Information Seeking

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Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.
~ William Pollard

Background

Much of today's focus is on how people use information to construct knowledge and understanding. This connection is pervasive in a variety of fields from advertising, the study of our purchasing behaviour, to education, where we are fascinated with unpacking the various ways people make sense of the world. An often overlooked, but important foundation to knowledge building is information seeking. The better we can understand why people begin to explore - the motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic) and the procedures - the greater understanding of all processes and behaviours that follow will be.

This field has expanded by both breadth and depth, especially in the last decade. Focused research on how people from every walk of life seek information and make meaning is available. From the physicians and patients, educators and students, to CEOs and consumers.

The impact on education is clear. With the exponential growth of information and the variety of information warehouses that exist - from books, to people, to websites and everything in between - the building block of information seeking requires attention. If educators can understand the ways in which people discover and explore information, they will be better able to position their message and assist students in making meaningful connections. If educators consider the information seeking processes of students, they will also be better equipped to correct any missteps taken during students' learning processes.

Common Understandings: Find Your Fit

The Web Designer's Way

These four approaches to information seeking are common considerations in the web developer's world.
1. Known-item information seeking is the easiest to understand. In a known-item task, the user:
  • Knows what s/he wants
  • Knows what words to use to describe it
2. Exploratory information seeking is when the user has some idea of what s/he needs to know. However, articulation may be an issue. The proper vocabulary and/or description of the need may be lacking. Know where to start the search is usually an issue, but s/he will usually recognise the right answer, but may not know whether enough information is located.
In this mode, the information need will almost certainly change as the user discovers information and learns, thereby decreasing the information gap.
3. Don’t know what they need to know
The key concept behind this mode is that people often don’t know exactly what they need to know. They may think they need one thing but need another or, they may be looking at information without a specific goal in mind.
4. Re-finding is relatively straightforward — people looking for things they have already seen. They may remember exactly where it is, remember what they did to discover it, or have little idea about where it was.
Educators taking the time to become aware of the impetus behind the information search will be better able to guide the student or troubleshoot if s/he hits a hurdle. Recognition of under which circumstance the student finds himself or herself would also help gauge his or her understanding of the material or assignment and the level of assistance required.

The Information Professional's Understanding

Kuhlthau's Visual Model of the Information Seeking Process (ISP)
C. Kuhlthau is the pioneering researcher in information seeking behaviour in the field of Library and Information Science. She has spent more than 20 years exploring and refining the processes and procedures involved in information seeking.
The model of the ISP describes users’ experience in the process of information seeking as a series of thoughts, feelings, and actions. (View her converted powerpoint.)Thoughts that begin as uncertain, vague, and ambiguous become clearer, more focused, and specific as the search process progresses. Feelings of anxiety and doubt become more confident and certain. Through their actions, people seek information relevant to the general topic in the beginning stages of the search process and pertinent to the focused topic toward closure. Formulation of a focus or a personal perspective of the topic is a pivotal point in the search process. At that point, feelings shift from uncertain to confident, thoughts change from vague to more clear and interest increases.
The ISP describes common experiences in the process of information seeking for a complex task that has a discrete beginning and ending and that requires considerable construction and learning to be accomplished. The model reveals a search process in which a person is seeking meaning in the course of seeking information. From the user’s perspective the primary objective of information seeking is to accomplish the :task that initiated the search, not merely the collection of information as an end in itself. The ISP presents seeking information as a means to accomplish a goal. The model of the ISP is articulated in a holistic view of information seeking from the user’s perspective in six stages:
  • Initiation, when a person first becomes aware of a lack of knowledge or understanding and feelings of uncertainty and apprehension are common.
  • Selection, when a general area, topic, or problem is identified and initial uncertainty often gives way to a brief sense of optimism and a readiness to begin the search.
  • Exploration, when inconsistent, incompatible information is encountered and uncertainty, confusion, and doubt frequently increase and people find themselves “in the dip” of confidence.
  • Formulation, when a focused perspective is formed and uncertainty diminishes as confidence begins to increase.
  • Collection, when information pertinent to the focused perspective is gathered and uncertainty subsides as interest and involvement deepens.
  • Presentation, when the search is completed with a new understanding enabling the person to explain his or her learning to others or in some way put the learning to use.
At which stage in the process the student is makes it easier for the educator to assist by re-direction, re-focusing, or re-starting the research process or information search. Knowing where the student is in the process allows the educator to provide efficient and effective help.

The Educator's Experience

Most work on educational objectives (Bloom's Taxonomy) and learning models/theories (Vgotsky's Social Cognition) assumes a sufficient level of information seeking strategies; they concentrate on the next stages - information processing and knowledge building.
The Big 6 tackles information seeking skills in two of its steps. Developed by educators M. Eisenberg and R.E. Berkowitz, the Big 6 is a widely-known and widely-used approach to teaching information and technology skills. The Big 6 is an information and technology literacy model and curriculum, implemented in Kindergarten through higher education. Alternately, the Big 6 can be considered an information problem-solving strategy because students are able to handle any problem, assignment, decision, or task.
The first two stages focus directly on information seeking.
1. Task Definition
  • Define the information problem
  • Identify the information need
2. Information Seeking Strategies
  • Determine all possible sources
  • Select the best sources
Educators can design assignments that focus on these two steps and assess and evaluate the information seeking competencies of students. Here is a fuller and more visual representation of The Big 6. By focusing on these often over-looked first steps, a greater understanding of entire process of learning is available. Information seeking is the building block towards critical thinking and problem solving.

Related Fields: See Also

Here is a collection of terminology and concepts you may want to investigate further. The categories of broader term, narrower term, and related term loosely assist with highlighting the term's connection to information seeking.

Note: In keeping with the wiki theme, I've used links to wikipedia where appropriate. In some cases, the wikipedia entries were either not substantial or contained too much misleading information.
Broader Terms Narrower Terms Related Terms
connectivism information retrieval information processing
bibliographic instruction information architecture social cognition
Social Network Theory bibliometrics problem based learning (PBL)

Works Consulted

Auster, E., & Choo, C.W. (1998). Environmental scanning: Preliminary findings of a survey of CEO information seeking behaviour in two Canadian industries. Proceedings of the ASIS Annual Meeting, 29, 48-54.

Case, D. O. (2002). Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs, and behavior. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-150381-X

Eisenberg, M., & Berkowitz, R. E. (1990). Information problem-solving: The Big Six Skills approach to library & information skills instruction. Information management, policy, and services. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Pub. Corp. ISBN 9780893917579

Kuhlthaus, C.C., :Maniotes, L.K., & Caspari, A.K. (2007). Guided inquiry:Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CN: :Libraries Unilimited.)

Leydon, G. M. et al. (2000). Cancer patients' information needs and information seeking behaviour: In depth interview study. British Medical Journal, 320(7239), 909-13.

Morville, P., Rosenfeld, L., & Rosenfeld, L. (2007). Information architecture for the World Wide Web. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly. ISBN 0-59-652734-9

Peterson, R.A., & Merino, M.C. (2003). Consumer information search behavior and the internet. Psychology and Marketing, 20(2), 99-121.

Qureshi, T.M., Iqbal, J., & Khan, M.B. (2008). Information needs and information seeking behavior of students in universities of Pakistan.Journal of Applied Sciences Research, 4(1), 40-7.

Ramos, K., Linshied, R., & Schafer, S. (2003). Real time information seeking behavior of residency physicians. Family Medicine, 35(4), 257-60.

Shanmugam, A. (1999). Information seeking behaviour of trainee teachers in selected teacher training colleges in Malaysia. Malaysian Journal of Library & Information Science, 4(1), 1-26.