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Li802 Applying Information Seeking Models to Student Research


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Li802 Applying Information Seeking Models to Student Research

  1. 1. Applying Information Seeking Models to Student Research<br />Rebecca Culbertson, Brandy Robben, and Amy Taylor<br />Emporia State University<br />Author Note<br />Rebecca L. Culbertson, Brandy Robben, and Amy Taylor, Department of Library Science, Emporia State University.<br />Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rebecca L. Culbertson, Overland Park, KS. E-mail:, Amy L. Taylor, Lee’s Summit, MO. E-mail, or Brandy Robben, Denver, CO. Email:<br />Applying Information Seeking Models to Student Research<br />When discussing information seeking behavior and the various models developed to illustrate the process one tends to look at their application. One logical application is in regard to education. Due to the proliferation of information and a strong push from future employers, educators have begun to focus great attention on preparing students to navigate information by teaching them critical thinking and research skills. However, the sheer amount of information and rapidly changing technologies make this task very difficult. Information specialist should step in to help meet this educational need. There are many research models available for educators but finding one that is simple and adaptable is very difficult. In this paper, three information seeking models will be examined and compared. In addition two research models will be discussed and analyzed. The insights gained from this analysis will be used to develop a new simpler and more adaptive research model which will prepare students for their future.<br />Information Seeking ModelsWilson’s 1996 Model<br />The first information seeking model we looked at is Wilson’s 1996 model. This model is based on earlier Wilson models that focused on the information user as the basis of information needs. In contrast to earlier Wilson models, this 1996 renovation adopts other fields of thought into the complex model, “including decision-making, psychology, innovation, health communication, and consumer research” (Wilson, p.256, 1999). With the combination of these disciplines influencing this model, it is evident that the model is founded on in depth research that is illustrated through “a set of activities or a situation” (Wilson, p. 257, 1999). In essence, Wilson’s 1996 problem-solution model illustrates a cyclical process of the activities that surround an information user, known as the “Person-in-context”, once the identified information need is established (Wilson, 1999). <br />Dervin’s Sense-Making Theory<br />The next model investigated is Dervin’s Sense-Making theory, which is a model of information seeking behavior in addition to “a set of assumptions, a theoretic perspective, a methodological approach, [and] a set of research methods” (Wilson, p. 253, 1999). Furthermore, this theory is described as an instrument that aids the individual understanding of a “reality assumed to be both chaotic and orderly” (Wilson, p. 253, 1999). The Sense-Making theory includes four simple factors that can be illustrated in a triangular or a more linear representation. These factors include “a situation in time and space,…a gap,…an outcome,…and a bridge” (Wilson, p. 253, 1999). The situation factor is responsible for defining the issue or problem at hand, the gap illustrates the discrepancy between the current situation and the ideal situation, the outcome is the end result of the process, and the bridge is the factor that is responsible for “closing the gap between situation and outcome” in the model (Wilson, p. 253, 1999). <br />Elis’s Model<br />Lastly, Elis’s model is “based on empirical research and has been tested” extensively to substantiate its features (Wilson, p. 254). The features of this model include starting, chaining, browsing, differentiation, monitoring, extracting, verifying, and ending. These features are illustrated in a hexagonal form with browsing and monitoring parallel to each other from the top and bottom of the hexagon accordingly. The remainder of the features align through the hexagon and continue beyond its realm. These features include starting, chaining, differentiating, extracting, verifying, and ending. Collectively, the features establish an information seeking process where the majority of the features are not statically placed in any specific order due to the diverse conditions that may ensue with different users (Wilson, 1999)<br />Comparison of Information Seeking Models<br />The three models have some differences and similarities that should be considered. It is clear that each of the models is very different in appearance and approach when considering information seeking behavior. Different terms are used to define the stages within the processes and the number of stages present in each of the models varies. Of the three discussed, Dervin’s Sense-Making theory has the fewest stages, is more simplistic and user friendly. Wilson’s 1997 model and Elis’s model are more complex in nature and founded on formal investigations. They have all withstood time with multiple transformations as thought processes and perspectives have changed regarding information seeking. In speaking of similarities, each of the models identifies and defines a problem and a solution with stage(s) in between that focus on the information user. They show continuous feedback and reflection. In addition to these connections, the models are illustrated