Comparing online research behaviour of novice and experienced university students

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Introduction. The purpose of this study was to compare the assessment related research behaviour of novice and experienced university students by examining their online information searching, reading and resource use practices. Investigated and documented in this study were their online reading patterns, identification and use of learning materials and information retrieval tools, use and manipulation of search terms, and outcomes of the searches conducted.

Significance. The significance of this study relates to the way online learning environments have influenced learning contexts, a change that requires teaching and learning practices to be rethought in higher education environments.

Method. The research involved 10 transition-to-university and 5 fourth year undergraduate students, who were separately investigated in two phases of a study using a mixed methods approach. The behaviour of these two groups of students in response to an online assessment task was monitored and recorded using eye tracking to measure reading response, and follow-up retrospective interviews were conducted to gain an insight into their learning routines.

Analysis. The observations were analysed together with the interview responses using a constant comparative audit technique to discover and develop categories and themes of assessment related reading behaviour and information tools usage.

Results. Findings from this study suggest that both groups of students prefer to seek information with some degree of similarity in the following areas; information tools selection and use, information searching, management of search results, and analysis and synthesis of discovered information. For example, both groups used a simple suite of information searching tools in which Google played an important role, and social media was avoided for learning purposes. For novice students, Google Scholar took preference over the use of the library discovery tool in starting their search, while experienced students started from the library and supplemented their searches with a minimal use of advanced features of the search tool. Both groups were observed to mostly scan and skim the document, with the difference that attention of the novice students bounced around in the e-document while experienced students were engaged in relatively linear reading and paused to read at times when perceived keywords were spotted. The observed behaviour also indicated that both groups missed key elements in assessment task descriptions and e-resources, resulting in superficial searches being conducted using ineffectual search terms.

Conclusions. A comparison of online information behaviour of novice and experienced university students was conducted in this study, which indicated that both educators who design online assessments and students who study online require specific skills to work in online learning environments. Educators need to know how to structure and scaffold assessments so that their students comprehend key requirements that lead to constructing effective search terms, developing effective information searching practices, and ultimately achieving better research outcomes. Well scaffolded assessments would also improve student understanding of the assessment tasks, and enable students to recognise and link the assessment with the instructor-provided learning materials. Finally, the need remains to train the students in developing online reading and information literacy skills.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017
Event13th Research Applications in Information and Library Studies Seminar: RAILS 2017 - University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 28 Nov 201730 Nov 2017 (Conference website)


Conference13th Research Applications in Information and Library Studies Seminar
Abbreviated titleCreating and Learning Together: Interdisciplinary Teaching and Research
OtherRAILS is the Australasian Conference on Research Applications in Information and Library Studies, the main Australasia’s gathering of researchers, educators, and professionals in information and library studies and related disciplines. RAILS has been held annually since 2004. The 13th RAILS conference will be hosted by the School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences, University of South Australia, and held at UniSA’s City West Campus, Adelaide, South Australia, from 28-30 November 2017.

The conference will include:
Australasian Information Educators’ Symposium 2017 (AIES 2017) on the morning of Tuesday, 28 November;
Doctoral Consortium on the afternoon of Tuesday, 28 November; and
RAILS conference on Wednesday, 29 November and Thursday, 30 November 2017.

Many of today’s societal and economic challenges requires research and teaching efforts across disciplinary boundaries, which calls for new approaches and questions within information and library studies. Researchers, educators, practitioners and students are encouraged to submit papers on the conference theme, “Creating and Learning Together: interdisciplinary teaching and research”, which focuses on building partnerships between researchers, practitioners, doctoral students, and educators to ensure that a culture of interdisciplinary research and teaching is nurtured in the information studies field.
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