies such as the Met Office would have most likely been the first contact for such specific information. Has this changed now with Google being the first source rather than the formal agencies themselves?


Find a good credible published source of information that outlines the contrasting views on the child development nature/nurture debate.

This question specifically asks for ‘a good credible published source of information’ and as such we were keen to see if participants noticed this as asking for something slightly different or more scholarly to the previous questions. We wanted to see if the question was interpreted as purely ‘a source of information’ or whether they interpreted or took notice of the words ‘credible’ or ‘published’ as more scholarly or a more traditionally published format. We were keen to see how this was interpreted and also to see if by default they found a website on Google or searched for the more traditional forms of credible publishing such as journals, books or recognised institutions or leading figures.




The participants who took part in this research ranged from school age (14-16) college students all they way up to adults on a professional qualification.

Of these groups who participated in the research we chose a representative cross section of 163 individuals broken down into approx 20 from each sub group of Schools 14-16, FE Vocational Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, A-Level, HND, Professional courses to take part in this particular information seeking study task. Those who took part were randomly selected due to their availability to complete a one hour task rather than specifically chosen as individuals or groups.


Number of participants who took part in ‘Information Seeking Task’ by group/level:


Sub groups of participants

Participant numbers

Schools (14-16)


FE Vocational Level 1


FE Vocational Level 2


FE Vocational Level 3






Adult Professional course



All of students who took part in this study fit into the ‘Google generation’ (CIBER/UCL, 2008) profile apart from 16 professional qualification students whose age puts them into a different generational description. However, they were included in this study specifically to offer any generational comparisons or similarities when searching for information, especially where the search was conducted online.


The task was conducted specifically in two study centres that are adjacent to each other to ensure all were within the same locality to the resources needed offering an equal provision to all those being observed. Most specifically the book required in one of the questions was located in Spires Study Centre in the line of sight to where the tasks were being conducted or accessible within close proximity of less than 5 meters from the adjacent study centre.


Image 1: Book Location in Spires Study Centre 



Each session took was conducted over an hour period so learners had ample the time to complete the tasks. The sessions were also supervised and guided with two supervisors present. The role was to ensure all students knew how to record what they we doing, the resources they were finding and record any extra information they felt was relevant.



The results of the six individual tasks are discussed seperately:


Daily Play Lottery Task

Book Task

Newspaper Headline Task

First Aid Video Task

Credible Published source of Information Task

Weather Task





Bartlett, J. and Miller, C.  (2011)Truth, lies and the Internet: a report into young people’s digital Fluency. [Online] Available from: http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Truth_-_web.pdf


Beetham, H. McGill, L and Littlejohn, A. (2009) Thriving in the 21st century: Learning Literacies for the Digital Age (LLiDA project) JISC Project [Online] Available from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/projects/llidareportjune2009.pdf


CIBER/UCL (2008) Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER) briefing paper, University College London; also available online at http://routes.open.ac.uk/ ixbin/ hixclient.exe?_IXDB_=routes&_IXSPFX_=g&submit-button=summary&%24+with+res_id+is+res18483=


Howe, N. and Strauss, W.(2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York, NY: Vintage.


Oblinger, D, (2003) Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials: Understanding the "New
Students" [Online] Available from:  http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erm0342.pdf


Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’, On the Horizon, MCB University Press, vol.9, no.5; also available online at http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf (accessed12 January 2009)


Tapscott, D. (1998) Growing Up Digital. The Rise of the Net Generation, New York: McGraw Hill



Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.