as cyclical processes that retract and move forward based on the user’s need (Wilson, 1999). <br />Based on the design and elements of the process, Dervin’s Sense-Making theory was selected as the foundation on which our new research model will be founded. This decision was made due to its simplistic nature and user friendly design that would best help young and beginning researchers, between the ages of 12 and 15, understand the needed behaviors for seeking information. <br />Research Models<br />In addition to using information behavior models to develop a new process, research models were also explored. <br />The Big 6<br />One of the most widely used research models is the Big 6 developed by Mike Eisenberg and Robert E. Berkowitz. This model, which is used predominantly with upper elementary and secondary school students, consists of six stages that aid users with a problem-solving strategy for research. The six stages collaborate to form a template of objectives the users need to meet in order to move on to the next stage of research. The stages include Task Definition, Information Seeking Strategies, Location and Access, Use of Information, Synthesis, and Evaluation. When used correctly, the user will accomplish the research tasks of identifying and solving the problem, select information from strong resources that support their information goal, present the conclusions in an organized fashion and self reflect on individual performance (Eisenberg, 2009).<br />Dialogue Model<br />The Information Network for Ohio Schools created a similar research model in 1988 that they dubbed the Dialogue Model. This model is an acronym that uses each letter in the word “dialogue” to define a different stage in the research process. The different stages include define, initiate, assess, locate, organize, guide, use, and evaluate. When implemented, the eight stages are used to identify the problem being researched, help the researcher to take initiative and understand the consequences for actions affecting the assigned task, attain resources and relevant information, self reflect on progress, receive feedback on progress, organize information to present, share results, and evaluate the process pursued (“InfOhio”, 2008). <br />Comparison of Research Models<br />It is evident that both models have many ideas in common despite some of their differences. Both models have very similar methods to consider when conducting research. They both aid the user to identify a problem and provide several steps to attain a solution. Among the steps included are acquiring resources, reviewing information accumulated by relevance and importance, organizing the information in an efficient way to present, and self reflect on individual performance. In addition to these similarities, both models present an easy to use template that guides their users through their steps of research. <br />Although the research models have several items in common, there are a few differences. The Big 6 model accomplishes effective research in six steps, while the Dialogue model accomplishes the same goal in eight steps. Also, they use different verbiage to describe the stages of each of the steps. The dialogue approach also considers cooperative and collaborative learning strategies during the process to further engage the user, which the Big 6 model fails to do. Both the Big 6 and Dialogue research models focus on the required thought processes for research and they present them as linear steps. Each of the skills are broke into even smaller steps and objectives are listed for them all. They are concerned with the thinking behind the research but not the doing. <br />Workflow Research Model <br />In an effort to fill these gaps we created the Workflow Research Model was created. It presents the same skills but groups them into workable parts and demonstrates to the viewer a non-linear approach. Rather than using a list and illustrating how one step leads to another with no regard to whether the objectives have been met this research model uses a workflow which requires the student to complete each step before moving on. Another aspect not covered in other research models is what to do when the objectives are not met. In the workflow model students can easily find out what to do by looking to the workflow chart. The Workflow Research Model was created using Dervin’s Sense-Making Model as a foundation and considering the products students are asked to create, see figure 1. <br />Figure1: Comparison of the Sense-Making Model, Workflow Model, and expected student work productInfo Transfer ModelSteps in Workflow Research ModelWork ProductFrom Dervin’s Sensemaking Metaphor (1992)Topic (Situation / Gap)TitleLook for Question (Sense Making / Bridge / Outcome)Note taking & Organizing/Outlining/Etc.Ask Question( Situation - Gap)Research QuestionLook for Answer (Sense Making / Bridge / Outcome)Note taking & Organizing/Outlining/Etc.Answer Question (Situation - Gap)ThesisLook for Proof (Sense Making / Bridge / Outcome)Note taking & Organizing/Outlining/Etc.Write Detailed Answer w/ Proof (Final Outcome)Final Product Draft & Begin Proofreading & EvaluationsEvaluationEvaluate Final Product and Process<br />Each piece of the workflow model corresponds with the gap, bridge, or outcome as described in the sense-making model. There is also a work product that should be created while working through each step of the workflow model. Although, the workflow model appears linear in figure 1, it is not. While working through the model students have the opportunity to back track through steps and seek assistance when needed. The final workflow model is shown in figure 2. <br />Figure 2: The Research Workflow Model825583185<br />Choose a Topic.