A multiple case study exploration of undergraduate subject searching

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Graham, Rumi Y.
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Toronto, ON : University of Toronto, Faculty of Information, c2011.
Subject searching—seeking information with a subject or topic in mind—is often involved in carrying out undergraduate assignments such as term papers and research reports. It is also an important component of information literacy—the abilities and experiences of effectively finding and evaluating, and appropriately using, needed information—which universities hope to cultivate in undergraduates by the time they complete their degree programs. By exploring the subject searching of a small group of upper-level, academically successful undergraduates over a school year I sought to acquire a deeper understanding of the contexts and characteristics of their subject searching, and of the extent to which it was similar in quality to that of search and domain experts. Primary data sources for this study comprised subject searching diaries maintained by participants, and three online subject searches they demonstrated at the beginning, middle, and end of the study during which they talked aloud while I observed, followed by focused interviews. To explore the quality of study participants’ subject searching I looked for indications of advanced thinking in thoughts they spoke aloud during demonstration sessions relating to using strategy, evaluating, and creating personal understanding, which represent three of the most challenging and complex aspects of information literacy. Applying a layered interpretive process, I identified themes within several hundred instances of participants’ advanced thinking relating to these three information literacy elements, with evaluative themes occurring most often. I also noted three factors influencing the extent of similarity iii between the quality of participants’ advanced thinking and that of search and domain experts which reflected matters that tended to be i) pragmatic or principled, , ii) technical or conceptual, and iii) externally or internally focused. Filtered through these factors, participants’ instances of advanced thinking brought to mind three levels of subject searching abilities: the competent student, the search expert, and the domain expert. Although relatively few in number, I identified at least some advanced thinking evincing domain expert qualities in voiced thoughts of all but one participant, suggesting the gap between higher order thinking abilities of upper-level undergraduates and information literate individuals is not always dauntingly large.
Online library catalogs , Online bibliographic searching , Subject headings , Keyword searching , Database searching , Library science , Information literacy , Subject searching
Graham, Rumi Y. (2011). A multiple case study exploration of undergraduate subject searching (Doctoral dissertation). University of Toronto, Toronto, ON