In the Growing Information Mall, Some Things Never Change
AbstractA Review of:
Fidel, R., Davies, R. K., Douglass, M. H., Holder, J. K., Hopkins, C. J., Kushner, E. J.,…. Toney, C. D. (1999). A visit to the information mall: Web searching behavior of high school students. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(1), 24-37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1097-4571(1999)50:1<24::AID-ASI5>3.0.CO;2-W
Objective – The research study aimed to discover high school students’ information searching behaviour on the Web and suggest Web changes that would benefit student learning. This study was conducted in 1999, seven years after the Internet was publicly available and on the cusp of Web 2.0.
Design – Field study with class observations, students thinking aloud at their terminals, and interviews with the students after their searching. The study’s duration was three class searching sessions.
Setting – West Seattle High School in Seattle, Washington. This school had a diverse population of students, with 50% students of color and many of these students first generation to finish high school. Due to a grant from Microsoft, West Seattle had operational four computer labs.
Subjects – Eleventh and twelfth graders in a horticulture class. There were eight student participants, six males and two females. Five of these students were in 12th grade and three were in 11th grade. The teacher for this class, the school librarian, and the principal of West Seattle High School were also interviewed for this project.
Methods – Qualitative, case-study method was used with controlled comparison. Team members observed the students while they searched and wrote down descriptions of the students’ searching methods. After the three observation sessions and interviews with the students, team members wrote up a case study for each student. The students’ think-aloud audio, along with all the interviews conducted, were recorded. This type of method can be considered an early version of usability testing and user experience studies, a field that has grown tremendously since 1999.
Main Results – While each student observed had a different relationship with the Web and training on how to use it, similar searching strategies emerged from all participants. These strategies included focused searching, swift and flexible searching when results were not immediately found, using a webpage as a landmark to return to while searching, starting a new search, and asking for help when needed. It should be noted that focused searching along with the swift, flexible searching were strategies influenced by student motivation to complete their homework assignment as quickly as possible. The team noted exploration of the Web was kept to a minimum and this was due to the parameters of the assignment. Team members also identified similar frustrations and joys from the students when searching the Web. The study identified three steps that should be taken to help students more effectively navigate the Web. The steps included an increase in formal teaching on Web searching, embedded support in the Web to help students search, and relying on graphics to strengthen a Web experience.
Conclusion – Authors noted the possibilities the World Wide Web has to offer, especially in a school context. However, in order to fully maximize those possibilities, the Web needs to take into account user experiences and information seeking behaviour, along with an increase in training on how to use the Web.
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