<br />The first part of the workflow model is choosing the topic. The student is either given a topic by the teacher or given the opportunity to choose a topic based on interest. An example of good topic would be: Reasons for the Fall of Rome. It is broad but not so broad that a student can not determine how to go about looking for information about the topic. The topic also provides the student with the opportunity to determine an arguable question.<br />Look for a Question.<br />Next students are asked to look for a question. Research projects are about answering a question. As David Lankes said in his keynote for the Charleston Acquistion Conference, all good research begins with a good question (Lankes, 2009.) Before beginning any in-depth reading students must figure out what question they are attempting to answer. They do this by gathering general information regarding their topic. Encyclopedias are a great place to begin looking for general information. While watching, reading, or listening to this information they should look for a question. A research question is “a clear, focused, concise, complex and arguable question around which you center your research”(“How to Write,” n.d.). While reviewing this information they should process it and try to determine what interests them and where controversy may lie. Note taking will be an imperative part of this step as well. As the student works through this step they may find it necessary to go back to a previous step or seek help from a teacher or librarian. Once the student has become familiar with the topic and lists several possible questions they might ask, they should write their research question. <br />Ask a Question<br />Remembering the definition from above they need to make sure their question is a quality question, one they can find ample information for and will enjoy researching. There are some rules of thumb a student should follow: the question should not be too narrow or too broad, it must be arguable and the student should find it interesting. An example of a good research question would be: Did the decay of the Roman Army lead to the fall of Rome? It is not too broad or too narrow and there is enough literature and research on the fall of Rome to provide the student with enough information to adequately answer the question.<br />Look for an Answer<br />When the student has a formal question they will begin looking for its answer by going over any notes they have already taken and conducting more in-depth research. Using their question as a guide they will use books, journals and more subject specific materials. As they watch, read, or listen they will analyze the information and begin developing their own opinions that will help them answer their question. The student will continue to take notes and cite information for future use. This is where the bulk of the research will be done, so the student should be thorough. Again, as the student works through this step they may find it necessary to go back to a previous step or seek help from a teacher or librarian. When they feel comfortable with the amount of information they have gathered and their understanding of that information they should write their answer to the research question. <br />Answer the Research Question<br />Because the bulk of their research is complete they should feel very comfortable answering the research question. This answer becomes their tentative thesis statement. The answer/thesis statement should have two parts. First, the answer/thesis should state the student’s answer and next, explain their plan to prove their answer/thesis. (Rodburg, 1999, para. 3) If the student does not feel comfortable answering the question they should seek help from a teacher or librarian. Some rules of thumb for writing a good answer/thesis are: reread the essay question and make sure your answer/thesis answers it, confirm that the answer/thesis does not contain vague words, such as good, nice, or successful and finally, give your answer the "So what?" test. This is also called the "What's the big deal?" or the "Who cares?" test. (Is My Thesis, 2008, para. 1) An example of a good answer/thesis would be: “Even though bullion hoarding and deficit stifled the growth of wealth in the west, the decay of the Roman army lead to the fall of Rome because leaders became incompetent and rewards were unfairly distributed.” The wording is clear; it adequately answers the question and provides a foundation for the organization of the project.<br />Look for Proof.<br />At this point the student needs to go through their notes looking for proof and specific examples to back up their answer/thesis. They should also fill in any holes by conducting more research. This proof should be organized and cited for future use. As the student works through this step they may find it necessary to go back to a previous step or seek help from a teacher or librarian. Now the student is ready for the final stage, <br />Write detailed Answer with Proof.<br />Regardless of the type of product the student is being asked to create, they must generate a draft of that product which includes their well thought out answer/thesis to their research question. It should provide proof with specific examples to support their answer. This draft should be evaluated by themselves, peers, teachers, parents, etc. As the student works through this step they may find it necessary to go back to a previous step or seek help from a teacher or librarian. Using the feedback provided, the student should make changes and finalize their product. <br />Benefits of Workflow<br />Each step of the workflow research model has specific requirements and a clear explanation of those requirements. The workflow provides students with an illustration that shows them how one step leads to the next.