A Comparison of Beginning and Advanced Engineering Students’ Description of Information Skills


  • Kerrie Anna Douglas Purdue University
  • Amy S. Van Epps Purdue University http://orcid.org/0000-0002-5986-5952
  • Brittany Mihalec-Adkins Purdue University
  • Michael Fosmire Purdue University
  • Şenay Purzer Purdue University




information literacy, engineering students,



Objective – The purpose of this research was to examine how beginning and advanced level engineering students report use of information when completing an engineering design process. This information is important for librarians seeking to develop information literacy curricula in the context of engineering design.

Methods – Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews about information strategies used in engineering design with 21 engineering students (10 first and second year; 11 senior and graduate). Researchers transcribed interviews and developed an inductive coding scheme. Then, from the coding scheme, researchers extracted broader themes.

Results – Beginning level engineering students interviewed: (a) relied primarily on the parameters explicitly given in the problem statement; (b) primarily used general search strategies; (c) were documentation oriented; and (d) relied on external feedback to determine when they had found enough information. Advanced level engineering students interviewed: (a) relied on both their own knowledge and the information provided in the problem statement; (b) utilized both general and specific search strategies; (c) were application oriented; and (d) relied on self-reflection and problem requirements to determine when they had found enough information.

Conclusion – Beginning level students describe information gathering as externally motivated tasks to complete, rather than activities that are important to inform their design. Advanced level students describe more personal investment in their use of information through consideration of information based on their prior knowledge and questioning information. Future research should consider how to best support beginning level engineering students’ personal engagement with information.


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Author Biographies

Kerrie Anna Douglas, Purdue University

Visiting Assistant Professor

Amy S. Van Epps, Purdue University

Associate Professor of Library Science, Engineering Librarian

Brittany Mihalec-Adkins, Purdue University

Research Assistant

Michael Fosmire, Purdue University

Professor of Library Science Head of Physical Science, Engineering, and Technology Division of Purdue Libraries

Şenay Purzer, Purdue University

Assistant Professor, School of Engineering Education




How to Cite

Douglas, K. A., Van Epps, A. S., Mihalec-Adkins, B., Fosmire, M., & Purzer, Şenay. (2015). A Comparison of Beginning and Advanced Engineering Students’ Description of Information Skills. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 10(2), 127–143. https://doi.org/10.18438/B8TK5Z



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