The following research studies provide current insights in students’ information seeking behavior, and provide strategies for teaching effective search techniques, which can be applied to using online subscription database aggregators.
Mentzer, N., & Fosmire, M. J. (2015). Quantifying the information habits of high school students engaged in engineering design. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER), 5(2), 22-34. http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1108&context=jpeer
Students seldom evaluate the quality of online resources. They tend to rely on commercial and persuasive websites rather than informative or technical ones. Students do not search for broad categories of relevant information. Students are more likely to use search engines than use databases.
Hughes, H. (2013). International students using online information resources to learn: Complex experience and learning needs. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 37(1), 126-146. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/55064/1/InternationalStudentsExperiences-4May2011-FINAL.pdf
International students’ information behaviors reflect eight interrelated elements: students’ personal characteristics; the information-learning environment; interactions with online resources; students’ information literacy level; help-seeking habits; affective aspects; reflective responses; and cultural-linguistic dimensions. In using online resources, international students displayed developed information skills and less-developed critical information use.
Kim, S. U. (2015). Enablers and inhibitors to English language learners' research process in a high school setting. School Library Research, 18. http://www.ala.org.csulb.idm.oclc.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/vol18/SLR_EnablersandInhibitors_V18.pdf
The researcher tracked high school ELL students’ research processes, and found that by the end of their efforts, students had difficulty finding specific information, evaluating information, and summarizing it. In the middle of their efforts, they felt more competent; they did not have the big picture at that point. Students sometimes searched in their first language, especially if they did not know the English vocabulary, but they did not include the resulting resources in their final product. Students wished for guidance from someone who knew the assignment and the topic, and who could help them find background information, topical vocabulary, and specific information. They also wanted more time to research, and sample products. Teaching ELL students how to seek and use information helps them learning English and the subject matter. These students should also be supported in their practice of searching first in their first language, and their resources should be considered for their final project.
Yeh, Y., Hsu, Y., Chuang, F., & Hwang, F. (2014). Middle-school students' online information problem solving behaviors on the information retrieval interface. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(2), 245-260. https://ajet.org.au/index.php/AJET/article/view/478/940
Student self-monitoring and metacognition practices facilitate searching strategies. Otherwise, students can feel overwhelmed by the amount of online information, or settle for general information, or not organize the found information. Boolean use is not so important now because of search engine features, but the key words need to be relevant and specific enough to get good hits.
Knox, C. H., Anderson-Inman, L., Terrazas-Arellanes, F., Walden, E. D., & Hildreth, B. (2015). The SOAR Strategies for Online Academic Research: Helping Middle School Students. Handbook of Research on Technology Tools for Real-World Skill Development, 68-103.
Students need instruction and practice in constructing research questions, searching effectively, assessing resource credibility, and connecting resources. Middle school students need step-by-step strategies, which lead them to see themselves as efficient learners. Teachers also need to tell students that reading online differs from print reading; the former is more goal-oriented and focused on the specific task context. Online articles tend to be shorter; web features can be distracting. The University of Oregon Center for Advanced Technology in Education created SOAR Toolkit ( ) to help middle schools search for and use online information.
Strategy 1: use digital notebook to brainstorm questions and keywords.
Strategy 2: refine search terms based on results (get better match).
Strategy 3: examine URL for authors and institutions, domains, relevance.
Reading and recording information: reflect on understanding and ask self questions; record notes, create reference list, combine notes into an outline.
O'Sullivan, M. K., & Dallas, K. B. (2017). A collaborative approach to implementing 21st century skills in a high school senior research class. Education Libraries, 33(1), 3-9.
The authors outline search strategy steps: select a topic (give them time), concept map, formulate a research question, distinguish between keywords and subject headings, develop a search strategy, write the research paper, assess the process and product.
Cook, D. B., & Klipfel, K. M. (2015). How do our students learn? An outline of a cognitive psychological model for information literacy instruction. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 55(1), 34-41. https://journals.ala.org/index.php/rusq/article/view/5797/7301
Researchers suggested five principles for structuring information literacy instruction: create a problem context, limit the amount of content, build a narrative, focus on deep structure, and practice deep structure through active learning. It is not necessary to dwell on learning styles in such instruction, but rather find commonalities among student learning approaches.
Bell, S. S. (2015). Librarian's guide to online searching: Cultivating database skills for research and instruction. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
This guides gives practical strategies for asking good questions and choosing a database.
So what are the take-aways from these research studies? Most important is the need for explicit instruction in how to develop a search strategy based on identifying the information task, formulating good research questions, brainstorming keywords and concepts, and getting background information (and associated specialized vocabulary). Guidance in locating relevant information should focus on specific, relevant databases and other vetted sources. Students need to understand and use criteria for evaluating resources, and should be encouraged to compare resources about the same topics. Students should also be taught metacognitive skills such as self-reflection, asking themselves questions about the sources as they examine them, and monitoring their efforts and results.