<br />Workflow models are commonly used by information architectures to show how a document will be updated from one step to another. As Hoenig stated in his book, "When workflow is addressed first, it can mean the difference between remaining paralyzed and getting a good start, or between getting a good start and generating real momentum." (2000, p. 170) Since getting a good start and knowing where to go with their research is difficult for students, a good workflow becomes an essential element to their success. One benefit of the workflow model is that it represents the transferring of data, documents and tasks during the work (A. Martinez, personal communication, Lesson Materials LI840XC Week of June 15th, 2009). This is beneficial for adolescent students because they are able to visually see the task they are performing during their research. Another benefit of the workflow model is that it provides a step-by-step illustration of complex processes (A. Martinez, personal communication, Lesson Materials LI840XC Week of June 15th, 2009). Students often attempt to begin researching without fully understanding the problem with which they are working. However, this is a crucial part of research, "it's the problem to be solved which comes first. The mission then drives the tools." (Hoenig, 2000, p. 173) With a workflow students are not able to skip steps when conducting research causing the student’s research to be inadequate. The students follow and complete the steps in a specific order. If they are not able to move to the next step, the workflow model takes them to where they can find helpful tips on how to reassess their research procedures and suggests they seek assistance or it leads them back to a previous step. Our workflow model consists of yes and no questions that guide the students through their research process. The students can simply start at the top of the workflow model and move down by answering the questions. Depending on their answer, the student is either guided to the next step (yes answer) or are guided to a box (no answer) that will give the students suggestions for getting to a ‘yes’ answer. As a result it moves the student to the next step allowing them to continue with their research. On occasion the students may need to seek assistance. <br />Conclusion<br />Student research is a critical piece of a child’s education but a very difficult piece to teach. Information specialists should use the tools at their disposal to create research models and lessons to assist teachers in this endeavor. A natural relationship exists between information seeking and research. Therefore it seems logical to apply the lessons we have learned from information seeking models to research. After reviewing various research models and focusing on three, we found that they all identified and defined a problem and solution with stage(s) in between which focus on the information user. Next we analyzed various research models focusing on the Big 6 and the Dialogue model. When we compared them to the information seeking models we realized that the research models were linear as opposed to cyclical and did not provide solutions for overcoming gaps. After analyzing all of the information we decided to use Dervin’s Sense-Making theory as the foundation for our new research model. Due to its simplistic nature and user friendly design we felt it would be best for helping educate young and beginning researchers, between the ages of 12 and 15. Finally, we compared the steps in Dervin’s model to the work products required of students completing a research project and developed the new research model. A workflow model was chosen because they provide step-by-step illustrations of complex processes. The model is not intended to act as a stand alone lesson, but instead as a road map or step by step guide for research, with more detailed lessons as students successfully move from one step to another. The insights gained from our research of information seeking and research models helped us develop a new research model which will help prepare students for the continuously changing future.<br />References<br />Callison, D., & Lamb, A. (n.d.). Virtual Information Inquiry: Models. Virtual Information Inquiry: Student Information Scientists and Instructional Specialists in the Learning Laboratory. Retrieved November 9, 2009, from<br />Eisenberg, M. (2009, October 29). Big 6. Retrieved from<br />Hoenig, C. (2000). The Problem Solving Journey Your Guide to Making Decisions and Getting Results. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing. <br />How to Write a Research Question. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2009, from <br />INFOhio. (2008, July 28). Infohio dialogue model for information literacy skills. Retrieved from<br /><br />Is my thesis statement any good? A checklist for self-evaluation.  (Jan 2008). Writing!, 30, 4. p.S3(1). <br /> Lankes, Dave. "Charleston Keynote." Address. Charleston Aquistion Conference. Charleston. Virtual Dave Blog. 5 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2009. <>.<br />Rodburg, M. (n.d.). Developing a Thesis. Retrieved October 29, 2009, from <br />Wilson, T.D. (1999). Models in information behaviour research. The Journal of Documentation, <br />55(3), 253-257.<br />